Archive for the ‘Current events’ Category

Michel Foucault: The rights and duties of international citizenship (2015)

The front page of the Open Democracy Site, 14 November 2015

Also includes links to the following items:

Michel Foucault “The refugee problem is a presage of the great migrations of the twenty first century”, 1979. Translated by Colin Gordon.

Colin Gordon, The drowned and the saved: Foucault’s texts on migration and solidarity, 13 November 2015

Engin Isin, Michel Foucault as an activist intellectual, 13 November 2015

Jen Bagelman, Foucault and the ‘current’ refugee crisis, 13 November 2015

“Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’homme”, Liberation no 967, 30 June /1 July 1984, p. 22. Dits et ecrits IV pp. 707-8 (355), Gallimard 1994.

This statement was read by Foucault at a press conference on June 19th 1981, organized in association with the organizations Médecins du monde and Terre des hommes, in the presence of Yves Montand, André Glucksmann and Bernard Kouchner. The press conference, according to the newspaper Libération when it published Foucault’s text for the first time just after his death in 1984, was to have marked the public announcement of the formation of an International Committee against Piracy. Another account states that this Committee was set up in Lausanne on April 30 that year. The Libération editor’s note states that Foucault wrote this statement “minutes” before he read it. The title of the piece as published by Libération, “Confronting governments, human rights” seems to have been provided by them, not by Foucault. Given the public profile of the event and those present, it is unclear why the text appears not to have been published at the time.

“We are here only as private individuals and with no other claim to speak, and to speak together, except a certain difficulty we share in enduring what is taking place.

I know very well, and one must defer to this evident truth: we can do little about the reasons which make men and women prefer to leave their country rather than remain and live in it.  It is not in our power to change these facts.

So who asked us to speak? No one, and that is exactly our entitlement. It seems to me that we need to keep in mind three principles which, I believe, guide this initiative, like several others that have preceded it: Ile-de-Lumière, Cap Anamour, A Plane for El Salvador, but also Terre des Hommes and Amnesty International.[1]

1) There exists an international citizenship which as such has its rights and duties, and which is obliged to stand up against all forms of abuse of power, no matter who commits them, no matter who are their victims. After all, we are all governed, and, by that fact, joined in solidarity.

2) Because of their claim to care for the wellbeing of societies, governments arrogate to themselves the right to treat in terms of profit and loss the human suffering which their decisions cause and their negligence allows. It is a duty of this international citizenship to always confront the eyes and ears of governments with the human suffering for which it cannot truthfully be denied that they bear responsibility. People’s suffering must never be allowed to remain the silent residue of politics. It grounds an absolute right to stand up and to challenge those who hold power.

3) We must refuse the division of labour which is so often proposed to us: individuals are allowed to be indignant and to talk, while it falls to governments to deliberate and to act. It is true that well-intentioned governments appreciate the sacred indignation of the governed, providing that it remains merely lyrical. But I think we must be aware that it is very often those who govern who talk, are only able to talk, or only want to talk. Experience shows that we can and must refuse the histrionic role of pure protest which governments would like to offer us.  Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes, Médecins du Monde are initiatives which have created this new right: the right of private individuals to intervene actively and materially in the order of international politics and strategy. The will of individuals must be present and expressed in the order of reality which governments have sought to monopolise. Step by step and day by day, their purported monopoly must be rolled back.

Translated by Colin Gordon, October 2015

[1] Ile-de-Lumière was a French hospital and rescue ship organized by Bernard Kouchner and others  which conducted a series of  missions in the South China Sea in 1979. Cap Anamour was another rescue ship organised by the German humanitarian activists Christel and Rupert Neudeck and others.

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Editor: My thoughts are with those of you reading Foucault News from Paris in the wake of Friday night’s terrible events.

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André Glucksmann par Michel Foucault, Le Nouvel Observateur

Le philosophe des “Maîtres penseurs” est mort à 78 ans. Celui de “Surveiller et punir” l’avait lu, pour “le Nouvel Observateur”, en 1977. Voici son texte, dans son intégralité.

