The Mesh of Power

Introduction | Translation | Original

We will attempt to pro­ceed towards an analy­sis of the con­cept of pow­er.1 I am not the first, far from it, to attempt to skirt around the Freudi­an schema that pits instinct again­st sup­pres­sion [répres­sion], instinct again­st cul­ture.2 Many decades ago, an entire school of psy­cho­an­a­lysts tried to mod­i­fy and devel­op this Freudi­an schema of instinct ver­sus cul­ture, and of instinct ver­sus sup­pres­sion – I am refer­ring to psy­cho­an­a­lysts in the Eng­lish as well as the French lan­guage, like Melanie Klein, Win­ni­cott, and Lacan, who have tried to show that sup­pres­sion, far from being a sec­ondary, ulte­ri­or, or lat­er mech­a­nism, which would attempt to con­trol a given or nat­u­ral play of instinct, con­sti­tutes a part of the mech­a­nism of instinct, or, more or less, of the process through which the sex­u­al instinct [l’instinct sex­uel] is devel­oped, unfold­ed and con­sti­tut­ed as dri­ve [pul­sion].

The Freudi­an con­cept of Trieb3 need not be inter­pret­ed as a sim­ple nat­u­ral given, a nat­u­ral bio­log­i­cal mech­a­nism upon which sup­pres­sion would come to posit its law of pro­hi­bi­tion, but rather, accord­ing to the psy­cho­an­a­lysts, as some­thing which is already pro­found­ly pen­e­trat­ed by sup­pres­sion. Need, cas­tra­tion, lack, pro­hi­bi­tion and the law are already ele­ments through which desire has been con­sti­tut­ed as sex­u­al desire, and this implies a trans­for­ma­tion of the orig­i­nal notion of sex­u­al instinct, such as Freud had con­ceived of it at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry. It is then nec­es­sary to think instinct not as a nat­u­ral given, but as already a devel­op­ment, as already being a com­plex play between the body and the law, between the body and the cul­tur­al mech­a­nisms that assure the con­trol of per­sons.

I there­fore believe that the psy­cho­an­a­lysts have con­sid­er­ably dis­placed the point in ques­tion, by bring­ing to light a new idea of instinct, or, in any case, a new con­cep­tion of instinct, dri­ve and desire. Nev­er­the­less, what trou­bles me, or at least what seems insuf­fi­cient to me, is that, in this revi­sion pro­posed by psy­cho­an­a­lysts, they have per­haps altered the con­cept of desire, but they have in no way altered our con­cept of pow­er.

In their work, they still con­tin­ue to regard the sig­ni­fied of pow­er, the cen­tral point, that in which pow­er con­sists, as pro­hi­bi­tion, law, the act of say­ing no, and above all, the fig­ure or expres­sion: “You must not.” Pow­er is essen­tial­ly those who say, “You must not.” It appears to me that this is a total­ly insuf­fi­cient con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion – and I will speak about this lat­er – a juridi­cal idea, a for­mal idea of pow­er, and it is nec­es­sary to elab­o­rate a dif­fer­ent idea of pow­er that will, no doubt, per­mit us to bet­ter under­stand the rela­tions estab­lished between pow­er and sex­u­al­i­ty in our West­ern soci­eties.

I am going to attempt to devel­op – or bet­ter, indi­cate the direc­tion in which we will be able to devel­op – an analy­sis of pow­er that would not sim­ply be a neg­a­tive, juridi­cal idea of pow­er, but rather, the idea of a tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er.

We fre­quent­ly find among the psy­cho­an­a­lysts, psy­chol­o­gists and soci­ol­o­gists this idea accord­ing to which pow­er is essen­tial­ly rule, law, pro­hi­bi­tion, that which marks the lim­it between the per­mit­ted and the for­bid­den. I believe that this con­cep­tion, gen­er­al­ly under­stood to be devel­oped by eth­nol­o­gy at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, was inci­sive­ly for­mu­lat­ed. Eth­nol­o­gy always tried to view sys­tems of pow­er in soci­eties dif­fer­ent from ours as being sys­tems of rules. And we our­selves, when we try to reflect upon our soci­ety, on the man­ner in which pow­er is exer­cised here, we essen­tial­ly con­struct this analy­sis from a juridi­cal idea: where is pow­er, who holds pow­er, what are the rules gov­ern­ing [les règles qui régis­sent] pow­er, what is the sys­tem of law that pow­er estab­lish­es with­in the social body.

