The Mesh of Power

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Intro­duc­tion | Trans­la­tion | Orig­i­nal

We will attempt to pro­ceed towards an analy­sis of the con­cept of power.1 I am not the first, far from it, to attempt to skirt around the Freudian schema that pits instinct against sup­pres­sion [répres­sion], instinct against cul­ture.2 Many decades ago, an entire school of psy­cho­an­a­lysts tried to mod­ify and develop this Freudian schema of instinct ver­sus cul­ture, and of instinct ver­sus sup­pres­sion – I am refer­ring to psy­cho­an­a­lysts in the Eng­lish as well as the French lan­guage, like Melanie Klein, Win­ni­cott, and Lacan, who have tried to show that sup­pres­sion, far from being a sec­ondary, ulte­rior, or later mech­a­nism, which would attempt to con­trol a given or nat­ural play of instinct, con­sti­tutes a part of the mech­a­nism of instinct, or, more or less, of the process through which the sex­ual instinct [l’instinct sex­uel] is devel­oped, unfolded and con­sti­tuted as drive [pul­sion].

The Freudian con­cept of Trieb3 need not be inter­preted as a sim­ple nat­ural given, a nat­ural bio­log­i­cal mech­a­nism upon which sup­pres­sion would come to posit its law of pro­hi­bi­tion, but rather, accord­ing to the psy­cho­an­a­lysts, as some­thing which is already pro­foundly pen­e­trated by sup­pres­sion. Need, cas­tra­tion, lack, pro­hi­bi­tion and the law are already ele­ments through which desire has been con­sti­tuted as sex­ual desire, and this implies a trans­for­ma­tion of the orig­i­nal notion of sex­ual instinct, such as Freud had con­ceived of it at the end of the 19th cen­tury. It is then nec­es­sary to think instinct not as a nat­ural given, but as already a devel­op­ment, as already being a com­plex play between the body and the law, between the body and the cul­tural mech­a­nisms that assure the con­trol of persons.

I there­fore believe that the psy­cho­an­a­lysts have con­sid­er­ably dis­placed the point in ques­tion, by bring­ing to light a new idea of instinct, or, in any case, a new con­cep­tion of instinct, drive and desire. Nev­er­the­less, what trou­bles me, or at least what seems insuf­fi­cient to me, is that, in this revi­sion pro­posed by psy­cho­an­a­lysts, they have per­haps altered the con­cept of desire, but they have in no way altered our con­cept of power.

In their work, they still con­tinue to regard the sig­ni­fied of power, the cen­tral point, that in which power con­sists, as pro­hi­bi­tion, law, the act of say­ing no, and above all, the fig­ure or expres­sion: “You must not.” Power is essen­tially those who say, “You must not.” It appears to me that this is a totally insuf­fi­cient con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion – and I will speak about this later – a juridi­cal idea, a for­mal idea of power, and it is nec­es­sary to elab­o­rate a dif­fer­ent idea of power that will, no doubt, per­mit us to bet­ter under­stand the rela­tions estab­lished between power and sex­u­al­ity in our West­ern societies.

I am going to attempt to develop – or bet­ter, indi­cate the direc­tion in which we will be able to develop – an analy­sis of power that would not sim­ply be a neg­a­tive, juridi­cal idea of power, but rather, the idea of a tech­nol­ogy of power.

We fre­quently find among the psy­cho­an­a­lysts, psy­chol­o­gists and soci­ol­o­gists this idea accord­ing to which power is essen­tially rule, law, pro­hi­bi­tion, that which marks the limit between the per­mit­ted and the for­bid­den. I believe that this con­cep­tion, gen­er­ally under­stood to be devel­oped by eth­nol­ogy at the end of the 19th cen­tury, was inci­sively for­mu­lated. Eth­nol­ogy always tried to view sys­tems of power in soci­eties dif­fer­ent from ours as being sys­tems of rules. And we our­selves, when we try to reflect upon our soci­ety, on the man­ner in which power is exer­cised here, we essen­tially con­struct this analy­sis from a juridi­cal idea: where is power, who holds power, what are the rules gov­ern­ing [les règles qui régis­sent] power, what is the sys­tem of law that power estab­lishes within the social body.

Thus, we always per­form, for our soci­ety, a juridi­cal soci­ol­ogy of power, and, when we study soci­eties dif­fer­ent from ours, we per­form an eth­nol­ogy that is essen­tially an eth­nol­ogy of the rule, an eth­nol­ogy of pro­hi­bi­tion. For exam­ple, look at the eth­no­log­i­cal stud­ies from Durkheim to Lévi-Strauss. What was the prob­lem that always reap­peared, that was per­pet­u­ally re-elaborated? The prob­lem of pro­hi­bi­tion, essen­tially the pro­hi­bi­tion of incest. And, from this matrix, from this ker­nel that would be the pro­hi­bi­tion of incest, one attempted to under­stand the gen­eral func­tion­ing of the sys­tem. And we had to wait until recent years to see new points of view appear about power, that is, either a strictly Marx­ist point of view or a point of view more dis­tant from clas­si­cal Marx­ism. In any case, we see since the appear­ance, with the work of Clas­tres4, for exam­ple, a whole new con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of power as tech­nol­ogy, which attempts to free itself from the pre­vail­ing one, from this priv­i­leg­ing of rule and pro­hi­bi­tion, which had basi­cally reigned over eth­nol­ogy from Durkheim to Lévi-Strauss.

In any case, the ques­tion that I would like to pose is the fol­low­ing: how is it that our soci­ety, West­ern soci­ety in gen­eral, has con­ceived of power in such a restric­tive, impov­er­ished and neg­a­tive way? Why do we always con­ceive of power as law and pro­hi­bi­tion, why this priv­i­lege? Of course, we could say that all this is due to the influ­ence of Kant, to the idea accord­ing to which, in the final instance, the moral law, the “you must not,” the oppo­si­tion “you must” / “you must not” is, in fact, the matrix of every reg­u­la­tion of human con­duct. But, to speak frankly, explain­ing this with recourse to the influ­ence of Kant is, of course, totally insuf­fi­cient. The prob­lem is to know whether Kant had such an influ­ence, and why what influ­ence he had could be so strong. Why did Durkheim, a philoso­pher with vague social­ist ten­den­cies at the start of the Third French Repub­lic, rely upon Kant in this fash­ion when per­form­ing an analy­sis of the mech­a­nism of power in society?

I believe that we can crudely ana­lyze the rea­son in the fol­low­ing terms: basi­cally, in the West, the great sys­tems estab­lished since the Mid­dle Ages had been devel­oped through the increase in monar­chi­cal power, at the expense of power, or bet­ter, of feu­dal pow­ers. Now, in this bat­tle between feu­dal pow­ers and monar­chi­cal power, right [le droit]5 was always the instru­ment of monar­chi­cal power against the insti­tu­tions, cus­toms, pre­scrip­tions [régle­ments] and forms of bond and belong­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of feu­dal soci­ety. I’ll sim­ply give you two exam­ples of this bat­tle. On the one hand, monar­chi­cal power devel­oped in the West by, in large part, rely­ing upon juridi­cal insti­tu­tions and by devel­op­ing these insti­tu­tions; through civil war, a sys­tem of courts sup­planted the old solu­tion of pri­vate dis­putes. In fact, the laws estab­lished by these courts gave monar­chi­cal power itself the abil­ity to resolve dis­putes between indi­vid­u­als. In the same man­ner, Roman law, which reap­peared in the West in the 13th and 14th cen­turies, was a for­mi­da­ble instru­ment in the hands of the monar­chy for suc­ceed­ing in delim­it­ing the forms and mech­a­nisms of its own power, at the expense of feu­dal power. In other words, the growth of the State in Europe­was par­tially assured by, or in any case was used as an instru­ment in, the devel­op­ment of juridi­cal thought.Monarchical power, the power of the State was essen­tially rep­re­sented as right [le droit].

