File spoon-archives/foucault.archive/foucault_2000/foucault.0006, message 2

Subject: RE: Ever-Present Resistance and Cryptonormativity
Date: Sun, 4 Jun 2000 01:07:57 +0100


My sense is that to criticise Foucaultís conception of power for failing to
allow any possibility for resistance, is a criticism that merely
misunderstands him. I think that the Ethic of Care of Self piece is a good
place to look, possibly also The Subject of Power piece in the
Dreyfus/Rabinow book. F's suggestion is that there are relations of power
because the subjects are free: were they not free there would be no need to
use power. It is because it is power used - and not simple force or
domination - that there must necessarily be some means of resistance. And
the stress is not just on power, but on relations or strategies of power.
These are necessarily two way (at least) - resistance is part of the
strategies of power. The freedom that is a necessary condition for relations
of power is therefore the very thing that allows the possibility of
resistance. As Foucault says in the Ethic piece, freedom is the ontological
condition for ethics.

But this problem some have with Foucault is indeed linked to the charge that
he does not provide any normative frame that allows an answer to the
question "why resist?" It is harder to defend Foucault on this charge if the
terms of the question are followed: my sense is that to allow the question
is to allow the criticism. Following Heidegger and Nietzsche, Foucaultís
understanding of power makes his analyses perspectivist rather than
relativist, in that he attempts to see the bias, the power relations,
inherent in interpretations, examining "the place from which they look, the
moment where they are" (Dits et ecrits Vol II, 150). Similarly, he realises
his own work is bound up within the constraints of his time and place (Dits
et ecrits II, 720). Why, however, we should aim to undermine and examine
others' interpretations, and perhaps replace them with our own is not always
clear. Foucault seemingly evades this question with the answer "one makes
war to win, not because it is just" (Dits et ecrits III, 503). But my sense
is that what critics are looking for is something Foucault would not allow:
some kind of moral positioning that would justify resistance, provide a
rationale for it, etc. But Foucault, again following Nietzsche and
Heidegger, would - it seems to me - deny the very basis of this charge.
Instead of providing a justification for resistance, Foucault is concerned
with trying to find what allows resistance. One is a moral question, the
other ontological.

You probably know the following literature, but it might be of help:-

Nancy Fraser, "Foucault on Modern Power: Empirical Insights and Normative
Confusions", in Praxis International, No 1, 1981, p, p. 283.
Juergen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, p, pp. 276ff.
Paul Patton "Taylor and Foucault on Power and Freedom", and Charles Taylor,
"Taylor and Foucault on Power and Freedom: A Reply", in Political Studies,
Volume XXXVII, 1989
Leslie Paul Thiele, "The Agony of Politics: The Nietzschean Roots of
Foucaultís Thought", in American Political Science Review, Vol 84 No 3,
September 1990
Niko Kolodny, "The Ethics of Cryptonormativism: A Defence of Foucaultís
Evasions", in Philosophy and Social Criticism, Vol 22 No 5, September 1996.

Best wishes


> Reading through many criticisms of Foucault's cryptonormativity,
> I'm finding
> myself rather frustrated. This, however, is not as it might seem. I find
> myself not with a concern regarding some trap in which Foucault has put
> himself, but instead with the way that Foucault's statements on resistance
> have been considered.
> The basis for the accusations of cryptonormativity seem to come from the
> assumption that Foucault says that we should resist. As far as I can tell
> (perhaps it is simply that in my reading I've missed it) Foucault never
> makes such a statement. Instead, it seems that Foucault proposes that this
> resistance is ever-present:

> a plurality of resistances, each of them a special case: resistances that
> are possible, necessary, improbable; others that are spontaneous, savage,
> solitary, concerted, rampant, or violent; still others that are quick to
> compromise, interested , or sacrificial; by definition, they can
> only exist
> in the strategic field of power relations. But this does not mean
> that they
> are only a reaction or rebound, forming with respect to the basic
> domination
> an underside that is in the end always passive, doomed to
> perpetual defeat.
> (HS 96)
> The question that seems troubling to me is rather, why is that
> resistance is
> ever-present? How do we know that there is a plurality of resistances? If
> "wherever there is power there is resistance" (Not sure if that quote is
> exact or where the source is) then the question clearly seems to
> turn to how
> and where we can resist rather than why, but how is it that we can assume
> that foundation exists?
> ---
> Asher Haig 
> Greenhill Debate     Dartmouth 2004


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