Thus, we always per­form, for our soci­ety, a juridi­cal soci­ol­o­gy of pow­er, and, when we study soci­eties dif­fer­ent from ours, we per­form an eth­nol­o­gy that is essen­tial­ly an eth­nol­o­gy of the rule, an eth­nol­o­gy of pro­hi­bi­tion. For exam­ple, look at the eth­no­log­i­cal stud­ies from Durkheim to Lévi-Strauss. What was the prob­lem that always reap­peared, that was per­pet­u­al­ly re-elab­o­rat­ed? The prob­lem of pro­hi­bi­tion, essen­tial­ly the pro­hi­bi­tion of incest. And, from this matrix, from this ker­nel that would be the pro­hi­bi­tion of incest, one attempt­ed to under­stand the gen­er­al func­tion­ing of the sys­tem. And we had to wait until recent years to see new points of view appear about pow­er, that is, either a strict­ly Marx­ist point of view or a point of view more dis­tant from clas­si­cal Marx­ism. In any case, we see since the appear­ance, with the work of Clas­tres4, for exam­ple, a whole new con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion of pow­er as tech­nol­o­gy, which attempts to free itself from the pre­vail­ing one, from this priv­i­leg­ing of rule and pro­hi­bi­tion, which had basi­cal­ly reigned over eth­nol­o­gy from Durkheim to Lévi-Strauss.

In any case, the ques­tion that I would like to pose is the fol­low­ing: how is it that our soci­ety, West­ern soci­ety in gen­er­al, has con­ceived of pow­er in such a restric­tive, impov­er­ished and neg­a­tive way? Why do we always con­ceive of pow­er as law and pro­hi­bi­tion, why this priv­i­lege? Of course, we could say that all this is due to the influ­ence of Kant, to the idea accord­ing to which, in the final instance, the moral law, the “you must not,” the oppo­si­tion “you must” / “you must not” is, in fact, the matrix of every reg­u­la­tion of human con­duct. But, to speak frankly, explain­ing this with recourse to the influ­ence of Kant is, of course, total­ly insuf­fi­cient. The prob­lem is to know whether Kant had such an influ­ence, and why what influ­ence he had could be so strong. Why did Durkheim, a philoso­pher with vague social­ist ten­den­cies at the start of the Third French Repub­lic, rely upon Kant in this fash­ion when per­form­ing an analy­sis of the mech­a­nism of pow­er in soci­ety?

I believe that we can crude­ly ana­lyze the rea­son in the fol­low­ing terms: basi­cal­ly, in the West, the great sys­tems estab­lished since the Mid­dle Ages had been devel­oped through the increase in monar­chi­cal pow­er, at the expense of pow­er, or bet­ter, of feu­dal pow­ers. Now, in this bat­tle between feu­dal pow­ers and monar­chi­cal pow­er, right [le droit]5 was always the instru­ment of monar­chi­cal pow­er again­st the insti­tu­tions, cus­toms, pre­scrip­tions [régle­ments] and forms of bond and belong­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic of feu­dal soci­ety. I’ll sim­ply give you two exam­ples of this bat­tle. On the one hand, monar­chi­cal pow­er devel­oped in the West by, in large part, rely­ing upon juridi­cal insti­tu­tions and by devel­op­ing the­se insti­tu­tions; through civil war, a sys­tem of courts sup­plant­ed the old solu­tion of pri­vate dis­putes. In fact, the laws estab­lished by the­se courts gave monar­chi­cal pow­er itself the abil­i­ty to resolve dis­putes between indi­vid­u­als. In the same man­ner, Roman law, which reap­peared in the West in the 13th and 14th cen­turies, was a for­mi­da­ble instru­ment in the hands of the monar­chy for suc­ceed­ing in delim­it­ing the forms and mech­a­nisms of its own pow­er, at the expense of feu­dal pow­er. In oth­er words, the growth of the State in Europe­was par­tial­ly assured by, or in any case was used as an instru­ment in, the devel­op­ment of juridi­cal thought.Monarchical pow­er, the pow­er of the State was essen­tial­ly rep­re­sent­ed as right [le droit].