And yet, as it hap­pened, while the bour­geoisie was largely prof­it­ing from the devel­op­ment of royal power and the diminu­tion and regres­sion of feu­dal power, it also had, on the other hand, every inter­est in devel­op­ing a sys­tem of rights that would per­mit it to give form to eco­nomic exchanges that assured its own social devel­op­ment. The result being that the vocab­u­lary and form of rights was the sys­tem of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of power com­mon to the bour­geoisie and the monar­chy. The bour­geoisie and the monar­chy suc­ceeded lit­tle by lit­tle at estab­lish­ing, from the end of the Mid­dle Ages up to the 18th cen­tury, a form of power rep­re­sent­ing itself as lan­guage, a form of power which gave itself – as dis­course – the vocab­u­lary of rights. And, when the bour­geoisie had finally dis­posed of monar­chi­cal power, it did so pre­cisely by using this juridi­cal dis­course – which had more or less been that of the monar­chy – which the it turned against the monar­chy itself.

To sim­ply give one exam­ple: Rousseau, when he for­mu­lated his the­ory of the State, attempted to show how a sov­er­eign – but a col­lec­tive sov­er­eign, a sov­er­eign as social body, or bet­ter still, a social body as sov­er­eign – is born out of the trans­fer of indi­vid­ual rights, the alien­ation of these rights and the pos­ing of laws of pro­hi­bi­tion that each indi­vid­ual must rec­og­nize, because it is he him­self who has imposed the law, to the extent that he is a mem­ber of the sov­er­eign, to the extent that he is him­self a sov­er­eign. Accord­ingly, the the­o­ret­i­cal mech­a­nism through which the cri­tique of the monar­chi­cal insti­tu­tion was made, this the­o­ret­i­cal instru­ment was the instru­ment of rights, which had been estab­lished by the monar­chy itself. In other words, the West never had another sys­tem of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, expres­sion or analy­sis of power aside from that of rights, the sys­tem of law. In the final analy­sis, I believe that is ulti­mately the rea­son for which we have not had, until very recently, other pos­si­bil­i­ties for ana­lyz­ing power, except in using these ele­men­tary, fun­da­men­tal, etc. ideas which are those of law, rule, sov­er­eign, com­mis­sion, etc. I believe that we must now free our­selves from this juridi­cal con­cep­tion of power – this con­cep­tion of power derived from the law and sov­er­eign, from the rule and pro­hi­bi­tion – if we wish to pro­ceed towards an analy­sis of the real func­tion­ing of power, rather than its mere representation.

How may we attempt to ana­lyze power in its pos­i­tive mech­a­nisms? It appears to me that we may find, in a cer­tain num­ber of texts, the fun­da­men­tal ele­ments for an analy­sis of this type. We may per­haps find them in Ben­tham, an Eng­lish philoso­pher from the end of the 18th and begin­ning of the 19th cen­tury, who was basi­cally the great the­o­reti­cian of bour­geois power, and we may of course also find these ele­ments in Marx, essen­tially in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal. It’s here, I think, that we may find some ele­ments that I will use for the analy­sis of power in its pos­i­tive mechanisms.

First, what we may find in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal is that one power does not exist, but many pow­ers.6 Pow­ers, this means forms of dom­i­na­tion, forms of sub­ju­ga­tion that func­tion locally, for exam­ple in the work­shop, in the army, on a slave plan­ta­tion or where there are sub­servient rela­tions. These are all local and regional forms of power, which have their own mode of func­tion­ing, their own pro­ce­dure and tech­nique. All these forms of power are het­ero­ge­neous. We may not, there­fore, speak of power if we wish to con­struct an analy­sis of power, but we must speak of pow­ers and attempt to local­ize them in their his­toric and geo­graphic specificity.

A soci­ety is not a uni­tary body, in which one and only one power is exer­cised. Soci­ety is in real­ity the jux­ta­po­si­tion, the link, the coor­di­na­tion and also the hier­ar­chy of dif­fer­ent pow­ers that nev­er­the­less remain in their speci­ficity. Marx places great empha­sis, for exam­ple, on the simul­ta­ne­ously spe­cific and rel­a­tively autonomous – in some sense imper­vi­ous – char­ac­ter of the de facto power the boss exer­cises in a work­shop, com­pared to the juridi­cal kind of power that exists in the rest of soci­ety. Thus, the exis­tence of regions of power. Soci­ety is an arch­i­pel­ago of dif­fer­ent powers.

Sec­ond, it appears that these pow­ers can­not and must not sim­ply be under­stood as the deriva­tion, the con­se­quence of some kind of over­rid­ing power that would be pri­mary. The schema of the jurists, whether those of Grotius, Pufendorf, or Rousseau, amounts to say­ing: “In the begin­ning, there was no soci­ety, and then soci­ety appeared when a cen­tral point of sov­er­eignty appeared to orga­nize the social body, which then per­mit­ted a whole series of local and regional pow­ers”; implic­itly, Marx does not rec­og­nize this schema. He shows, on the con­trary, how, start­ing from the ini­tial and prim­i­tive exis­tence of these small regions of power – like prop­erty, slav­ery, work­shop, and also the army – lit­tle by lit­tle, the great State appa­ra­tuses were able to form. State unity is basi­cally sec­ondary in rela­tion to these regional and spe­cific pow­ers; these lat­ter come first.

Third, these spe­cific regional pow­ers have absolutely no ancient [pri­mor­dial] func­tion of pro­hibit­ing, pre­vent­ing, say­ing “you must not.” The orig­i­nal, essen­tial and per­ma­nent func­tion of these local and regional pow­ers is, in real­ity, being pro­duc­ers of the effi­ciency and skill of the pro­duc­ers of a prod­uct. Marx, for exam­ple, has superb analy­ses of the prob­lem of dis­ci­pline in the army and work­shops. The analy­sis I’m about to make of dis­ci­pline in the army is not in Marx, but no mat­ter: What hap­pened in the army from the end of the 16th and the begin­ning of the 17th cen­tury prac­ti­cally right up to the end of the 18th cen­tury? An enor­mous trans­for­ma­tion in an army that had hith­erto been essen­tially con­sti­tuted of small units of rel­a­tively inter­change­able indi­vid­u­als, orga­nized around one com­man­der. These small units were replaced by a great pyra­mi­dal unit, with a whole series of inter­me­di­ate com­mand­ing offi­cers, of non-commissioned offi­cers and tech­ni­cians too, essen­tially because a tech­ni­cal dis­cov­ery had been made: the gun with com­par­a­tively rapid and cal­i­brated fire.

