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Susan Milner, From Foucault to Valls: experiments with basic income in France. IPR blog, University of Bath, 25th November 2016

Dr Susan Milner is Reader in European Politics at the University of Bath.

In line with changes discussed in the British context, it is startling to observe how much has shifted in French policy debates since the last presidential and legislative elections in 2012. For over two decades now, as in other OECD countries, the twin discourses of welfare dependency and ‘making work pay’ have dominated public debates. In the US presidential elections, the rhetoric of ‘decent jobs for decent pay’ was powerfully articulated across the political spectrum. It has not (yet?) made its way across the Atlantic. Instead, amidst the tumult of primaries as the political parties gear up for next year’s executive elections, the idea of a universal basic income has been making its way across the political landscape in France.

The idea has a long pedigree in France where it is associated with radical thinkers such as Michel Foucault who argued that an unconditional basic income would free citizens from the intrusion of state power and the stigmatisation of means testing and conditionality. Philosopher André Gorz also advocated a ‘revenue of autonomy’ back in 1983, first linking it to the need for recipients to engage in work as a precondition for active citizenship, then later – in 2002 – abandoning this link to employment in the face of mass unemployment, and as a reaction against the spread of ‘workfare’ conditionality. Gorz’s ‘farewell to the proletariat’ (physically productive paid work as opposed to brain work) was in line with this new left utopia, and it chimes with the current mood of political debates which have been sparked by concerns and hopes about the consequences for human employment of developments in artificial intelligence.

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Gordon Hull, Foucault and Marx: on Subjectification and Exhaustion, New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science, 25 September 2017

I have been circling around the relation between Marx and Foucault for a while, and thinking in  particular about the ways that they can be viewed as productively engaged, particularly at the intersection of primitive accumulation and subjectification (e.g., herehere and here)  This of course flies in the face of Foucault’s acerbic dismissals of Marxism, as when in the early parts of Society must be Defended, he dismisses it as “totalitarian,” or in the Trombadori interviews more generally.  But there is a renaissance of interest in the topic, and there are a number of Foucault texts only now being studied in the English-speaking world that can be brought to bear on it.  Most prominent perhaps is the recently translated “Mesh of Power” lecture, where Foucault specifically credits chapters 13-15 of Capital for moving toward a non-juridical understanding of power.  As Foucault says, what Marx shows there is that “one power does not exist, but many powers” and that power is productive, not repressive:

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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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Casey Williams, Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools? The Stone, The New York Times, April 17, 2017

Truth is pliable in Trumpland.

In March, the president fired off a tweet accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower. Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, dismissed the claim. But the Trump team doubled down, writing off media reports and insisting that evidence of wiretapping would soon surface. It didn’t.

[…]

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

These ideas animate the work of influential thinkers like Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, and they’ve become axiomatic for many scholars in literary studies, cultural anthropology and sociology.

[…]

Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.

The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon.

Trump and Stephen K. Bannon probably don’t spend evenings poring over Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” or Michel Foucault’s “The Archaeology of Knowledge” (although Bannon’s adviser, Julia Hahn, did write her undergraduate thesis on the psychoanalytic theorist Leo Bersani). But the parallels between Trump’s attacks on accepted knowledge and critical philosophy’s insistence that we interrogate truth claims suggest that not all assaults on the authority of facts are revolutionary.

Indeed, the social theorist Bruno Latour saw Trump coming back in 2004. In his essay “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam?” Latour observed that conservatives had begun using methods similar to those of critical theory to muddy debates around issues, like climate change, that required immediate and decisive action. Conservatives were casting doubt on the reality of planetary warming by pointing to “the lack of scientific certainty” around the issue. Latour had made a career questioning “scientific certainty” and worried that his critical “weapons” had been “smuggled” to the other side:

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Russell Smith: How postmodernism is infiltrating public life and policy
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Apr. 18, 2017 2:58PM EDT

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On Problematization Elaborations on a Theme in “Late Foucault”
By Clive Barnett, Nonsite.org, Issue 16, June 22, 2015

