Police, security and counter-conducts

I think Craig may be right in that we’ll see a blossoming of interest in police and security following the publication of STP.

This is not, per se, a brand new interest. Heck I’ve even written about it. Foucault’s ideas about governmentality and biopolitics have been widely circulated for some time now (what, at least 15-20 years in English?). But there may be some very interesting extensions of this work yet to come.


Foucault discusses the police as a technology of government in the 12th and 13th lectures of STP. He points to its new sense that it has after about the 16th and 17th centuries where it is not so much a police force, but a method of population management. This management included calculative knowledge of the kind we’re familiar with by now (assessing the characteristics of the population).


La Perrière

But Foucault also makes sure to include a discussion of “counter-conducts” (Lecture 8). You may remember that in the “governmentality” lecture (1 February, 1978) he cites La Perrière‘s definition of government as “the right way of arranging things in order to lead (conduire) them…to a suitable end” (p. 99).

(As an example of some interest on police as governance, see for example Géraldine Cazals, Guillaume de La Perrière (1499-1554) – Un humaniste à l’étude du politique, thèse de doctorat d’histoire du droit, Université des Sciences sociales, Toulouse I, 2003.)

These counter-conducts are worth focusing on, and here I would like to reference the work of the National Security Archive. The NSA obtains documents via the Freedom of Information Act in the USA (FOIA) and has established itself as a leading light cast on government. Next week the CIA will release a large number of documents–the so-called “family jewels” relating to dirty tricks (wiretapping journalists and so on) during the 50s to the 70s.

The NSA obtained in advance a 6-page summary (pdf) written in 1975. Among its findings:

  • In 1963 the CIA wiretapped two journalists, with the knowledge of AG Robert Kennedy
  •  In 1971, the CIA spied on one of its own staff members, a female who shared a house with a Cuban. They broke into her house in Fairfax, VA.
  • From the 1950s to the early 1970s the CIA opened postal mail going to the Soviet Union and China.
  • Perhaps most chillingly, the CIA funded university research into “behavior modification” including instances where subjects did not know the true purpose of the testing (in violation of “informed consent’). Some of this research involved drugs.
  • In 1967 the CIA began a program of surveillance on “radicals and black militants” and “American dissidents.” They constructed a database with 9,900 names of Americans, one third of whom were in the peace movement.

Daily Kos has more.

One Response

  1. The “governmentality” lecture has a strange history. There’s a brief summary of it in The Foucault Effect acknowledgments page. The short version is that a translation by Rosi Braidotti was published in I&C, no. 6 (1978). Colin Gordon’s revised version of the translation was published in The Foucault Effect in 1991. To answer you question, the lecture has been available for almost thirty years in English, but only in easily accessible form for sixteen years.

    The major problem with the scattered reception of Foucault’s lectures is that much of the “Foucauldian” literature will need to be re-thought – both commentary/interpretation of Foucault and (and I think this is especially likely) the “governmentality” approach (understood more or less as “method”) in the social sciences.

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