From this moment for­ward, one could no longer deal with the army – it was dan­ger­ous to oper­ate it – under the plan of small iso­lated units, com­posed of inter­change­able ele­ments. It was nec­es­sary, so that the army could be effec­tive, so that one could use the guns in the best pos­si­ble man­ner, that each indi­vid­ual be well trained to occupy a deter­mined posi­tion on an agreed upon front, to be deployed at the same moment, accord­ing to a line that must not be bro­ken, etc. The whole prob­lem of dis­ci­pline implied a new tech­nique of power with non-commissioned offi­cers, a whole hier­ar­chy of non-commissioned offi­cers, junior offi­cers, and senior offi­cers. And it was in this way that the army could be dealt with as a very com­plex hier­ar­chi­cal unit, by ensur­ing the max­i­mal per­for­mance of whole deploy­ment accord­ing to the speci­ficity of the posi­tion and role of each person.

There was a very supe­rior mil­i­tary per­for­mance thanks to a new prac­tice of power, whose func­tion was absolutely not that of pro­hibit­ing some­thing. Of course, the new prac­tice of power came to pro­hibit this or that thing; nev­er­the­less, the goal was absolutely not say­ing, “you must not,” but rather essen­tially obtain­ing a bet­ter per­for­mance, a bet­ter pro­duc­tion and a bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­ity in the army. The army as pro­duc­tion of dead bod­ies, this was per­fected, or bet­ter still, this was what was assured by this new tech­nique of power. This was absolutely not pro­hi­bi­tion. We could say the same thing of the dis­ci­pline in work­shops, which began to take shape in the 17th and 18th cen­turieswhen the small work­shops of a cor­po­rate type were replaced by large work­shops and an entire series of work­ers – hun­dreds of work­ers – it was nec­es­sary to both mon­i­tor [sur­veiller] and coor­di­nate move­ments, with the divi­sion of labor. The divi­sion of labor was, at the same time, the rea­son it was oblig­a­tory to invent this new dis­ci­pline of the work­shop, but, inversely, we could say that the dis­ci­pline of the work­shop was the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­ity for achiev­ing a divi­sion of labor. With­out this dis­ci­pline of the work­shop, which is to say, with­out hier­ar­chy, with­out sur­veil­lance, with­out the appear­ance of fore­men, with­out the timed con­trol of move­ments, it would not have been pos­si­ble to achieve a divi­sion of labor.

Finally, the fourth impor­tant idea: these mech­a­nisms of power, these pro­ce­dures of power, it’s nec­es­sary to regard them as tech­niques, which is to say as pro­ce­dures that were invented, per­fected, that were unceas­ingly devel­oped. There is a ver­i­ta­ble tech­nol­ogy of power, or bet­ter still, of pow­ers, which have their own his­tory. Here, once again, we can eas­ily find between the lines of the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal an analy­sis, or at least the out­line of an analy­sis, which would be the his­tory of the tech­nol­ogy of power, such as it was exer­cised in the work­houses and fac­to­ries. I will there­fore fol­low these essen­tial indi­ca­tions and I will attempt, with regard to sex­u­al­ity, not to con­ceive of power from the juridi­cal point of view, but from the technological.

It appears to me, in fact, that if we ana­lyze power by priv­i­leg­ing the State appa­ra­tus, if we ana­lyze power by regard­ing it as a mech­a­nism of preser­va­tion, if we regard power as a juridi­cal super­struc­ture, we will basi­cally do no more than take up the clas­si­cal theme of bour­geois thought, for it essen­tially con­ceives of power as a juridi­cal fact. To priv­i­lege the State appa­ra­tus, the func­tion of preser­va­tion, the juridi­cal super­struc­ture, is, basi­cally, to “Rousseauify” Marx. It rein­scribes Marx in the bour­geois and juridi­cal the­ory of power. It is not sur­pris­ing that this sup­pos­edly Marx­ist con­cep­tion of power as State appa­ra­tus, as instance of preser­va­tion, as juridi­cal super­struc­ture, is essen­tially found in Euro­pean Social Democ­racy of the end of the 19th cen­tury, when the prob­lem was pre­cisely that of know­ing how to make Marx work inside a juridi­cal sys­tem, which was that of the bour­geoisie. So, what I would like to do, in tak­ing up what can be found in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal, and in mov­ing away from all that was added, rewrit­ten after­wards on the priv­i­leges of the State appa­ra­tus, power’s func­tion of repro­duc­tion, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the juridi­cal super­struc­ture, is to attempt to see how it is pos­si­ble to do a his­tory of pow­ers in the West, and essen­tially of pow­ers inas­much as they are invested in sexuality.

Thus, from this method­olog­i­cal prin­ci­ple, how can we do a his­tory of the mech­a­nisms of power with regards to sex­u­al­ity? I believe that, in a very schematic man­ner, we could say the fol­low­ing: the sys­tem of power that the monar­chy had suc­ceeded in orga­niz­ing from the end of the Mid­dle Ages pre­sented two major incon­ve­niences for the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. First, polit­i­cal power, as it was exer­cised within the social body, was a very dis­con­tin­u­ous power. The mesh of the net was too large, and an almost infi­nite num­ber of things, ele­ments, con­ducts, and processes escaped the con­trol of power. If we take for exam­ple a pre­cise point – the impor­tance of smug­gling in all of Europe up until the end of the 18th cen­tury – we would observe a very impor­tant eco­nomic flow, almost as impor­tant as the other, a flow which entirely escaped power. And it was, more­over, one of the con­di­tions for the exis­tence of men; if there had not been mar­itime piracy, com­merce would not have func­tioned, and men would not have been able to live. In other words, ille­gal­ity was one of the very pre­con­di­tions of life, but it sig­ni­fied at the same time that there were cer­tain things which escaped power, and over which power did not have con­trol. Con­se­quently, eco­nomic processes, diverse mech­a­nisms, which in a cer­tain way remained out­side con­trol, required the estab­lish­ment of a con­tin­u­ous, minute power, in a cer­tain atom­iz­ing fash­ion; from a lacu­nal, global power to a con­tin­u­ous, atomic, and indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing power: that every­one, each indi­vid­ual in and of him­self, in his body, in his move­ments, could be con­trolled, in the place of total and mass controls.

The sec­ond great incon­ve­nience to the mech­a­nisms of power, such as they func­tioned in the monar­chy, is that they were exces­sively costly. And they were costly pre­cisely because the func­tion of power – that which con­sisted power – was essen­tially the power to levy, to have the right and the force to col­lect some­thing – a tax, a tithe wher­ever the clergy was con­cerned – from the har­vests that were made: the com­pul­sory col­lec­tion of this or that per­cent­age for the mas­ter, for royal power, for the clergy. Power was then essen­tially tax col­lec­tor and preda­tor. In this way, it always per­formed an eco­nomic sub­trac­tion, and, by con­se­quence, far from favor­ing and stim­u­lat­ing eco­nomic flow, monar­chi­cal power was per­pet­u­ally its obsta­cle and its restraint. Hence this sec­ond pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, this sec­ond neces­sity: find­ing a power mech­a­nism such that, at the same time that it con­trolled things and per­sons right down to the most minute detail, it would nei­ther be expen­sive nor essen­tially preda­tory on soci­ety, that it would, on the con­trary, be exer­cised through the eco­nomic processes themselves.

