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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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Foucault in Warsaw, Durieux.eu blog, 31 August 2017.

 Le Soir spends ample space on an article by Maya Szymanowska about a new Polish publication by sociologist Remigiusz Ryzinski, ‘Foucault W Warszawie’ (Foucault in Warsaw – no translations yet).

In 1955 Michel Foucault arrives in Uppsala, Sweden, where he will work on his doctoral dissertation. But then in October 1958, he moves to Warsaw, Poland, where he is going to direct the Centre de civilisation française at the local university. There he continues working on the manuscript he will  eventually defend in 1961 in Paris as his so-called ‘principal thesis’. It is published originally as ‘Folie et déraison. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique’.

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Michel Foucault on prisons, power and the origin of our beliefs 

Big Thinkers series by The Ethics Centre, 13 July 2017

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher, historian and psychologist whose work explored the underlying power relationships in a range of our modern institutions.

Given Foucault’s focus on the ways institutions wield power over us, and that trust in institutions is catastrophically low around the world today, it’s worth having a look at some of the radical Frenchman’s key ideas.

HISTORY HAS NO RHYME OR REASON

At the centre of Foucault’s ideas is the concept of genealogy – the word people usually use when they’re tracing their family history. Foucault thought all of history emerged in the same way a family does – with no sense of reason or purpose.

Just like your existence was the result of a bunch of random people meeting and procreating over generations, he thought our big ideas and social movements were the product of luck and circumstance. He argued what we do is both a product of the popular ways of thinking at the time (which he called rationalities) and the ways in which people talked about those ideas (which he called discourses).

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Workload survival guide for academics, Advice on how to cope with all the work and when to say no to opportunities, Times Higher Education, February 18, 2016

[Editor: This piece by Stuart Elden is part of a larger feature on current workload problems in the university]

‘I try to agree only to talks that move the writing forward, using them as deadlines for producing parts of a wider whole’

I recently spent three days at the Institut Mémoires de l’Edition Contemporaine at the Abbaye d’Ardenne, outside Caen in Normandy. This houses the archives of many French writers, publishers and institutions, including a valuable collection of papers by and relating to Michel Foucault.

The reading room is in the abbey itself; the other buildings have been converted into study-bedrooms, a refectory and conference rooms. Most people using the collections stay on site, take meals together and work in the reading room all the time it is open. There is a shared collective endeavour, a comfortable silence in working hours and a genuine interest in each other’s work in the communal spaces.

All this is at some distance from the working lives of most academics today. Teaching, preparation, marking, office hours, meetings, emails, phone calls and so on make consolidated and protected time for individual study very difficult to obtain and protect. Yet much of our most important work, perhaps especially for academics in the social sciences and humanities, happens alone, in time that cannot easily be quantified, measured or evaluated. Journal articles, chapters and books need consolidated, isolated and protected time; the slow accumulation of reading, thinking and writing, repeated and repeated.

I’m in a privileged position in general in terms of my academic role, and especially this academic year, when I am on sabbatical. But I have an ambitious plan: one book was submitted in the summer before the sabbatical began, I have another that I want to complete and a third with which I want to make good progress. So I set myself some rules to try to structure the days and make the most of the time available (these work just as well for isolated research days, or even just a few hours of writing time).

Number one is not to check email in the morning; email has a habit of setting the day’s agenda for you, instead of being but one of the tasks you need to address. I try to keep nothing in my inbox. This does not mean that every email is already answered, or the associated task completed. It means that the only ones in there are ones I have never seen. Some messages are sorted into consolidated folders – things to do in the office, things to read at some point – others are turned into tasks with scheduled dates and times. So, if nothing in my inbox is older than half a day, it can’t be that urgent. If it is, it’s the sender’s problem, not mine.

I try to keep the morning, or the whole of a shorter slot, as consolidated writing time. I set the agenda. If I’ve had a few productive hours of writing, and feel I am moving things forward, then I am better placed to deal with other tasks – review work, editorial duties, reading PhD students’ work, answering messages. I restrict social media use, usually by using a plug-in to block or limit time. I can always use my phone or iPad, but then it’s really obvious that I’m not working.

I try to agree only to talks that move the writing forward, using them as deadlines for producing parts of a wider whole. There are always exceptions, but preparing a talk can become a major diversion from a focus. The same goes for writing or editing projects – often intriguing, flattering and tempting, and I do those that I can, but they have a cost.

Certain places are also associated with productive work. The specialist archives are one; I’ve also done good work in the British Library Rare Books room in the past. But the best place is still my home study. Close the door – physical and virtual – and get back to writing.

Stuart Elden is professor of political theory and geography at the University of Warwick and author of the forthcoming Foucault’s Last Decade. He blogs at Progressive Geographies.

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Gordon Hull, Republican Thanatopolitics, New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science blog, 8 May 2017

Foucault reminds us that biopolitics is describes a kind of power structure according to which some will be compelled to live (or have their lives as members of a favored population optimized), while others will be allowed to die. As he puts it, “the ancient right to take life or let live was replaced by a power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death” (HS1, 138). Although much work has focused on techniques by which biopower works to optimize a population, it is worth attending to the disallowance of life, the thanatopolitics that is the other half of biopower, because the Republican party is engaged in producing a very effective case study.

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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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