Archive for the ‘Debates’ Category

[Editor:] This article is causing quite a stir at present so I am posting it here. Read with a large grain of salt. Perhaps the problem is more that intellectuals such as Foucault and Lyotard have been misread and their warnings ignored. A current reading of Discipline and Punish provides insights into how much further things have advanced down the disciplinary track since Foucault wrote the book in 1975.

See a link below this extract to a response on The Disorder of Things blog.

Helen Pluckrose, How French “Intellectuals” Ruined The West: Postmodernism And Its Impact, Explained, Aero Magazine, 27 March 2017

Michel Foucault’s work is also centered on language and relativism although he applied this to history and culture. He called this approach “archeology” because he saw himself as “uncovering” aspects of historical culture through recorded discourses (speech which promotes or assumes a particular view). For Foucault, discourses control what can be “known” and in different periods and places, different systems of institutional power control discourses. Therefore, knowledge is a direct product of power. “In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one ‘episteme’ that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in theory or silently invested in a practice.”[1]

Furthermore, people themselves were culturally constructed. “The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces.”[2] He leaves almost no room for individual agency or autonomy. As Christopher Butler says, Foucault “relies on beliefs about the inherent evil of the individual’s class position, or professional position, seen as ‘discourse’, regardless of the morality of his or her individual conduct.”[3] He presents medieval feudalism and modern liberal democracy as equally oppressive, and advocates criticizing and attacking institutions to unmask the “political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them.” [4]

We see in Foucault the most extreme expression of cultural relativity read through structures of power in which shared humanity and individuality are almost entirely absent. Instead, people are constructed by their position in relation to dominant cultural ideas either as oppressors or oppressed. Judith Butler drew on Foucault for her foundational role in queer theory focusing on the culturally constructed nature of gender, as did Edward Said in his similar role in post-colonialism and “Orientalism” and Kimberlé Crenshaw in her development of “intersectionality” and advocacy of identity politics. We see too the equation of language with violence and coercion and the equation of reason and universal liberalism with oppression.

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L.J Shepherd, In defence of the apparently indefensible (or, French ‘intellectuals’ did not ruin the West and can we please stop postie-bashing because it’s not actually terribly helpful thank you). Disorder of Things blog, April 6 2017

Foucault was profoundly concerned with medico-legal texts, government documents, and carceral practices. Derrida and Said were concerned with literature, cultural texts and film. All of them read their chosen set of empirical materials as communicative acts, asking What kinds of realities are made possible in the way that these texts claim to understand or represent political life?. It is manifestly not the case that these theorists avoided or were suspicious of ‘empirical evidence’.


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Gabriel Rockhill, The CIA Reads French Theory: On The Intellectual Labor Of Dismantling The Cultural Left. The Philosophical Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, 28 Feb 2017

Also in French on Mediapart
Quand la CIA s’attelait à démanteler la gauche intellectuelle française

It is often presumed that intellectuals have little or no political power. Perched in a privileged ivory tower, disconnected from the real world, embroiled in meaningless academic debates over specialized minutia, or floating in the abstruse clouds of high-minded theory, intellectuals are frequently portrayed as not only cut off from political reality but as incapable of having any meaningful impact on it. The Central Intelligence Agency thinks otherwise.

As a matter of fact, the agency responsible for coups d’état, targeted assassinations and the clandestine manipulation of foreign governments not only believes in the power of theory, but it dedicated significant resources to having a group of secret agents pore over what some consider to be the most recondite and intricate theory ever produced. For in an intriguing research paper written in 1985, and recently released with minor redactions through the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA reveals that its operatives have been studying the complex, international trend-setting French theory affiliated with the names of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes.

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bouveresse Editor: I posted up a review of this book earlier. It is attracting quite a bit of attention in France hence the repost. See the links at the end of this post

Jacques Bouveresse, Nietzsche contre Foucault Sur la vérité, la connaissance et le pouvoir. Agone, 25/01/2016

Avant-propos de Benoit Gaultier et Jean-Jacques Rosat.

Et si Nietzsche, dont Foucault s’est tant réclamé, parlait souvent contre lui ?

La plupart des expressions typiques de Foucault dans lesquelles le mot « vérité » intervient comme complément – « production de la vérité », « histoire de la vérité », « politique de la vérité », « jeux de vérité », etc. – reposent sur une confusion peut-être délibérée entre deux choses que Frege considérait comme essentiel de distinguer : l’être-vrai et le tenir-pour-vrai. Or peu de philosophes ont insisté avec autant de fermeté que Nietzsche sur cette différence radicale qui existe entre ce qui est vrai et ce qui est cru vrai : « La vérité et la croyance que quelque chose est vrai : deux univers d’intérêts tout à fait séparés l’un de l’autre, presque des univers opposés ; on arrive à l’un et à l’autre par des chemins fondamentalement différents », écrit-il dans L’Antéchrist. Foucault, alors qu’il n’a jamais traité que des mécanismes, des lois et des conditions historiques et sociales de production de l’assentiment et de la croyance, en a tiré abusivement des conclusions concernant la vérité elle-même.