With these two objec­tives, I believe that we can roughly grasp the great tech­no­log­i­cal muta­tion of power in the West. We have the habit – once again accord­ing to the spirit of an ever so lim­ited Marx­ism – of say­ing that the great inven­tion was, as every­one knows, the steam engine, or at least inven­tions of this sort. It is true, this was very impor­tant, but there was an entire series of other tech­no­log­i­cal inven­tions just as impor­tant as this one and which were, in the last instance, the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­ity for the func­tion­ing of the oth­ers. Thus it was in polit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy; there was an inven­tion at the level of forms of power through­out the 17th and 18th cen­turies. Con­se­quently, we must not only make a his­tory of indus­trial tech­niques, but also that of polit­i­cal tech­niques, and I believe that we may group the inven­tions of polit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy under two great chap­ters, and for these inven­tions we must credit, above all, the 17th and 18th cen­turies. I will group these polit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies under two great chap­ter head­ings because it appears to me that they were devel­oped in two dif­fer­ent direc­tions. On the one hand, there was this tech­nol­ogy that I will call “dis­ci­pline.” Dis­ci­pline is basi­cally the mech­a­nism of power by which we come to exert con­trol in the social body right down to the finest ele­ments, by which we suc­ceed in grab­bing hold of the social atoms them­selves, which is to say indi­vid­u­als. Tech­niques for the indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion of power. How to mon­i­tor [sur­veiller] some­one, how to con­trol his con­duct, his behav­ior, his apti­tudes, how to inten­sify his per­for­mance, mul­ti­ply his capac­i­ties, how to put him in a place where he will be most use­ful: this is what I mean by discipline.

A moment ago, I cited for you the exam­ple of dis­ci­pline in the army. It is an impor­tant exam­ple because it was truly the site where the great dis­cov­ery of dis­ci­pline was made and devel­oped in the first place. Linked then to this other inven­tion of a techno-industrial sort that was the inven­tion of the gun with a com­par­a­tively rapid fire. Basi­cally from this moment on, we can say the fol­low­ing: the sol­dier was no longer inter­change­able, was no longer pure and sim­ple can­non fod­der [chair à canon] a sim­ple indi­vid­ual capa­ble of doing harm. To be a good sol­dier, he needed to know how to shoot; there­fore he had to undergo a process of appren­tice­ship. It was nec­es­sary that the sol­dier equally know how to move, that he know how to coor­di­nate his move­ments with those of other sol­diers, in sum: the sol­dier became some­thing skill­ful. Ergo, some­thing valu­able [pre­cieux]. And the more valu­able he was, the more he had to be pre­served; the more he had to be pre­served, the more nec­es­sary it became to teach him the tech­niques capa­ble of sav­ing his life in bat­tle, and the more tech­niques he was taught, the longer this appren­tice­ship, the more valu­able he became. And sud­denly, you have a kind of rapid devel­op­ment of these mil­i­tary tech­niques of train­ing [dres­sage], cul­mi­nat­ing in the famous Pruss­ian army of Fred­eric II, which spent most of its time doing exer­cises. The Pruss­ian army, the model of Pruss­ian dis­ci­pline, is pre­cisely the per­fec­tion, the max­i­mal inten­sity of this cor­po­real dis­ci­pline [dis­ci­pline cor­porelle] of the sol­dier, which was, to a cer­tain extent, the model for other disciplines.

Another instance where we see this new dis­ci­pli­nary tech­nol­ogy appear­ing is edu­ca­tion. It is first in sec­ondary schools and then in pri­mary schools where we see these dis­ci­pli­nary meth­ods appear­ing in which indi­vid­u­als are indi­vid­u­al­ized within a mul­ti­plic­ity. The sec­ondary school brings together dozens, hun­dreds and some­times thou­sands of high school­ers and school­child­ren, and it then became an issue of exer­cis­ing a power over them that would rightly be much less expen­sive than the power of the tutor and that could only exist between pupil and mas­ter. Here we have one mas­ter for dozens of dis­ci­ples; it was nec­es­sary, how­ever, despite this mul­ti­plic­ity of pupils, to achieve an indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion of power, a per­ma­nent con­trol, a sur­veil­lance of every moment. Hence the appear­ance of the fig­ure well known to all those who attended sec­ondary school, the mon­i­tor [le sur­veil­lant], who, in the pyra­mid, cor­re­sponds to the non-commissioned offi­cer in the army; also the appear­ance of quan­ti­ta­tive grades, the appear­ance of exams, the appear­ance of com­pe­ti­tion, and the pos­si­bil­ity, by con­se­quence, of clas­si­fy­ing indi­vid­u­als in such a man­ner that each one would be pre­cisely in his place, under the gaze of the teacher, or in the qual­i­fi­ca­tion and judg­ment that we make of each indi­vid­ual pupil.

See, for exam­ple, how you are seated in rows in front of me. It’s a posi­tion that per­haps appears nat­ural to you, but it is impor­tant to recall, how­ever, that this is a rel­a­tively recent devel­op­ment in the his­tory of civ­i­liza­tion, and that it is pos­si­ble, at the start of the 19th cen­tury, to find schools where the pupils are assem­bled in a stand­ing crowd, around a pro­fes­sor who instructs them. And this of course implies that the pro­fes­sor could not effec­tively or indi­vid­u­ally mon­i­tor them: there is a crowd of stu­dents and, then, a pro­fes­sor. Cur­rently, you are arranged in rows so that the gaze of the pro­fes­sor can indi­vid­u­al­ize each of you, so he or she can call your name to know if you are present, what you’re doing, if you’re dream­ing, if you’re yawn­ing… These are banal­i­ties, but very impor­tant banal­i­ties, for finally, at the level of a whole series of exer­cises of power, it was through these lit­tle tech­niques that these new mech­a­nisms were able to take over, were able to oper­ate. That which hap­pened in the army and in sec­ondary schools may be equally observed in the work­houses through­out the 19th cen­tury. This is what I will name the indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing tech­nol­ogy of power, a tech­nol­ogy that basi­cally tar­gets indi­vid­u­als right down to their bod­ies, their behav­iors; it is grosso modo a kind of polit­i­cal anatomy, an anatomo-politics, an anatomy that tar­gets indi­vid­u­als to the point of anat­o­miz­ing them.

As I have indi­cated above, we have a fam­ily of tech­nolo­gies of power that appeared in the 17th and 18th cen­turies; we have another fam­ily of tech­nolo­gies of power which appeared a bit later, dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 18th cen­tury, and which was devel­oped (we must say that the for­mer, to the shame of France, was above all devel­oped in France and Ger­many) above all in Eng­land: tech­nolo­gies that do not tar­get indi­vid­u­als as such, but which, on the con­trary, tar­get the pop­u­la­tion. In other words, the 18th cen­tury dis­cov­ered this cap­i­tal thing: power is not sim­ply exer­cised upon sub­jects; this idea was the fun­da­men­tal the­sis of the monar­chy, accord­ing to which there was the sov­er­eign and the sub­jects. It was dis­cov­ered that power is exer­cised over the pop­u­la­tion. And what does pop­u­la­tion mean? Pop­u­la­tion does not sim­ply mean a large group of humans, but liv­ing beings tra­versed, ordered and gov­erned [régis] by bio­log­i­cal processes and laws. A pop­u­la­tion has a birthrate and a death rate; a pop­u­la­tion has a gen­er­a­tional curve [une courbe d’âge], a life table [une pyra­mide d’âge], mor­bid­ity, a gen­eral state of health, a pop­u­la­tion might per­ish or might, on the con­trary, increase.