And yet, as it hap­pened, while the bour­geoisie was large­ly prof­it­ing from the devel­op­ment of roy­al pow­er and the diminu­tion and regres­sion of feu­dal pow­er, it also had, on the oth­er hand, every inter­est in devel­op­ing a sys­tem of rights that would per­mit it to give form to eco­nom­ic exchanges that assured its own social devel­op­ment. The result being that the vocab­u­lary and form of rights was the sys­tem of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of pow­er com­mon to the bour­geoisie and the monar­chy. The bour­geoisie and the monar­chy suc­ceed­ed lit­tle by lit­tle at estab­lish­ing, from the end of the Mid­dle Ages up to the 18th cen­tu­ry, a form of pow­er rep­re­sent­ing itself as lan­guage, a form of pow­er which gave itself – as dis­course – the vocab­u­lary of rights. And, when the bour­geoisie had final­ly dis­posed of monar­chi­cal pow­er, it did so pre­cise­ly by using this juridi­cal dis­course – which had more or less been that of the monar­chy – which the it turned again­st the monar­chy itself.

To sim­ply give one exam­ple: Rousseau, when he for­mu­lat­ed his the­o­ry of the State, attempt­ed to show how a sov­er­eign – but a col­lec­tive sov­er­eign, a sov­er­eign as social body, or bet­ter still, a social body as sov­er­eign – is born out of the trans­fer of indi­vid­u­al rights, the alien­ation of the­se rights and the pos­ing of laws of pro­hi­bi­tion that each indi­vid­u­al must rec­og­nize, because it is he him­self who has imposed the law, to the extent that he is a mem­ber of the sov­er­eign, to the extent that he is him­self a sov­er­eign. Accord­ing­ly, the the­o­ret­i­cal mech­a­nism through which the cri­tique of the monar­chi­cal insti­tu­tion was made, this the­o­ret­i­cal instru­ment was the instru­ment of rights, which had been estab­lished by the monar­chy itself. In oth­er words, the West nev­er had anoth­er sys­tem of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, expres­sion or analy­sis of pow­er aside from that of rights, the sys­tem of law. In the final analy­sis, I believe that is ulti­mate­ly the rea­son for which we have not had, until very recent­ly, oth­er pos­si­bil­i­ties for ana­lyz­ing pow­er, except in using the­se ele­men­tary, fun­da­men­tal, etc. ideas which are those of law, rule, sov­er­eign, com­mis­sion, etc. I believe that we must now free our­selves from this juridi­cal con­cep­tion of pow­er – this con­cep­tion of pow­er derived from the law and sov­er­eign, from the rule and pro­hi­bi­tion – if we wish to pro­ceed towards an analy­sis of the real func­tion­ing of pow­er, rather than its mere rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

How may we attempt to ana­lyze pow­er in its pos­i­tive mech­a­nisms? It appears to me that we may find, in a cer­tain num­ber of texts, the fun­da­men­tal ele­ments for an analy­sis of this type. We may per­haps find them in Ben­tham, an Eng­lish philoso­pher from the end of the 18th and begin­ning of the 19th cen­tu­ry, who was basi­cal­ly the great the­o­reti­cian of bour­geois pow­er, and we may of course also find the­se ele­ments in Marx, essen­tial­ly in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal. It’s here, I think, that we may find some ele­ments that I will use for the analy­sis of pow­er in its pos­i­tive mech­a­nisms.

First, what we may find in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal is that one pow­er does not exist, but many pow­ers.6 Pow­ers, this means forms of dom­i­na­tion, forms of sub­ju­ga­tion that func­tion local­ly, for exam­ple in the work­shop, in the army, on a slave plan­ta­tion or where there are sub­servient rela­tions. The­se are all local and region­al forms of pow­er, which have their own mode of func­tion­ing, their own pro­ce­dure and tech­nique. All the­se forms of pow­er are het­ero­ge­neous. We may not, there­fore, speak of pow­er if we wish to con­struct an analy­sis of pow­er, but we must speak of pow­ers and attempt to local­ize them in their his­toric and geo­graph­ic speci­fici­ty.