Article de Michel Foucault sur “les Maîtres penseurs”,
paru dans “le Nouvel Observateur” du 9 mai 1977
La grande colère des faits

Pour Michel Foucault, comme pour André Glucksmann, il est urgent que la philosophie apprenne à se battre à mains nues, en riant et en criant, contre tous les tenants de l’Etat-Révolution.

Ce qui s’est passé de moins insignifiant dans nos têtes, depuis une quinzaine d’années? Je dirais dans un premier mouvement: une certaine rage, une sensibilité impatiente, irritée, à ce qui se passe, une intolérance à la justification théorique et à tout ce lent travail d’apaisement qu’assure au jour le jour le discours «vrai».

Sur fond d’un décor grêle que la philosophie, l’économie politique et tant d’autres belles sciences avaient planté, voilà que des fous se sont levés, et des malades, des femmes, des enfants, des emprisonnés, des suppliciés et des morts par millions. Dieu sait pourtant que nous étions tous armés de théorèmes, de principes et de mots pour broyer tout cela.

Quel appétit, soudain, de voir et d’entendre ces étrangers si proches? Quel souci pour ces choses frustes? Nous avons été saisis par la colère des faits. Nous avons cessé de supporter ceux qui nous disaient – ou plutôt le chuchotement qui, en nous, disait: «Peu importe, un fait ne sera jamais rien par lui-même; écoute, lis, attends; ça s’expliquera plus loin, plus tard, plus haut.»
Le réel irrationnel

Est revenu l’âge de Candide où l’on ne peut plus écouter l’universelle petite chanson qui rend raison de tout. Les Candides du XXe siècle, qui ont parcouru le vieux monde et le nouveau à travers les massacres, les batailles, les charniers et les gens terrorisés, existent: nous les avons rencontrés, Ukrainiens ou Chiliens, Tchèques ou Grecs. La morale du savoir, aujourd’hui, c’est peut-être de rendre le réel aigu, âpre, anguleux, inacceptable. Irrationnel donc?


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André Glucksmann en 2007 à Paris. Photo Frédéric Stucin pour Libération

André Glucksmann en 2007 à Paris. Photo Frédéric Stucin pour Libération

French philosopher Andre Glucksmann dies at 78, BBC News site

See also The Guardian

En français: Libération

Andre Glucksmann, one of the most prominent figures in French philosophy, has died aged 78.

An associate of Jean-Paul Sartre, he helped provide the intellectual underpinning for the student and worker revolts of May 1968.

He was originally seen as a Maoist but changed his views when he discovered the reality of totalitarianism.

He persuaded Sartre to back his call to help boat people fleeing the communist regime in Vietnam in 1979.

“My first and best friend is no more,” his son Raphael wrote on Tuesday. “I had the incredible luck to know, laugh, debate, travel, play – do all and nothing at all with such a good and brilliant man.”

Andre Glucksmann was born into a Jewish family originally from Poland and his experience of the Nazi occupation of France during World War Two inspired his early involvement with the French Communist party, as well as Maoists who advocated civil war.

In the early 1970s he condemned President Georges Pompidou’s France as “fascist”.

It was when he read The Gulag Archipelago by Soviet writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1974 that his views dramatically changed, Le Figaro reports.

In common with other leading French thinkers such as Bernard-Henri Levy, he soon made a much-publicised break with Marxism. Together they came to be known as the “New Philosophers”.

In 1977, he wrote a stinging attack on communism in Barbarism with a Human Face.

Glucksmann’s thinking focused increasingly on the rights of the individual against the threat of totalitarianism, and he was prominent in promoting human rights in Bosnia, Chechnya and the Middle East, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris.

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Petition in French and English

See petition website for other languages and to add your signature

Yes to the institution of the “Michel Foucault and the Philosophy of the Present Chair” at PUC São Paulo

Both São Paulo’s Cardinal, Odilo Scherer, and the Bishops of his archdiocese, recently announced that they do not authorize the creation of what had already been announced 4 years ago: the institution of the “Michel Foucault and the Philosophy of the Present Chair” at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP). This decision not only profoundly surprised all those who, coming from many countries, had from the very beginning embraced this initiative, but also all those who, within PUC-SP itself, had worked vigorously to guarantee the institution of this Chair bearing Michel Foucault’s name.