Now all of this begins to be dis­cov­ered in the 18th cen­tury. We can there­fore glimpse that the rela­tion of power with the sub­ject or, bet­ter still, with the indi­vid­ual, need not sim­ply be this form of depen­dency [sujé­tion] that per­mits power to levy goods, wealth, and pos­si­bly body and blood from the sub­ject, but, rather, power must be exer­cised over indi­vid­u­als inso­far as they con­sti­tute a kind of bio­log­i­cal entity that must be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion if we actu­ally want to use this pop­u­la­tion as a machine for pro­duc­ing, for pro­duc­ing wealth and goods, for pro­duc­ing other indi­vid­u­als. The dis­cov­ery of the pop­u­la­tion is, along with the dis­cov­ery of the indi­vid­ual and the train­able body, the other great tech­no­log­i­cal core around which the polit­i­cal prac­tices of the West trans­formed them­selves. We invented in that case what I will call, in oppo­si­tion to the anatomo-politics I men­tioned a moment ago, bio-politics. It’s at this point that we observe the emer­gence of prob­lems like those of hous­ing, of qual­ity of life in the city, of pub­lic hygiene, of the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the ratio between birth rate and mor­tal­ity. At this time the prob­lem appears of know­ing how to cajole peo­ple to pro­duce more babies, or in any case, how we can reg­u­late the pop­u­la­tion flow, how we can also reg­u­late the growth rate of the pop­u­la­tion, and migra­tion too. And from this moment on, a whole series of obser­va­tional tech­niques, includ­ing sta­tis­tics, of course, but also all the great admin­is­tra­tive, eco­nomic, and polit­i­cal organs, are given the duty of reg­u­lat­ing the pop­u­la­tion. There were two great rev­o­lu­tions in the tech­nol­ogy of power: the dis­cov­ery of dis­ci­pline and the dis­cov­ery of reg­u­la­tion, the improve­ment of anatomo-politics and the improve­ment of bio-politics.

Life now becomes, begin­ning in the 18th cen­tury, an object of power. Life and the body. Pre­vi­ously, there had only been sub­jects, juridi­cal sub­jects from whom we could col­lect goods, and life too, more­over. Now, there are bod­ies and pop­u­la­tions. Power becomes mate­ri­al­ist. It ceases to be essen­tially juridi­cal. It has to deal with real things [des choses réelles], which are bod­ies and life. Life enters the field of power: a major trans­for­ma­tion [muta­tion cap­i­tale], doubt­less one of the most impor­tant, in the his­tory of human soci­eties; and we can clearly see how sex [le sexe]7could become, from this moment for­ward, which is to say pre­cisely from the 18th cen­tury, an absolutely cap­i­tal com­po­nent; for, basi­cally, sex is sit­u­ated very pre­cisely at the point of artic­u­la­tion between the indi­vid­ual dis­ci­plines of the body and the reg­u­la­tions of pop­u­la­tion. Sex is that through which one can assure the sur­veil­lance of indi­vid­u­als, and we under­stand why in the 18th cen­tury, and pre­cisely in sec­ondary schools, ado­les­cent sex­u­al­ity became a med­ical prob­lem, a moral prob­lem, nearly a polit­i­cal prob­lem of the high­est impor­tance, because, through – and under the pre­text of – this con­trol of sex­u­al­ity, one could mon­i­tor high school­ers, ado­les­cents, over the course of their lives, at each instant, even dur­ing their sleep. Sex will there­fore become an instru­ment of “dis­ci­pli­nar­iza­tion,” it will be one of the essen­tial ele­ments of this anatomo-politics of which I spoke; but also, on the other hand, it is sex that assures the repro­duc­tion of pop­u­la­tions, it is with sex, with a pol­i­tics of sex that we are able to change the rela­tion between birthrate and mor­tal­ity; in any case, the pol­i­tics of sex will install itself within this whole pol­i­tics of life that will become so impor­tant in the 19th cen­tury. Sex is the lever between anatomo-politics and bio-politics; it is at the junc­ture of dis­ci­plines and reg­u­la­tions, and it is in this func­tion that it became, at the end of the 19th cen­tury, a polit­i­cal com­po­nent of the utmost impor­tance for mak­ing soci­ety into a machine of production.


M. Fou­cault: Would you like to ask some questions?

Male Audi­tor: What pro­duc­tiv­ity does power tar­get in prisons?

M. Fou­cault: It’s a long his­tory. The prison sys­tem, I mean the repres­sive prison, the prison as pun­ish­ment [châ­ti­ment], was estab­lished late, prac­ti­cally at the end of the 18th cen­tury. Before the end of the 18th cen­tury, prison was not a legal sanc­tion [puni­tion légale]; we impris­oned men sim­ply to hold them before ini­ti­at­ing legal process against them and not to pun­ish them, except for in excep­tional cases. Well, we cre­ate pris­ons, as a sys­tem of sup­pres­sion, by declar­ing the fol­low­ing: the prison is going to be a sys­tem for the reed­u­ca­tion for crim­i­nals. After doing time in prison, thanks to a domes­ti­ca­tion of a mil­i­tary and schol­arly type, we will be able to trans­form the offender into a law-abiding indi­vid­ual. We were there­fore seek­ing, with their time spent in prison, the pro­duc­tion of obe­di­ent individuals.

Now, very quickly, from the very begin­ning of the prison sys­tem, we saw that the sys­tem was absolutely not con­ducted [con­dui­sait] towards this result, but that it was frankly pro­duc­ing pre­cisely the oppo­site result: the longer an indi­vid­ual stayed in prison, the less re-educated and more delin­quent he became. It was absolutely not zero pro­duc­tiv­ity, but rather neg­a­tive pro­duc­tiv­ity; oth­er­wise, the prison sys­tem, under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, would have had to dis­ap­pear. So it stayed, and it con­tin­ues, and when we ask peo­ple what we might replace pris­ons with, no one responds.

Why do pris­ons per­sist, in spite of this counter-productivity? I would say: on the con­trary, they per­sist pre­cisely because, in actu­al­ity, the prison sys­tem is busy pro­duc­ing offend­ers and because delin­quency has a par­tic­u­lar economic-political util­ity in the soci­eties with which we are famil­iar. We can eas­ily uncover the economic-political util­ity of delin­quency: first, the more offend­ers there are, the more crimes there will be; the more crimes there are, the more fear there will be within the pop­u­la­tion, and the more fear there is in the pop­u­la­tion, the more accept­able, and even desir­able, the sys­tem of police con­trol will become. The exis­tence of this small per­ma­nent inter­nal dan­ger is one of the con­di­tions of accept­abil­ity for this sys­tem of con­trol; it explains why, in the news­pa­pers, on the radio and tele­vi­sion, in all coun­tries of the world with­out a sin­gle excep­tion, we give so much space to crim­i­nal­ity, as if the pass­ing of each day made it some kind of nov­elty. Since 1830, in every coun­try of the world, cam­paigns around the theme of an increase of delin­quency were devel­oped, even though this increase was never proven; but this sup­posed pres­ence, this men­ace, this growth of crim­i­nal­ity is an accep­tance of these controls.

