Monday, February 27, 2017

Michel Foucault - "The Subject and Power": Pastoral Power - Summary (part 3)

(Read firsts parts one and two of the summary)

In "The Subject and Power" Michel Foucault relates the modern state's power to what he calls "pastoral power". This is a form of power which assures the redemption of the individual, accompanies his throughout his life, which asks to know not only what he does but also what he thinks and his inner secrets. Think for example of the Catholic confession. since the 18th century the Church is no longer what it used to be but this form of pastoral power hasn't gone with it, says Foucault , it was passed on to the state. States aren't just built "over the heads" of individuals but rather combine them into their structure. They offer individuality on condition that it is an individuality sanctioned by the establishment.

For Foucault, pastoral power, as manifested in the state, no longer aims to redeem people in the next life but rather to insure their well being in this life (their health, security etc.). In addition the state's pastoral power is not limited to institution but rather spreads to the whole social body (like the example of the family). Finally, Foucault says that this form of power generates two types of knowledge: knowledge about the population and knowledge about individuals.

In the final part of "The Subject and Power" Foucault distinguishes between two modern philosophic traditions: a universal one and a critical one. Universal philosophy tries to assert notions about man, Critical philosophy, on the other hand, does not ask "what is man" but rather "who are we at a given time". Towards the end of "The Subject and Power" Foucault offers to divert this question to "who can we be" while refusing "who we are", thus rejecting manners in which modern power structures determine who we are as individuals and as a groups. Political struggles according to Foucault should focus on promoting new modes of subjectivity and rejecting long imposed modes of individuality. If the subject is the product of power it follows that resisting power has to do with thinking of new forms of subjectivity (see for example Judith Butler's "Gender Trouble")  

More about Foucault:

Set your subjectivity free: