The web of power

Michel Foucault for the 20.Death anniversary

Michel Foucault shone as a thinker and provocateur, as an undogmatic leftist and opponent of Sartre. He knew how to successfully evade disciplined science: Philosophy called him a historian, historians saw him as a philosopher; Marxists accused him of "infantile leftism" because, as he himself suspected, he refused to include the obligatory Marx quotations in his writings. Instead, he liked to call Marx a "post-Hegelianism was based on", whose reduction of man to labor should be forgotten. His confessions to Nietzsche and Heidegger, the two pioneers of postmodern criticism of the Enlightenment, who were often dismissed as Nazi philosophers, also made him suspicious. Foucault’s elusive, net-like concept of power is hardly compatible with orthodox Marxist ideas, which is why the thinker quickly turned his back on the French Communist Party.

The web of power

Foucault’s biography is rich in fractures and distortions of a personal and political nature. In twelve semesters of study at the Paris ecole normale superieure, the son of a medical doctor earned three degrees (philosophy/psychology) and two suicide attempts. He then taught and did research in Sweden, Poland, and Hamburg in 1955-59. In 1961 he received his doctorate with "Madness and society", a history of the exclusion of the insane in the context of the unfolding of occidental sanity. The writing earned him, as he said, angry letters from psychiatrists even 20 years after its publication. His next rough work "The order of things" made him famous in 1966 as a structuralist opponent of Sartre. In 1970, Foucault became professor of the history of systems of thought at the Coll├Ęge de France, and developed a program for the study of discursive and social exclusion. 1971 founding member of the G.I.P. (Prison Information Group), whose work with prisoners has led to criticism of conditions in the French judicial system and even prison revolts.

In 1974 Foucault uncovered with "surveillance and punishment" common roots of liberalism and incarceration, of liberties and disciplinary institutions: Panoptism, the surveillance of the many by the few, appears as the dark side of the Enlightenment, which the traditional critique of the state and economy had hitherto ignored. Unlike the Frankfurt School (Horkheimer/Adorno), however, Foucault sees potentials of resistance beyond the failed Marxist project. 1976 in "The Will to Know (Sexuality and Truth 1)" Foucault locates the central mechanism of a "Bio-power" in the control of human sexuality, which encompasses the subject in its lusts and desires as well as the population in its reproduction.

Microphysics of Power

But Foucault was not only a scientist. Again and again he was drawn to the focal points of the crisis of Western civilization. In 1978, as a journalist in Tehran, he reported on the first successful revolution by Islamic fundamentalists in Iran to defeat the Shah’s CIA-backed torture regime: the beginning of today’s Islamic threat to the U.S. Four years later, he was in Poland, supporting the Solidarnosch trade union with aid shipments, which had brought about the end of the "real socialism" and initiated the bloc confrontation. At the end of the 1970s, during visits to the gay SM scene in California (Foucault made no secret of his inclinations, describing them in an interview as too common and banal to withhold from the public), he presumably became infected with the HI virus, which was still unknown at the time. He died on 25.6.1984 to Aids. His last two books, published the same year "The use of the lust" and "The concern for oneself" (Sexuality and Truth 2 u.3) are interpreted as an attempt to formulate a postmodern ethics of self-constitution.

Instead of the proletarian world revolution, Foucault predicted the "Death of Man" or. "of the subject"These theses were loudly declaimed by social scientists of Generation 68 at the beginning of the 1990s, still misunderstood as proof of Foucault’s insanity, but then increasingly discussed controversially. For Foucault are "Man" and "Subject" formations in the discursive order of the human sciences and thus part of a power-knowledge complex that is in retreat today. The subject can no longer be the source of knowledge of a truth that is "Objectivity" as "intersubjective verifiability" defines. Not even if the recognizing subject is Karl Marx.