But that’s not all. Delin­quency is eco­nom­i­cally use­ful. Look at the amount of traf­fick­ing – per­fectly lucra­tive and engaged in cap­i­tal­ist prof­its – which is crim­i­nal­ized: thus pros­ti­tu­tion – every­one knows that the con­trol of pros­ti­tu­tion in every coun­try of Europe (I don’t know if this also hap­pens in Brazil) is per­formed by men whose pro­fes­sion is called pimp­ing, who are all ex-offenders and have the role of chan­nel­ing the prof­its earned from sex­ual plea­sure into eco­nomic cir­cuits like the hotel indus­try, and towards bank accounts. Pros­ti­tu­tion allowed for the sex­ual plea­sure of some pop­u­la­tions to become expen­sive, and its man­age­ment and super­vi­sion has allowed prof­its on sex­ual plea­sure to be diverted into spe­cific cir­cuits. Arms traf­fick­ing, drug deal­ing, and, in fact, an entire series of traf­fick­ing, which for one rea­son or another can­not be forth­rightly or legally con­ducted in soci­ety, fall under the delin­quency that accord­ingly sus­tains them.

If we add to all this the fact that crim­i­nal­ity was largely used in the 19th cen­tury, and in the 20th cen­tury too, by an entire series of polit­i­cal manoeu­vres, such as break­ing up strikes, infil­trat­ing labor unions, being used as a work­force and as body­guards by the heads of polit­i­cal par­ties, includ­ing those more and less respectable. Here I’m speak­ing more specif­i­cally about France, where all polit­i­cal par­ties have a work­force which ranges from the bill­posters to the hood­lums (the vio­lent riot­ers), a work­force con­sti­tuted by offend­ers. Thus, we have a whole series of eco­nomic and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that func­tion on the basis of delin­quency, and, to this extent, pris­ons, which pro­duce pro­fes­sional offend­ers, have a util­ity and productivity.

Male audi­tor: First of all, I’d like to express what a plea­sure it has been lis­ten­ing to you, see­ing you, and reread­ing your books. All of my ques­tions are based on the cri­tique that Dominique [Lecourt] lev­eled at you: if you go one step fur­ther, you will no longer be an archae­ol­o­gist, an archae­ol­o­gist of knowl­edge; if you go one step fur­ther, you will fall into his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism.8 That’s the basis of the ques­tion. Then, I would like to know why you main­tain that those who defend his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism and psy­cho­analy­sis are not sure of them­selves, are not sure of the sci­en­tificity of their posi­tions. The first thing, and this sur­prised me, after read­ing so much about the dif­fer­ence between refoule­ment and répres­sion9, a dif­fer­ence which we do not have in Por­tuguese, is that you start by speak­ing of sup­pres­sion with­out dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing it from refoule­ment. It’s sur­pris­ing to me. The sec­ond sur­prise is the fol­low­ing: in attempt­ing to trace an anatomy of the social by draw­ing on dis­ci­pline in the army, you make use of the same ter­mi­nol­ogy that the lawyers today use in Brazil. In the OAB10 con­gress, which took place in Sal­vador, the lawyers were con­stantly using the words “off­set”11 and “dis­ci­pline” to define their juridi­cal func­tion. Curi­ously, you make use of the same terms to speak of power; you use the same juridi­cal lan­guage. What I would like to ask you is whether or not you fall vic­tim to the same rep­re­sen­ta­tive dis­course of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, to the illu­sion of power, the dis­course that these lawyers have started using. Thus, the new law of pub­lic com­pa­nies appears as an instru­ment for dis­ci­plin­ing monop­o­lies, but what it actu­ally rep­re­sents is a very advanced, valu­able, tech­no­log­i­cal instru­ment that obeys pur­poses inde­pen­dent of the will of jurists, to wit the neces­si­ties of cap­i­tal repro­duc­tion. In this way, your usage of the same ter­mi­nol­ogy sur­prises me, to con­tinue, while you estab­lish a dialec­tic between tech­nol­ogy and dis­ci­pline. And my last sur­prise is that you use the pop­u­la­tion as an ele­ment of social analy­sis, return­ing, there­fore, to a period prior to Marx’s cri­tique of Ricardo.

M. Fou­cault: There is a prob­lem of time. At any rate, we are going to meet again tomor­row after­noon, at 3:30, and then we can more com­pletely dis­cuss these major ques­tions bet­ter than right now. I’m going to attempt to respond briefly to two ques­tions and tomor­row you will pose them anew. This doesn’t bother you, does it? Is this okay? Here’s the gen­eral sub­ject of the ques­tion. About the Lecourt prob­lem and of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism we will speak tomor­row, but these two other points, you’re right, for they make ref­er­ence to what I main­tained this morn­ing. In the first place, I have not spo­ken of refoule­ment; I spoke of sup­pres­sion [répres­sion], the for­bid­den, and the law. This is due to the nec­es­sar­ily brief and allu­sive char­ac­ter of what I’m able to say in such lit­tle time. Freud’s thought is in fact much more sub­tle than the pic­ture I’ve pre­sented here. Around this notion of repres­sion we find the debate between, we could say, grosso modo Reich, the Reichi­ans, Mar­cuse, and, on the other hand, psy­cho­an­a­lysts proper, like Melanie Klein and above all Lacan. For the con­cept of repres­sion could be used for an analy­sis of the social mech­a­nisms of sup­pres­sion by argu­ing that the demand which deter­mines repres­sion is a par­tic­u­lar social real­ity that estab­lishes itself as real­ity prin­ci­ple and imme­di­ately pro­vokes repression.

In gen­eral terms, this is a Reichian analy­sis mod­i­fied by Mar­cuse with the con­cept of sur­plus repres­sion.12 And on the other hand, you have the Laca­ni­ans who take up the con­cept of repres­sion and main­tain: it is not that at all, when Freud speaks of repres­sion, he is not think­ing about sup­pres­sion, he is instead think­ing about a par­tic­u­lar mech­a­nism absolutely con­sti­tu­tive of desire; because, for Freud, says Lacan, there is no non-repressed desire: desire only exists as desire by virtue of the fact that desire isre­pressed, and because that which con­sti­tutes desire is the law, and there­fore he derives the con­cept of repres­sion from the con­cept of the law.

As a result, two inter­pre­ta­tions: an inter­pre­ta­tion with sup­pres­sion and an inter­pre­ta­tion with law, which in fact describe two phe­nom­ena or two absolutely dif­fer­ent processes. It’s true that the notion of repres­sion in Freud could be used, accord­ing to the text, either in the one sense or in the other. It’s to avoid this dif­fi­cult prob­lem of Freudian inter­pre­ta­tion that I only spoke of sup­pres­sion, because as it hap­pens, his­to­ri­ans of sex­u­al­ity have never used a con­cept other than sup­pres­sion, and for a very sim­ple rea­son: this con­cept reveals the social con­tours that deter­mine repres­sion. We could then do a his­tory of repres­sion using the con­cept of sup­pres­sion; whereas, using the con­cept of the for­bid­den – which, in a cer­tain sense, is more or less iso­mor­phic to every soci­ety – we couldn’t do a his­tory of sex­u­al­ity. This is why I avoided the con­cept of repres­sion, and why I only spoke of suppression.