During the 7th International Michel Foucault Conference, held in October 2011, and which brought together dozens of specialists and interested researchers in Foucault’s oeuvre, a letter was signed supporting the initiative. The list of signees included members of the Collège International de Philosophie (Paris), of the University of Paris VIII, the University of Bordeaux Montaigne, the New University of Lisbon, Madrid’s University Complutense, Paris’ École Normal Supérieure, the Universidad San Martin in Argentina, the Universidad de los Andes in Venezuela and the University of Valparaiso in Chile. The initiative also received support from the General Consulate of France in São Paulo. In 2011, PUC-SP received a copy of the audio archives of Foucault’s classes donated by the Collège de France, in what made PUC-SP the only institution outside France allowed to grant them public access. Having in view the institution of the Michel Foucault and the Philosophy of the Present Chair at PUC-SP, what followed were study sessions, seminars and debates on specific literature as preparatory work for this eagerly anticipated event, all of which generated high expectations and a growing enthusiasm.

The decision to reject the institution of the Michel Foucault and the Philosophy of the Present Chair de-authorizes the scientific, philosophical and pedagogical committees which approved the initiative. ‘Academic freedom’, which stands as a basic fundament of university life, was breached. However, if it is well established that the interest in Foucault’s work goes way beyond religious beliefs, it is no less evident that many Catholic thinkers wrote about and inspired themselves in Foucault’s work. This latter fact – to which we could also add the many studies presently considering Foucault’s contribution to an understanding of Christianity – is ever so more highlighted when Dominicans from the Library du Saulchoir welcomed the archives during the period in which these archives faced the risk of being sent abroad, in what allowed them a safe haven in the very place Foucault worked for hours on end.

This Library, which is irrefutably heir to the Catholic tradition and not for that reason less open to Parisian intellectuals or intellectuals passing through Paris, regularly welcomes presentations and discussions covering diverse fields. It is in light of this plurality that many contemporary studies considering Foucault’s contribution to the study of the origins of Christianity and its rooting in ancient culture, in particular, in Stoic philosophy, have been conducted in the Library. What we find here is an example of historical lucidity of the sort evidenced by the work undertaken by the historian Peter Brown, and upon which students and professors focusing on the first centuries of our era have taken full advantage of and will continue to do so. It is also worth highlighting that, after The Order of Things, Foucault’s own work was strongly inspired by a principle of compassion and dedicated to the question of ‘governmentality’, a question which would transform our way of understanding human relations and their intimate connection with the law.

All these facts already define an excess of reasons justifying our perplexity when faced with the Council of Bishops’ decision. This Chair, which honors Michel Foucault, is not simply dedicated to the readership of his texts (which, today, are already impossible to ignore as part of classical culture): it is also turned towards to the analysis – which is not exclusive to his oeuvre – of the questions posed today by both thought itself and the demands of civil life. The refusal of such a Chair, a Chair which, carrying Michel Foucault’s name, is by nature open to actuality, radically contradicts the deontology of University life as well as its most basic fundament: the exercise of free thought. As such, it can only be the University itself which stands as the first victim of this decision: beyond professors, students and researchers, it is Brazilian public opinion which understands itself to be attacked by such a decision. And we have been witnesses of these protests.

All, however, hope that the Council of Bishops will renounce what evidently stands as a form of censorship, revoking its rejection. The Academic Board at the PUC-SP has appealed the decision. From now onwards, it is up to the international community to show that it supports the institution of the Michel Foucault and the Philosophy of the Present Chair at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. Such is what the signees of the letter supporting this initiative did in October 2011, a letter which, for the very reason of defending the institution of a Chair bearing Michel Foucault’s name, is itself already an invitation to all those committed to exercise of free thought to join them.


Oui à la Chaire « Michel Foucault et la philosophie du présent » à l’Université catholique de São Paulo

Le Cardinal de São Paulo, Odilo Scherer, et les évêques de l’Archidiocèse de la ville viennent d’annoncer qu’ils n’autorisent pas la création, prévue depuis quatre ans, de la Chaire « Michel Foucault et la philosophie du présent » à l’Université catholique de São Paulo (PUC/SP). Cette décision surprend profondément toutes celles et tous ceux, venant de nombreux pays, qui ont soutenu depuis le départ cette création, mais aussi toutes celles et tous ceux qui, dans l’Université catholique de São Paulo, ont travaillé vigoureusement en ce sens.