The microphysics of power proclaimed by Foucault "microphysics of power" works through the smallest elements, it works as a net, which connects the family, sexual relations, living conditions, school, hospitals, psychiatry, prisons, etc., as a network. as a field of power relations and power-knowledge techniques. Power is therefore not, as Marxists believe, held by a particular class, nor can it be conquered simply by storming its center. Therefore, power cannot simply be equated with economic power. It is not "monolithic" and thus is not controlled from a single point.

Classical left critique figures of ideology, violence and oppression are also not effective with regard to the mode of operation of power relations understood in this way. Foucault criticizes the concept of ideology, as it is always potentially opposed to something that would be truth. "Truth" is itself a discursive exclusion principle, a power mechanism that needs to be reflected upon (which other approaches like to relegate to the special disciplines z.B. of the sociology of science is deported).

The power and the truth

In contrast to the Marxist conception of ideology, for Foucault there is no subject separated from power and endowed with a (either false or Marxist) consciousness. Instead, power produces knowledge of the individual, shapes it, and is in its ideas z.B. of freedom and oppression, always prasent. Power relations therefore do not necessarily require violence, but rather the recognition of the other as a subject with a normalized or normative status. normalizing individuality.

Its main focus is therefore on the disciplines and entities to which this normalization (usually claiming to treat, help, even liberate) is incumbent: Padagogy, Psychology, Psychiatry, Medicine, Criminology, Justice. Their treatment of the subject, their discourses about the human being, which constitute the subject in the first place, must be questioned. Foucault sees the dark side of the Enlightenment precisely in the "Humanism":

I understand by humanism the totality of the discourses in which the occidental man has been persuaded: Even if you don’t exert power, you can still be sovereign. Yes, …the better you submit to the power that is set over you, the more sovereign you will be in the. Humanism is the set of inventions built around these subjugated sovereignties: the soul (sovereign over the body, subjugated to God), the conscience (free in the realm of judgment, subjugated to the order of truth), the individual (sovereign holder of his rights, subjugated to the laws of nature or the rules of society).

Michel Foucault: On the Subversion of Knowledge, Frankfurt 1978, S.114

Foucault today: anti-psychiatry, critical criminology, governmentality

In theory and practice, Foucault is at work today wherever mechanisms of social exclusion are at work and groups of people are subjected to control or treatment by society as sick or criminal. In the anti-psychiatry (Ronald D. Laing, Thomas S. Szasz), with which Foucault sympathized from the beginning, there is, for example, a German Foucault tribunal on the state of psychiatric treatment, while other physicians and psychologists, for their part, come down hard on his approach.

The long resistance to Foucault in a science that has been "critical criminology" calls. Their credo corresponded exactly to Foucault’s: analysis of the social mechanisms of exclusion, especially of the criminalized. The basis was mostly the social constructivist "Labeling"-approach. It says that social stigmas (labels) are attached to the socially excluded, but unfortunately it is difficult to explain how and why this happens. The "critical criminology" saw in the background mostly the Marxist social theory, almost as a synonym for critique, and could hardly let go of prejudices against Foucault. This perhaps typical reception story can itself be considered an example of exclusion in the field of science.

The first critical-criminological study based on the social criticism of Michel Foucault was penned by the author of these lines in 1993: "Social Control in the Information Society: Systems Theory, Foucault, and the Computer Freaks as Countervailing Power to the Panoptism of Computer and Multimedia Culture", dealt with the criminalized group of computer hackers and relates them to a genealogy of the information society.1 The taz took it up with the orthodox Marxist criticism that the computer hackers are not to be considered as an economic class, and therefore not conceivable as a counter-power to the global surveillance network.2

In the broader Foucault reception of critical criminology today, a shift in emphasis toward Foucault’s concept of "Governmentality", also "governmentalization". A term that is supposed to show the relation of power-knowledge complexes, which constitute the mentality, to governance, in particular to attachment to the state: a by no means new approach3 to Foucault, which presumably falls more easily to Marxist-socialized minds. And today’s dominant neoliberalism can thus also be aptly criticized with Foucault: Cyberspace, Neoliberalism, and Inverse Panoptism: The Political Unconscious of Cyberdemocracy.

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