File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_1998/foucault.9806, message 2

Date: Tue, 2 Jun 1998 01:58:34 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: reification, agency, Habermas

On Wed, 13 May 1998, John Ransom wrote:

> We all know that Foucault in DP thinks the goal
> of the disciplines developed in the nineteenth century was to reduce human
> beings as political agents and augment their value as productive forces.
> That is, by reinforcing the division of labor, by turning the peasant into
> the soldier and nothing but the soldier, the child into the student and
> nothing but, the criminal into the prisoner, and so on, what else was
> going on but the 'thingification' of persons that Marx complains about
> with regard to humans in EPM and GI, and of the products of our labor in
> _Capital_?

This is interesting, because one of the things that happens to individuals 
with the onset of capitalism is that instead of being someone born into a
particular role in life, one is the possessor of a given quantity of
abstract labor (I think that might be a Marxian term of art which I may
not be using correctly) which one could put to use in any number of
different roles.  Which is why it's possible, in capitalism, to become
utterly destitute while no one around you gives a damn:  you haven't found
a role.  Or at least, you haven't found the right role.  In capitalism,
relationships between individuals tend to be relationships between
economic roles; if you haven't got one of those, you tend not to have many
relationships.  Prior to capitalism, this is impossible; you're born into
a role, and a whole matrix of relationships are fixed for you in advance.
On the other hand, capitalism infinitely multiplies the number of
potential relationships you *could* have, because it infinitely multiplies
the number of potential economic roles you could play.

> "Because of the division of labor," to paraphrase Marx in GI, "each man is
> given an exclusive sphere of activity from which he cannot escape, and
> which is forced on him. He must be a hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or
> critical critic"

In a pre-capitalist society, one isn't forced to be a hunter or a
fisherman, to play that role in order to earn a living wage; one *is* a
hunter or a fisherman.  It couldn't occur to one to be otherwise.  Now
*that's* discipline....

> What Marx objects to is "this fixation of social activity, the
> consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power over
> us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, and bringing
> to naught our calculations."
> And isn't Foucault worried about the same kind of "fixation of social
> activity" produced by the disciplines? The consolidation of what we
> ourselves produce into an objective power over us?
> So yes, comrade, I think there is definitely some merit in your
> comparison!

Here's another one:  Habermas's idea of "colonization".  In Foucault,
though, rather than colonization of lifeworld by system, it's colonization
of the mechanisms of juridical power by the mechanisms of disciplinary
power, which, after they are begotten by the former, take on their own
developmental logic and begin to take over the juridical apparati:  but
subtly, so that the judge talks, but the psychiatrist speaks.

A parallel with Habermas:  in Habermas's "lifeworld", individuals
coordinate their activities through "communicative action"; when the
lifeworld is colonized by economic and bureaucratic "systems", the means
by which activities are coordinated are beyond the control of individuals.
A similar kind of thing happens, I think, when disciplinary apparati
colonize juridical apparati:  when the lawmakers and the judges speak the
language of the psychiatrists and the economists and the scientists,
communication between them and citizens is pre-empted:  the citizens have
no way to argue, except to scoff uselessly at the very authority of the
"pinhead" scientists--like Dilbert scoffing at the pointy-haired boss....

----Matthew A. King------Department of Philosophy------McMaster University----
     "The border is often narrow between a permanent temptation to commit
     suicide and the birth of a certain form of political consciousness."
-----------------------------(Michel Foucault)--------------------------------


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