Lors du 7e Colloque international Michel Foucault d’octobre 2011, qui avait réuni à la PUC/SP plusieurs dizaines de spécialistes de l’œuvre de ce penseur et des centaines d’auditeurs, une lettre avait été signée en soutien à cette initiative. La liste des signataires comprenait des membres du Collège international de philosophie (Paris), de l’Université Paris 8, de l’Université Bordeaux Montaigne, de l’Université nouvelle de Lisbonne, de l’Université Complutense de Madrid, de l’École normale supérieure de Paris, de l’Université San Martin en Argentine, de l’Université de los Andes au Venezuela et de l’Université de Valparaiso. L’initiative avait reçu également le soutien actif du Consulat général de France à São Paulo. La même année, la PUC/SP avait obtenu une copie des archives sonores des cours de Foucault fournie par le Collège de France, devenant ainsi la seule institution hors de France à pouvoir y donner un accès au public. Des séances d’études, des séminaires, des débats sur des livres ont ensuite été organisés comme travail préparatoire pour la création de la Chaire, suscitant des attentes et un enthousiasme grandissants.

Le refus émis désormais désavoue les instances scientifiques, philosophiques et pédagogiques de la PUC/SP qui ont approuvé l’initiative. La « liberté académique », au fondement de la vie universitaire, est ainsi bafouée. Pourtant, on sait que l’intérêt porté dans le monde entier à l’œuvre de Foucault va bien au-delà des croyances religieuses et que maints penseurs catholiques ont écrit sur elle et s’en ont inspirés. Ainsi, à Paris, quand il a été question que les archives Foucault partent à l’étranger, les dominicains de la Bibliothèque du Saulchoir ont hébergé ces archives, permettant qu’elles restent en France à l’endroit où Foucault avait l’habitude travailler des heures entières. Cette bibliothèque, relevant de la tradition catholique la plus incontestable et non moins largement ouverte à tous les intellectuels parisiens ou de passage à Paris, accueille régulièrement des présentations et discussions de livres. Par ailleurs, de nombreuses études actuelles portent sur l’apport de Foucault aux études sur le premier christianisme et son enracinement dans la culture antique, particulièrement stoïcienne. C’est là une lucidité historique, complémentaire des études de l’historien anglo-saxon Peter Brown, de quoi tous les étudiants et enseignants des premiers siècles de notre ère ont profité et profiteront encore. On note également que l’œuvre de Foucault après Les Mots et les choses est fortement inspirée par un principe de compassion et dédiée à la gouvernementalité, une question qui transformerait la modalité des relations humaines et leur intime connexion avec le droit. Ce sont des raisons de plus pour exprimer notre surprise face à cette décision.

Cette chaire, portant le nom de Michel Foucault et lui rendant un légitime hommage n’est pas dédiée à la lecture de ses écrits – qui sont maintenant partie de la culture classique. Elle se dit dans son intitulé explicitement tournée (sur l’impulsion non exclusive de ses travaux) à une libre analyse, information et débat des questions de philosophie et de vie civile contemporaines. Le refus d’une telle chaire, ouverte sur l’actualité, contredit à la déontologie universitaire autant qu’à son fondement. L’Université en serait la première victime. Au-delà des enseignants, étudiants et chercheurs, l’opinion publique brésilienne s’en est ému. Nous témoignons de sa protestation. Cependant, tous gardent l’espoir que le Conseil des évêques renoncera à exercer cette forme de censure et reviendra finalement sur son refus. La direction académique de la PUC/SP a fait appel de la décision. Désormais, c’est à la communauté internationale de montrer, qu’elle aussi, soutient la création de la Chaire « Michel Foucault et la philosophie du présent ». C’est ce que faisaient déjà les signataires de la lettre de soutien d’octobre 2011, qui invitaient toutes celles et ceux qui restent attachés au libre exercice de la pensée à se joindre à eux.