Sec­ondly, it sur­prises me a lot that the lawyers are using the word “dis­ci­pline” – as for the word “off­set,” I never used it a sin­gle time. In this respect I’d like to say the fol­low­ing: I believe that, from the appear­ance of what I call bio-power or anatomo-politics, we live in a soci­ety which is in the process of no longer being a juridi­cal soci­ety. Juridi­cal soci­ety was the monar­chi­cal soci­ety. Euro­pean soci­eties from the 12th to the 18th cen­tury were essen­tially juridi­cal soci­eties in which the prob­lem of rights was the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem: we fought for rights; we made rev­o­lu­tions for them. From the 19th cen­tury onward, in soci­eties which appear as soci­eties of rights, with par­lia­ments, leg­is­la­tures, codes, courts, an entirely dif­fer­ent mech­a­nism of power was begin­ning to seep in, which did not fol­low juridi­cal forms and which did not have the law as its fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple, but instead had the prin­ci­ple of the norm, and which no longer had courts, law, and juridi­cal appa­ra­tus as its instru­ments but instead, med­i­cine, social con­trols, psy­chi­a­try, psy­chol­ogy. We are there­fore in a dis­ci­pli­nary world; we are in a world of reg­u­la­tion. We believe that we are still in a world of law, but, in fact, this other type of power is tak­ing shape through chan­nels [relais] that are no longer juridi­cal chan­nels. So it is per­fectly nor­mal that you would find the word “dis­ci­pline” in the mouths of lawyers. It’s sim­i­larly inter­est­ing to see, regard­ing a spe­cific point, how the soci­ety of nor­mal­iza­tion […]13 inhab­ited the rights soci­ety and at the same time caused it to malfunction.

Look at what hap­pened in the penal sys­tem. I don’t know if it hap­pened in Brazil, but in Euro­pean coun­tries like Ger­many, France, and Great Britain, there is prac­ti­cally not a sin­gle crim­i­nal of the slight­est impor­tance, and soon there will not be a sin­gle per­son who, in pass­ing through the crim­i­nal courts, does not also pass through the hands of a med­ical, psy­chi­atric, or psy­cho­log­i­cal spe­cial­ist. This is because we live in a soci­ety where crime is no longer sim­ply and essen­tially a trans­gres­sion of the law, but rather a devi­a­tion in rela­tion to a norm. Regard­ing penal­ity, we no longer speak of it except in terms of neu­ro­sis, deviance, aggres­sion drive, as you all know very well. So, when I speak of dis­ci­pline and nor­mal­iza­tion, I’m not falling back into a juridi­cal frame­work; it’s on the con­trary the men of rights, men of law, jurists, who are oblig­ated to use the vocab­u­lary of dis­ci­pline and nor­mal­iza­tion. That they speak of dis­ci­pline in the O.A.B. Con­gress only con­firms what I’ve said, and not that I’ve fallen back on some juridi­cal con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. They’re the ones who have been displaced.

Male audi­tor: How do you see the rela­tion between knowl­edge and power [savoir et pou­voir]?Is it the tech­nol­ogy of power that pro­vokes sex­ual per­ver­sion or is it the nat­ural bio­log­i­cal anar­chy among men that pro­vokes it?

M. Fou­cault: On this last point, which is to say, on that which moti­vates, that which explains the devel­op­ment of this tech­nol­ogy, I do not believe we can say it’s bio­log­i­cal devel­op­ment. I attempted to show the oppo­site, which is to say how this trans­for­ma­tion in the tech­nol­ogy of power absolutely takes its depar­ture from the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. The trans­for­ma­tion takes its depar­ture from this devel­op­ment to the extent that, on the one hand, the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism neces­si­tates this tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion, but also, this trans­for­ma­tion enables the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. In short: a per­ma­nent impli­ca­tion of the two move­ments, which are in a way enmeshed in each other.

Now, the other ques­tion, which con­cerns the fact that the rela­tions of power have […]14 when plea­sure and power work together. It is an impor­tant prob­lem. I’d like to briefly say that it’s pre­cisely this, which seems to char­ac­ter­ize the mech­a­nisms in place within our soci­eties; it’s this that equally gives us pause in sim­ply say­ing that power has the func­tion of for­bid­ding, of pro­hibit­ing. If we admit that power only has the func­tion of pro­hibit­ing, we must invent some types of mech­a­nisms – Lacan must do this, and the oth­ers too – to be able to say: “Look, we self-identify with power”; or oth­er­wise we say that there is a masochis­tic rela­tion of power that is estab­lished, which makes us love the one who pro­hibits. But, then again, once you admit that the func­tion of power is not essen­tially to pro­hibit, but to pro­duce, to pro­duce plea­sure, at that moment you can per­fectly under­stand how we are able to obey power and find plea­sure in this obe­di­ence, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily masochis­tic. Chil­dren can serve as exam­ples to us: I believe that the way in which the sex­u­al­ity of chil­dren was made into a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem for the bour­geois fam­ily dur­ing the 19th cen­tury pro­voked and made pos­si­ble a great num­ber of con­trols over the fam­ily, over par­ents, over chil­dren, and cre­ated at the same time a whole series of new plea­sures: the plea­sure of par­ents in mon­i­tor­ing chil­dren, the plea­sure of chil­dren in play­ing with their own sex­u­al­ity, against their par­ents and with their par­ents, an entirely new econ­omy of plea­sure around the body of the child. We needn’t nec­es­sar­ily say that par­ents, out of some sort of masochism, self-identify with the law…

Female audi­tor: You haven’t responded to the ques­tion that was asked of you regard­ing the rela­tion between knowl­edge and power, and of the power that you, Michel, you exer­cise through your knowledge.

M. Fou­cault: Thank you for repeat­ing the ques­tion to me. Indeed, the ques­tion must be posed. I believe that – in any case, it’s one mean­ing of the analy­ses that I make, in which you can see the source of inspi­ra­tion – I believe that the rela­tions of power must not be con­sid­ered in such a sim­plis­tic man­ner as if there are those who, on the one hand, pos­sess power and, on the other, those who do not. Once again, here a par­tic­u­lar ver­sion of aca­d­e­mic Marx­ism fre­quently uses the oppo­si­tion of dom­i­nant class ver­sus dom­i­nated class, the dom­i­nant dis­course ver­sus­the dom­i­nated dis­course. And yet we will never find this dual­ism in Marx; how­ever, it can be found in reac­tionary and racist thinkers like Gob­ineau, who main­tains that, within soci­ety, there are always two classes, a dom­i­nated and another who dom­i­nates. You can find this in many places, but never in Marx, because, in fact, Marx is too cun­ning to main­tain some­thing like this; he knew per­fectly well that what strength­ens rela­tion­ships of power is that they never stop; there is not some sin­gle rela­tion­ship of power here, and many over there; they course through­out every­thing: the work­ing class retrans­mits rela­tion­ships of power; it makes use of rela­tion­ships of power. From the mere fact of being a stu­dent, you are already inserted in a par­tic­u­lar posi­tion of power; I, as a pro­fes­sor, I am also in a posi­tion of power; I am in a posi­tion of power because I am a man and not a woman, and, from the fact that you are a woman, you are also in a posi­tion of power, not the same, but we are all like­wise in posi­tions of power. Of any­one who knows some­thing, we could say: “You exer­cise power.” It’s a stu­pid cri­tique to the extent that it is lim­ited to just that. What is indeed inter­est­ing is to know how the mesh of power func­tions in a given group, class or soci­ety, which is to say, what is the local­iza­tion of each group within the net of power, how each exer­cises it anew, how each pre­serves it, how each passes it on.