1. What is a “Foucault”?

For at least four decades now, the ideas of Michel Foucault have resonated across a wide range of academic fields in the English-speaking academy. While this influence is perhaps most clearly felt in the humanities, Foucault has also provided a frame of reference in social science disciplines, including sociology, cultural studies, human geography and anthropology, amongst others.1 Foucault’s work is often used to bring a darker image of power relations to social theory, and to recommend that social scientists should develop an historical imagination towards their objects of analysis.2 In these and other uses, the authority of “Foucault” is most often deployed to support models of critical social science, understood as a set of procedures for revealing the operations of power in the routines of everyday and organisational life.

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Colin Koopman, The power thinker, Aeon, 15 March 2017
Original, painstaking, sometimes frustrating and often dazzling. Foucault’s work on power matters now more than ever

Imagine you are asked to compose an ultra-short history of philosophy. Perhaps you’ve been challenged to squeeze the impossibly sprawling diversity of philosophy itself into just a few tweets. You could do worse than to search for the single word that best captures the ideas of every important philosopher. Plato had his ‘forms’. René Descartes had his ‘mind’ and John Locke his ‘ideas’. John Stuart Mill later had his ‘liberty’. In more recent philosophy, Jacques Derrida’s word was ‘text’, John Rawls’s was ‘justice’, and Judith Butler’s remains ‘gender’. Michel Foucault’s word, according to this innocent little parlour game, would certainly be ‘power’.

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Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, Du droit à l’émancipation. Sur l’État, Foucault et l’anarchisme

Séminaire ETAPE n°19
1 DÉCEMBRE 2015

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Séance à partir d’un texte de Geoffroy de Lagasnerie, sociologue et philosophe, auteur notamment de : La dernière leçon de Michel Foucault. Sur le néolibéralisme, la théorie et la politique (Fayard, 2012), L’Art de la révolte. Snowden, Assange, Manning (Fayard, 2015) et Juger. L’État pénal face à la sociologie (Fayard, janvier 2016)

Rapporteur « compréhensif » : Manuel Cervera-Marzal, docteur en science politique
Rapporteur « critique » : Rafael Perez, doctorant en histoire de la philosophie et co-fondateur des éditions libertaires Albache
Rapport compréhensif contribution Phillippe Corcuff

Du droit à l’émancipation. Sur l’État, Foucault et l’anarchisme
Geoffroy de Lagasnerie

La réflexion que je voudrais proposer porte sur la question du pouvoir, de la théorie du pouvoir et, plus spécifiquement, du problème de l’Etat. Je voudrais réfléchir sur la place que la théorie critique et la théorie de l’émancipation doivent accorder à l’Etat et sur l’image de l’Etat que, pour nous aider dans cette tâche, nous pouvons tirer des analyses de Michel Foucault. C’est une réflexion que j’ai été amené à conduire dans le cadre de mon dernier livre sur le système pénal et l’appareil répressif, puisque réfléchir sur le Jugement, la forme-Tribunal, la peine, c’est nécessairement rencontrer la problématique de l’Etat, du droit et du pouvoir d’Etat.

Je voudrais essayer de dire pourquoi, alors que j’ai longtemps pensé mon travail comme « anarchiste », je le suis de moins en moins – ou autrement dit comment écrire et réfléchir pour moi a consisté à m’éloigner de l’anarchisme et à renouer avec une certaine croyance dans l’Etat et dans le droit.

[…]
Cependant, contrairement à ce que pourrait laisser penser une lecture rapide, cela ne signifie en aucun cas que l’Etat soit absent de la vision de Foucault. L’idée selon laquelle le pouvoir vient d’en bas ne conduit pas à de désintéresser de l’Etat ou à l’éliminer comme objet de la théorie. Au contraire, la vision foucaldienne est solidaire d’une certaine image de l’Etat, d’une certaine conception de l’Etat dans ses rapports aux pouvoirs.

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