Wong, James, The Care of the Self: Possibilities for Associative Politics (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper.
Foucault’s late work, in particular his research on practices of the ‘care of the self’ has been seen by some authors as a possible resource for democratic theory (Connolly, Simons). Ella Myers in her recent article argues that Foucault’s idea of the ‘care of the self’ can only be a limited resource for “rendering power relations more equitable, open, and responsive” to democratic practices (Myers 127). She argues that practices of the care of the self do not correct the depoliticizing effects of disciplinary power and biopower. The emphasis on individuals to establish a reflexive relation to one’s self would appear to point away from the kind of collaborative practices required for democratic engagement. She underscores the limitation of Foucault’s account by highlighting his remark that in care of the self the “relationship with oneself is ontologically prior” (Foucault 30). In this paper I offer an alternative reading of Foucault’s puzzling remark about ontological priority that would counter individualist worries. I then argue, by using Harry Frankfurt’s analysis of ‘care’, that the social and reciprocal dimension in Foucault’s account of practices of the care of the self is more substantive than Myers permits. I conclude with some observations about the possibility for collaborative political engagements with others.