Archive for the ‘Online commentary’ Category

Mark Murphy, Foucault, hybridization and social research: reflections on the Foucault @90 Conference, Social Theory Applied Blog, 29 June 2016

I was fortunate enough to attend the recent Foucault @90 conference, held at the University of West of Scotland on the 22-23 June. It was well attended with a strong selection of papers and excellent keynotes from Prof. Mark Olssen, Dr. Clare O’Farrell and Prof. Stephen Ball. A conference wholly devoted to Foucault – what’s not to like?


What I particularly enjoyed about the conference was its lack of deference and willingness to think with Foucault and beyond his work. Evident among the presenters was a desire to match his ideas up with practical research agendas in specific cultural and national contexts. This desire was reflected in the ways in which presenters made connections between Foucault and other thinkers.

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Editor: For those of you who, like myself, are involved in teaching Foucault: I find this analysis by Slavoj Žižek of John Carpenter’s 1988 film They Live, from Sophie Fiennes’ 2012 film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology to be particularly apt.

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Progressive Geographies

While I had made some changes to the manuscript after submission, and again after receiving the reports, on Sunday evening I finished four long days of thoroughly revising the text and resubmitted it to the publisher.

Just as I was beginning the review process for the second book I received a very nice letter from Daniel Defert, Foucault’s long-term partner, saying how much he’d liked Foucault’s Last Decade. This was obviously a wonderful thing to receive, and gave me a great motivation to finish up this second study.

The key changes are to the Introduction, which is restructured and some parts extensively revised. I wrote a bit about the work here and here. I think the Introduction now more clearly sets up the argument, approach and sources of the work. I also made lots of changes through the text, and added some sentences to the Conclusion. While the reports…

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Colin Gordon: A Comment on Fassin and Chatterjee, 12/13 blog, 5 May 2016

Among the valuable Foucault 13/13 series of video and written discussions of Michel Foucault’s Collège de France lectures, recently coordinated at Columbia University by Bernard E Harcourt and Jesus R Velasco, I was struck by the following comments, linked to the session held on Oct. 12, 2015, addressing Foucault’s 1972-3 lectures entitled The Punitive Society, in written contributions by two participants, Didier Fassin and Partha Chatterjee:

Fassin writes:

“In accordance with his usual method, Foucault relies [in Discipline and Punish] on analyses of normative discourses from legal texts, institutional rules, criminology treatises, rather than of actual practices described in reports, testimonies or letters. As historians of nineteenth-century prison [sic] have shown, such research would have revealed, far from the fantasied projects of surveillance and discipline, the mere routine of neutralization, arbitrary power, physical and psychological abuse.” [1]

Chatterjee writes:

Didier also made an important point about the specificity of the prison as an institution and the lack of fit between Foucault’s discussion of the reformed modern prison and actual prisons in France or the United States today. […] Interestingly, the criticism of actual prison practices even today largely points to the failure of those practices to conform to the normative humane principles of modern power analyzed by Foucault. [2]

It is true that a disqualifying rendition of Foucault’s work as an ideas-based version of history which posits the frictionless and unresisted implementation of intellectual programmes as systems of power has been with us since the 1970s. It was part of Jean Baudrillard’s case for “forgetting Foucault”; it features in the 90s in Subaltern Studies, the illustrious journal which Partha Chatterjee co-founded.  It is nevertheless surprising and regrettable to find this view recycled here by two of today’s globally admired academics, who have themselves in the past not disdained to make some use of Foucault’s ideas, in the form of comments which can easily be shown to be inaccurate and ill-informed.

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Memento Literati

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched when you’re studying in the library?  

This is a question I’ve been asking a number of students lately as part of my research study- which has resulted in some interesting points for consideration.  It’s a question that often needs a bit of unpacking, because what I really mean when I ask this question is whether they experience Foucauldian concepts of surveillance as a result of the power structures related to the library and university, as a whole, including the formation of docile bodies with regard to hierarchies of social control and disciplinary powers.

Yes.  Him again. 

fuucoo Image by Juan Nahuel Novelletto

If we start by looking at Foucault’s Discipline and punish: the birth of the prisonwe begin to understand how the education system is entwined with power and how it relates to the development of ‘docile bodies,’ surveillance…

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Robert Shaw, Nuit Debout as Heterotopia: Some Early Thoughts, Blog post (2016)

Since March 31st, protestors in the Place de La République in Paris have been convening every evening, staying in place the full night as part of the ‘Nuit Debout’ protests. The protests, which began in opposition to the ‘Loi Travail’ labour laws, form part of the wider series of anti-austerity, anti-neoliberalist protests by young people in Europe that date back to the Occupy movement. Indeed, ‘Nuit Debout’ translates roughly as ‘here all night’ and this implies a strength and permanence that the term occupy also sought.


These protestors are making several interesting uses of ‘night’. Spending time with people in darkness is more intimate than daylight, as we can’t as clearly distinguish between people, objects and the environment. Ideas, sounds and sensations thus more easily flow between people, generating a closeness. Added to this, the protests have incorporated impromptu concerts, debates and other events, more easily held in night as a time associated with leisure. This intimacy in combination with a relaxed atmosphere creates a moment, space-time for discussion and conversation among strangers. Michel Foucault describes such places as ‘heterotopias’, moments which operate outside of the normal rules of hegemony. For Nuit Debout, the night is key to making this a heterotopia.

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The following is a guest post by Stephen Sawyer, organizer of the March 25-26 Foucault and Neoliberalism Conference at the American University of Paris. Professor Sawyer has kindly provided us with concluding remarks on the conference.

By Stephen Sawyer

Michel Foucault’s reflections on neoliberalism have ultimately left us with more questions than answers. They have opened a path toward a more sophisticated reflection on one of the most important thinkers of the last half century, while providing an unexpected point of entry into one of the most vexing political, economic, cultural and social movements of our contemporary world. While the “critique” of Foucault as a closet neoliberal by the far left and the right is tenuous at best (Steinmetz-Jenkins), the extraordinary success of neoliberal ideology has made Foucault’s interest in this question in the late 1970s at once prescient, puzzling and alluring. Moreover, the full release of Foucault’s Collège de France lectures along with the spate of previously unreleased material has led to something of a Foucault renaissance that has only raised the stakes. The question, then, almost four decades after Foucault’s reflections is: How do we craft a sophisticated history of this moment without either falling into sensationalist critiques or an uncritical assumption that Foucault’s exploration of neoliberalism was an insignificant passing concern.

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