Sur la vérité, l’objectivité, la connaissance et la science, il est trop facilement admis aujourd’hui – le plus souvent sans discussion – que Foucault aurait changé la pensée et nos catégories. Mais il y a dans ses cours trop de confusions conceptuelles entre vérité, connaissance et pouvoir, trop de questions élémentaires laissées en blanc – et, tout simplement, trop de non-sens pour qu’on doive se rallier à pareille opinion. Quant au nietzschéisme professé par Foucault, il repose sur une lecture trop étroite, qui ne résiste pas à une confrontation attentive avec les textes, notamment ceux du Nietzsche de la maturité.

À l’écart aussi bien des panégyriques que des verdicts idéologiques, le philosophe Jacques Bouveresse, professeur au Collège de France, lit Nietzsche et Foucault à la hauteur où ils doivent être lus : avec les mêmes exigences intellectuelles qu’il applique à Wittgenstein et à Musil, et une libre ironie qu’il fait sienne plus que jamais.

Sommaire : I. L’objectivité, la connaissance et le pouvoir (conférence, 2000) ; II. Remarques sur le problème de la vérité chez Nietzsche et sur Foucault lecteur de Nietzsche (essai inédit, 2013-2015) : 1. Ce qui est connu doit-il être vrai ? ; 2. La connaissance sans vérité et la vérité sans vérité ; 3. La vérité pourrait-elle n’être pas la cause de la connaissance, mais son effet ?; 4. La volonté du vrai et la volonté de la distinction du vrai et du faux ; 5. Nietzsche, la « preuve de force » et la « preuve de vérité » de la foi ; 6. La volonté de savoir et la volonté de croire ; 7. La recherche de la connaissance véritable et de la vérité vraie ; 8. Peut-il y avoir une histoire de la vérité ? ; 9. Le concept d’« alèthurgie » : la vérité et ses manifestations.

Professeur au Collège de France, Jacques Bouveresse a publié de nombreux ouvrages de philosophie du langage et de la connaissance mais aussi sur des écrivains comme Robert Musil et Karl Kraus. Il est aussi l’un des principaux commentateurs français de Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Pour visiter la page consacrée à Jacques Bouveresse sur le site du Collège de France

Critiques, comptes rendus et essais

Autour de Jacques Bouveresse blog. Ce blog est là pour diffuser les informations (audio/video/livres/articles) autour des travaux du philosophe Jacques Bouveresse

La vérité en question, Le Monde diplomatique

Actu philosophia

Bouveresse, Opération vérité, Libération


Ouvertures, le temps du citoyen magazine

Strass de la philosophie blog

Émissions • Les Nouveaux chemins de la connaissance • Nietzsche contre Foucault par Jacques Bouveresse, France Culture, audio podcast

Librairie Tropiques. Includes two videos of debates

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zamora-engDaniel Zamora and Michael C. Behrent (eds), Foucault and Neoliberalism, Polity Press, 2016

Michel Foucault’s death in 1984 coincided with the fading away of the hopes for social transformation that characterized the postwar period. In the decades following his death, neoliberalism has triumphed and attacks on social rights have become increasingly bold. If Foucault was not a direct witness of these years, his work on neoliberalism is nonetheless prescient: the question of liberalism occupies an important place in his last works. Since his death, Foucault’s conceptual apparatus has acquired a central, even dominant position for a substantial segment of the world’s intellectual left.

However, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate, Foucault’s attitude towards neoliberalism was at least equivocal. Far from leading an intellectual struggle against free market orthodoxy, Foucault seems in many ways to endorse it. How is one to understand his radical critique of the welfare state, understood as an instrument of biopower? Or his support for the pandering anti-Marxism of the so-called new philosophers ? Is it possible that Foucault was seduced by neoliberalism?

This question is not merely of biographical interest: it forces us to confront more generally the mutations of the left since May 1968, the disillusionment of the years that followed and the profound transformations in the French intellectual field over the past thirty years. To understand the 1980s and the neoliberal triumph is to explore the most ambiguous corners of the intellectual left through one of its most important figures.

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A Foucault News exclusive.