—Trans­lated by Christo­pher Chitty


1. This lec­ture was deliv­ered by Michel Fou­cault in 1976 at the invi­ta­tion of the Phi­los­o­phy depart­ment of the Fed­eral Uni­ver­sity of Bahia in Sal­vador, Brazil. It was orig­i­nally pub­lished in two parts, trans­lated into Por­tuguese for issue 4 of the jour­nal Bar­bárie in 1981 and issue 5 in 1982 respec­tively. The lec­ture is repro­duced in its entirety in Michel Fou­cault, Dits et écrits, vol II, eds. Daniel Defert, François Ewald and Jacques Lagange (Paris: Édi­tions Gal­li­mard, 2001), 1001-1020. All notes are the translator’s unless oth­er­wise indicated.

2Refoule­ment or repres­sion is the French trans­la­tion of Freud’s ver­drän­gung, and répres­sion is the French trans­la­tion of Unter­drück­ung tra­di­tion­ally ren­dered “sup­pres­sion” in English.

3. The Stan­dard Edi­tion of Freud uni­formly trans­lates Trieb as “instinct.”

4. See the work of Pierre Clas­tres, col­lected in Soci­ety Against the State: Essays in Polit­i­cal Anthro­pol­ogy, trans. Robert Hur­ley and Abe Stein, Zone Books, 1989 [pub­lished in French by Ed. De Minuit in 1974; note in original].

5. There is a temp­ta­tion to trans­late le droit as “the law” in Eng­lish; how­ever, to do so is to miss some­thing essen­tial about Foucault’s sub­tle argu­ment here. For Fou­cault, le droit, all claims on a right, are always indi­ca­tions of a strug­gle over power rather than evi­dence of some uni­ver­sal sub­ject of the law. He uses “right” in the sense of the com­mon Eng­lish expres­sion “might makes right.” These themes are explored in depth in Foucault’s lec­tures from this year at Col­lège de France, Soci­ety Must Be Defended: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France, 1975-1976, Pic­a­dor: New York, 2003, 49-52; I quote the end of that dis­cus­sion in which Fou­cault defines rights dis­course: “the sub­ject who speaks in this dis­course, who says ‘I’ or ‘we,’ can­not, and is in fact not try­ing to, occupy the posi­tion of the jurist or the philoso­pher, or in other words the posi­tion of a uni­ver­sal, total­iz­ing, or neu­tral sub­ject… he is involved in the bat­tle, has adver­saries, and is work­ing toward a par­tic­u­lar vic­tory. Of course, he speaks the dis­course of right, asserts a right and demands a right. But what he is demand­ing and assert­ing is ‘his’ rights – he says: ‘We have a right.’ These are sin­gu­lar rights, and they are strongly marked by a rela­tion­ship of prop­erty, con­quest, vic­tory, or nature. It might be the right of his fam­ily or race, the right of supe­ri­or­ity or senior­ity, the right of tri­umphal inva­sions, or the right of recent or ancient occu­pa­tions. In all cases, it is a right that is both grounded in his­tory and decen­tered from a juridi­cal uni­ver­sal­ity… it is always a per­spec­ti­val dis­course. It is inter­ested in the total­ity only to the extent that it can see it in one-sided terms, dis­tort it and see it from its own point of view.”

6. The edi­tors of Dits et écrits included a foot­note that refers to the Ger­man and French edi­tions of Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal: A Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­omy, Vol­ume II: The Process of Cir­cu­la­tion of Cap­i­tal (New York: Pen­guin, 1992). How­ever, it seems more likely that Fou­cault is invok­ing the sec­ond vol­ume of vol­ume 1 of Cap­i­tal, since the French trans­la­tion had been pub­lished in mul­ti­ple vol­umes by Édi­tions Sociales. This sec­ond vol­ume of vol­ume 1 – con­sist­ing of sec­tions 4, 5, and 6 – con­tains the mate­r­ial on man­u­fac­ture that Fou­cault refers to through­out Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish. I would like to thank Jason Read for bring­ing this to my attention.

7. French has no way of dis­tin­guish­ing between “sex” and “gen­der,” as many fem­i­nist crit­ics, fol­low­ing Monique Wit­tig and Judith But­ler, are wont do in Eng­lish. Le genre is a gram­mat­i­cal con­cept deter­min­ing the class of nouns accord­ing to a nat­ural divi­sion of the sexes and other for­mal cri­te­ria, whereas le sexe is a qual­ity of bod­ies. Le sexe can sig­nify the cel­lu­lar, organic, hor­monal, phys­i­cal and cul­tural ways in which men are dif­fer­en­ti­ated from women, in addi­tion to the way we thus cat­e­go­rize other ani­mal species and plants. Le sexe can also mean “gen­i­tals” and “sex­ual activ­ity.” Like his con­tem­po­rary Jacques Lacan, Fou­cault deploys le sexe by retain­ing the ambi­gu­ity of its ref­er­ent. See His­tory of Sex­u­al­ity, Vol­ume 1: An Intro­duc­tion, trans. Robert Hur­ley. (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1990),40-46, where he argues that the power invested in sex becomes gen­er­al­ized through focus on and con­cern for the fig­ures of women, chil­dren and sex­ual deviants. The impli­ca­tion is that sex­ual cat­e­gories are the result of a his­tor­i­cally new tech­nol­ogy of power. The peri­odiza­tion here sig­nif­i­cantly revises His­tory of Sex­u­al­ity’s empha­sis upon sex­ual sci­ence of the late-nineteenth century.

8. Dominique Lecourt notes that Archae­ol­ogy of Knowl­edge sig­nif­i­cantly revises Foucault’s the­ory by aban­don­ing its cen­tral notion of the epis­teme: “For my part, I think the crit­ics are well-advised; they are not wrong to trem­ble, for the con­cept of his­tory which func­tions in The Archae­ol­ogy has many con­so­nances with another con­cept of his­tory which they have good rea­son to hate: the sci­en­tific con­cept of his­tory as it appears in his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism. The con­cept of a his­tory which is also pre­sented as a process with­out a sub­ject struc­tured by a sys­tem of laws. A con­cept which, on this basis, is also rad­i­cally anti-anthropologistic, anti-humanist and anti-structuralist.” Marx­ism and Epis­te­mol­ogy: Bachelard, Can­guil­hem and Fou­cault, trans. Ben Brew­ster, (Lon­don: New Left Books, 1975), 189.

9. Orig­i­nal words are in French in the tran­script. It should be noted that refoule­ment is the French trans­la­tion of Freud’s ver­drän­gung, and répres­sion is right­fully trans­lated by the Eng­lish word “sup­pres­sion.” In psy­cho­an­a­lytic the­ory, sup­pres­sion, or répres­sion, is a desire that is con­sciously pushed back into the uncon­scious; repres­sion, or refoule­ment, is pushed back into the uncon­scious with­out hav­ing attained the level of consciousness.

10Orden dos Advo­ga­dos do Brasil: The Order of Brazil­ian Lawyers. [Note in original.]

11. The lec­tor says “compenser.”

12. See Her­bert Mar­cuse, Eros and Civ­i­liza­tion, (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1966).

13. A gap in the record­ing, indi­cated in the orig­i­nal Brazil­ian text. [Note in original.]

14. Gap in the record­ing. [Note in original.]

Author of the article

was the author of The Order of Things and The History of Sexuality.