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Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought Launches

New Center Will Be Directed By Critical Thought Professor Bernard E. Harcourt, Who Has Challenged Conventional Wisdom on Practices including Mass Incarceration, Free Market Economics, Broken Windows Policing, and Racial Profiling

Media Contact: Public Affairs, 212-854-2650 or publicaffairs@law.columbia.edu

New York, October 7, 2014—The roots of critical thought go back at least to French Renaissance writer Michel de Montaigne, but a new Columbia Law School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences initiative will apply the age-old interdisciplinary approach to a host of modern issues, including the use of surveillance as a mode of government power in the age of Big Data.

The initiative, launched this fall by Columbia Law School Professor Bernard E. Harcourt, is called the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought and will bring together scholars and students who are engaged in developing novel ways of understanding how legal and scientific knowledge is produced and organized.

Embraced by philosophers ranging from Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx to Michel Foucault, critical thought takes place at the intersection of law, social sciences, and the humanities.

Harcourt, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law joined the Columbia Law School faculty in July. He describes critical thought as a “logic of suspicion” that attempts to dismantle commonly held beliefs by demonstrating how they have been constructed over time. In his own work, Harcourt has used critical thought and empirical data to argue against racial profiling, broken windows policing, and mass incarceration, to question free market economics, to reexamine asylums and institutionalization in this country and abroad, and to explore the idea of political disobedience. His latest work, including a book forthcoming in 2015, critically examines government and corporate surveillance in the context of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter—or what he calls “digital security” and its effects on governing, exchanging, and policing.

“The mission of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought is to nourish, explore, encourage, and support critical reexamination of the received wisdom of our time,” Harcourt said. “The task of contemporary critical thought is to question and challenge the authority of established truths and falsehoods, to challenge their empirical foundations, and to engage in forms of practice that test the limits of knowledge.”

Under Harcourt’s direction, the center will provide opportunities for students to analyze how critical thought can be applied to real-world scenarios. Next semester, Harcourt and University of Chicago Professor W.J.T. Mitchell will co-teach Spectacle and Surveillance, a seminar that will examine surveillance in a time of near-total information storage and retrieval. The course is partially funded by a grant from the Mellon Centre for Disciplinary Innovation.

The center also will host short-term seminars with renowned contemporary theorists, sponsor lectures and workshops, organize book events and colloquia, and create a reading group for faculty members and graduate students across Columbia University. The first one-week seminar will take place in November with François Robert Ewald, the recently retired chair of insurance studies at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (Paris) and Foucault’s primary assistant from 1976 to 1984. A spring seminar will feature Renata Salecl, a philosopher whose recent work has focused on the anxiety produced by choice.

Another dimension of the center will allow students to participate actively in litigation and policy initiatives addressing such criminal justice practices as capital punishment and prison terms of life imprisonment without parole, with the goal of tying practice to critical thought.

“Critical thought bridges philosophy, political theory, sociology and social theory, anthropology, classics, law, art criticism, and cultural studies,” Harcourt said. “It represents an epistemological approach that is reflected in a wide range of disciplines and approaches.”

Harcourt is the author of several books, including Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience with Michael Taussig and W.J.T. Mitchell (University of Chicago Press 2013) and The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (Harvard University Press 2011). He is also the editor of Foucault’s 1973 Collège de France lectures, La Société punitive (Gallimard 2013) and co-editor of Foucault’s 1981 Louvain lectures, Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling (University of Chicago Press 2014). His scholarship has examined the sociology of punishment and penal law and procedure, including through pioneering empirical research on asylums and prisons. In addition to his work as a scholar, Harcourt represents death row inmates pro bono and has served on human rights missions in South Africa and Guatemala.

Before joining Columbia Law School, Harcourt served as the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Political Science at The University of Chicago, where he was the chairman of the political science department. He also holds a chair at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

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Marie Odile Germain, Michel Foucault: De retour à la BNF, Chroniques de la BNF, no. 70, 2014, pp. 26-27

A report on Foucault’s 37,000 pages of manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris with photos of some of Foucault’s handwritten pages. These manuscripts are now available for consultation in the documents department of the BNF.

With thanks to the Foucaultblog and Progressive Geographies for this news.

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