Governmentality studies observed
Interview with Colin Gordon by Aldo Avellaneda and Guillermo Vega
September 2015

Full PDF of article

Interviewers’ introduction
Colin Gordon is considered one of the key references of what, in a rather generic although recognizable way, has come to be called “governmentality studies”. He has been involved since the late 1970s in various projects dealing with Foucault’s work and has drawn attention since then to the particularities and advantages of Michel Foucault’s study of “arts of government”. Among his key works we can mention the editing, in 1980, of Power/Knowledge (one of the first compilations and translations in English of Foucault’s work on power) and the co-editing in 1991 – with Graham Burchell and Peter Miller – of The Foucault Effect (TFE). He has also published over the last thirty years many articles and papers about the reception of Foucault in Britain, Foucault and law, the relation between Foucault and Weber, among other topics. And in so doing, he has become one of the most relevant contributors to the reception of Foucault in the Anglophone world.

During the second half of the last year we undertook, with some colleagues and friends, the reading and translation into Spanish of the well-known introductory chapter by Colin Gordon in TFE, “Governmental Rationality. An introduction” (published in Revista Nuevo Itinerario in September 2015). After we finished it, we decided to make contact with its author in order to discuss the possibilities of a Spanish edition. The interview we present below accompanies that translation and is the result of numerous emails we exchanged since February. Our main intention was to present the author’s thoughts about a wide range of topics related to governmentality studies, although we’ve tried to focus particularly on its present situation and its analytical effectiveness.

We thank Colin Gordon for his friendly and continuing cooperation.

Aldo Avellaneda
Guillermo Vega
Facultad de Humanidades,
Universidad Nacional del Nordeste – Argentina

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Mitchell Dean, Foucault must not be defended, History and Theory, Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 389–403, October 2015

DOI: 10.1111/hith.10767

Available on academia.edu. You need to log in


This paper responds to and comments on many of the themes of the book under consideration concerning Foucault and neoliberalism. In doing so, it offers reflections on the relation between the habitus of the intellectual and the political contexts of action and engagement in the case of Foucault, and the strengths and weaknesses of his characterization of his work in terms of an “experimental” ethos. It argues that it is possible to identify his distinctive views on neoliberalism as a programmatic ideal, as a language of critique of the postwar welfare state, and as an element within actual political forces such as the French “Second Left” of the 1970s. It examines the legacy of Foucault in “governmentality studies” and argues for attentiveness to the different intellectual positions, and their potentially divergent political consequences, within this school of thought. It concludes by suggesting that the discussion currently taking place, and in part inaugurated by this book, might signal a change of his status in the humanities and social sciences today from “unsurpassable horizon” of critical thought to acknowledged classical thinker, with strengths and limitations, and a series of problems that might not be our own.



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Editor: See Colin Gordon’s response from the comments section of this blog post below.

Michel Foucault’s Iranian Folly
Jeremy Stangroom on Michel Foucault’s political naiveté, TPM Online (The Philosopher’s magazine)

Everywhere outside Iran, Islam serves as a cover for a feudal or pseudo revolutionary oppression… The Left should not let itself be seduced by a cure that is perhaps worse than the disease.”

Foucault, unfortunately, was precisely seduced by the popular uprising in Iran, which he claimed might signify a new “political spirituality”, with the potential to transform the political landscape of Europe, as well as the Middle East.

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Guest – Colin Gordon, Oxford, UK
[Editor:Foucault’s birthday was 15 October 1926]

Your site’s taste in posthumous birthday offerings is duly noted.

Mr Stangroom is a promising parrot – good at recycling other people’s smears; but short on forensic and reading skills – checking allegations against evidence. Or perhaps one should say he is a talented manipulator of evidence, like the American authors he relies on. The second text he quotes – including the words on the rights of women – is not Foucault’s manifesto for Iranian government, it is a summary of comments by a senior Shi’ite cleric, forming part of Foucault’s newspaper reports on ideas current in Iran at the time of an uprising which mobilized overwhelming popular support – a fact which at the time impressed many international observers besides Foucault. Foucault stated more than once before the fall of the Shah’s regime that there were disquieting aspects to the agenda for Islamic government and that he did not find its assurances about human and minority rights entirely reassuring. He did not endorse a Khomeini regime, either before or after the fact. He did not recommend ‘political spirituality’ as an elixir for the West. He did, on the other hand, refuse to treat all contemporary manifestations of Islam with uncomprehending or a priori contempt – a position which continues to earn comments such as these from some philosophers and other trolls.

By the way, the first text Stangroom has managed happens to open with a mistranslation. Foucault did not write that the Iranian situation could be understood as a great joust – he wrote that it seemed at that point in time to be tied to (‘semble être suspendue à’) the highly visible public confrontation between two personal figures, Shah and Khomeini. Anyone who bothers to read Foucault’s reports will find that they contained a broad and nuanced picture of the sociopolitical, economic and cultural background and components of the uprising, a shrewd analysis of the unfolding conflict, and an accurate assessment of the survival prospects of the regime – at a time when the New Left’s renowned middle eastern expert, the late Fred Halliday, was predicting it could stay in power for decades.

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