STP: analysis of first 3 lectures

Security, Territory, Population comprise a series of 13 lectures given from January to April 1978. Given their appearance in English we now have access to an interesting development of Foucault’s thought following the Society Must be Defended lectures of 1976; that is, the outline of governmentality and its biopolitics. His further pursuit of the development of liberalism must wait until next year’s Birth of Biopolitics is released. Here I agree with Tom Flynn when he says:

It has always struck me that Foucault saves the best for last in both his books and his lectures.

So while the next set of lectures looks more interesting, this blog entry summarizes a few things from the first three lectures (up to the famous 4th lecture on governmentality, already published.)

The more I have spoken about population, the more I have stopped saying “sovereign.” –Foucault, STP

Foucault pursues a single theme through these 3 lectures, namely to contrast sovereign and disciplinary models of governance with a that of a new one: governmentality. This theme should be familiar enough to those who know the fourth lecture from the Foucault Effect, but provide a nice run-up to it.

With sovereignty we are dealing with a legal or juridical system (things are permitted or not permitted). With discipline we have the familiar apparatus of surveillance, medicalization of behavior etc. With governmentality however we have some new terms and concepts, namely:

The apparatus (dispositif) of security
Probability
Calculation
Population
Risk/the aleatory

The first of these, security, is really the key term and perhaps the one that resonates the most today.

In order to discuss this contrast each lecture focuses on a specific aspect: the town, scarcity/circulation, and the epidemic.

1. The town. Roughly, with space, sovereignty exercises itself within the borders of a territory, while discipline is concerned with the bodies of individuals, and security is aimed at a population. But this doesn’t quite work, says Foucault (p. 11).

Sovereignty and discipline can also be concerned with multiplicity, and the individual is a way of dividing up the multiplicity in these two schemes. But the third element here is “spaces of security” (p. 11) which means not to eliminate problems but to manage them by knowing their typical ranges, and predicting what will happen when things circulate. Security works not on ideal, empty sites but on the “material givens” (p. 19) or the milieu. This term is important, it appears with Lamarck, Newton, it is “action at a distance.”

And this meant structiuring the space of the town to maximize the desirable circulation and minimize (but never eliminate) the undesirable elements.

2. Scarcity/circulation. In space of security there are “an indefinite series of mobile elements” or “the problem of the series:”

I think the management of these series that, because they are open series can only be controlled by an estimate of probabilities, is pretty much the essential characteristics of the mechanism of security (p. 20)

The issue of scarcity is tied up with the supply of vital foodstuffs like grain and corn. [Here we might recall the Corn Laws and their repeal in the early 19th C., or NAFTA etc. today, or perhaps better yet OPEC and oil prices.]

Is it better to allow free-flow of grain in order to keep prices and availability low, or better to impose tariffs? If supply and demand are related, freely available grain is bad in that it reduces prices and income for the producers (peasants).

Here Foucault introduces the physiocrats: “that freedom of commerce and the circulation of grain began to be laid down as the fundamental principle of economic government,” a development Foucault doesn’t hesitate to call “the founding act of economic thought” (p. 33).

This is surprisingly interesting material (I was extremely bored by my econ classes!). Freedom to export for example, could now keep prices high just when abundance might be bringing them down (exports were previously frowned on). People can even hoard grains and corn if they want, a “liberal” notion, says Foucault (p. 37) and he comes back to it at the end of the lecture:

This fundamental principle that political technique must never get away from the interplay of reality with itself is profoundly linked to the general principle of what is called liberalism. The game of liberalism–not interfering, allowing free movement, letting things follow their courser; laisser faire, passer et aller–basically and fundamentally means acting so that reality develops, goes its way, and follows its own course according to the laws, principles, and mechanisms of reality itself (p. 48).

So this led ultimately to a philosophy again of the milieu of “working within the reality of fluctuations…and not by trying to prevent it in advance” which installs the apparatus of security (p. 37).

3. Epidemics, and thus risk. Smallpox epidemics were studied in the 19th C. and revealed to have a mortality rate of 1 in 7.782 (p. 58). Foucault here draws on work done in the seminar by Anne-Marie Moulin (p. 80n2).

Foucault is now in a position where everything is “all wrapped up and loose ends tied” (p. 79) by the end of this lecture. He has talked about space and circulation (economic liberalism) and now adds in the notions of risk assessment and the aleatory. For this to operate he turns to the term “population.” What is that?

then population is not the simple sum of individuals occupying a territory. Nor is it solely their desire to reproduce…in fact the population is not a primary datum; it is dependent on a series of variables. Population varies with the climate. It varies with the material surroundings…it also varies with people’s customs, like the way in which daughters are given a dowry (p. 70).

So a population is not just a bunch of subjects, subject to the sovereign’s will, it’s a “thick natural phenomenon” (p. 71). So to know the population we have to invoke notions of the human species, of statistics to be sure, and of probability. all these notions were introduced in turn and constitute the tools of “government.”

This is treated in more detail in the fourth lecture which has appeared in unauthorized transcriptions (not always accurate, as the footnotes in this chapter show: portions were sometimes omitted and even added).

PS: For a longer and more detailed discussion of both STP and BoB, see Stuart Elden’s overview in EPD.

3 Responses

  1. […] For an interesting summary/discussion of the three first lectures of Foucault’s STP (i.e., up to but not including the infamous “governmentality” lecture), see here. […]

  2. […] Jul 23rd, 2007 by Jeremy Earlier posts looking at Security, Territory, Population are here. […]

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