The Mesh of Power

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.