A soci­ety is not a uni­tary body, in which one and only one pow­er is exer­cised. Soci­ety is in real­i­ty the jux­ta­po­si­tion, the link, the coor­di­na­tion and also the hier­ar­chy of dif­fer­ent pow­ers that nev­er­the­less remain in their speci­fici­ty. Marx places great empha­sis, for exam­ple, on the simul­ta­ne­ous­ly speci­fic and rel­a­tive­ly autonomous – in some sense imper­vi­ous – char­ac­ter of the de fac­to pow­er the boss exer­cis­es in a work­shop, com­pared to the juridi­cal kind of pow­er that exists in the rest of soci­ety. Thus, the exis­tence of regions of pow­er. Soci­ety is an arch­i­pel­ago of dif­fer­ent pow­ers.

Sec­ond, it appears that the­se pow­ers can­not and must not sim­ply be under­stood as the deriva­tion, the con­se­quence of some kind of over­rid­ing pow­er that would be pri­ma­ry. The schema of the jurists, whether those of Grotius, Pufendorf, or Rousseau, amounts to say­ing: “In the begin­ning, there was no soci­ety, and then soci­ety appeared when a cen­tral point of sov­er­eign­ty appeared to orga­nize the social body, which then per­mit­ted a whole series of local and region­al pow­ers”; implic­it­ly, Marx does not rec­og­nize this schema. He shows, on the con­trary, how, start­ing from the ini­tial and prim­i­tive exis­tence of the­se small regions of pow­er – like prop­er­ty, slav­ery, work­shop, and also the army – lit­tle by lit­tle, the great State appa­ra­tus­es were able to form. State uni­ty is basi­cal­ly sec­ondary in rela­tion to the­se region­al and speci­fic pow­ers; the­se lat­ter come first.

Third, the­se speci­fic region­al pow­ers have absolute­ly no ancient [pri­mor­dial] func­tion of pro­hibit­ing, pre­vent­ing, say­ing “you must not.” The orig­i­nal, essen­tial and per­ma­nent func­tion of the­se local and region­al pow­ers is, in real­i­ty, being pro­duc­ers of the effi­cien­cy and skill of the pro­duc­ers of a pro­duct. Marx, for exam­ple, has superb analy­ses of the prob­lem of dis­ci­pline in the army and work­shops. The analy­sis I’m about to make of dis­ci­pline in the army is not in Marx, but no mat­ter: What hap­pened in the army from the end of the 16th and the begin­ning of the 17th cen­tu­ry prac­ti­cal­ly right up to the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry? An enor­mous trans­for­ma­tion in an army that had hith­er­to been essen­tial­ly con­sti­tut­ed of small units of rel­a­tive­ly inter­change­able indi­vid­u­als, orga­nized around one com­man­der. The­se small units were replaced by a great pyra­mi­dal unit, with a whole series of inter­me­di­ate com­mand­ing offi­cers, of non-com­mis­sioned offi­cers and tech­ni­cians too, essen­tial­ly because a tech­ni­cal dis­cov­ery had been made: the gun with com­par­a­tive­ly rapid and cal­i­brat­ed fire.

From this moment for­ward, one could no longer deal with the army – it was dan­ger­ous to oper­ate it – under the plan of small iso­lat­ed units, com­posed of inter­change­able ele­ments. It was nec­es­sary, so that the army could be effec­tive, so that one could use the guns in the best pos­si­ble man­ner, that each indi­vid­u­al be well trained to occu­py a deter­mined posi­tion on an agreed upon front, to be deployed at the same moment, accord­ing to a line that must not be bro­ken, etc. The whole prob­lem of dis­ci­pline implied a new tech­nique of pow­er with non-com­mis­sioned offi­cers, a whole hier­ar­chy of non-com­mis­sioned offi­cers, junior offi­cers, and senior offi­cers. And it was in this way that the army could be dealt with as a very com­plex hier­ar­chi­cal unit, by ensur­ing the max­i­mal per­for­mance of whole deploy­ment accord­ing to the speci­fici­ty of the posi­tion and role of each per­son.

There was a very supe­ri­or mil­i­tary per­for­mance thanks to a new prac­tice of pow­er, whose func­tion was absolute­ly not that of pro­hibit­ing some­thing. Of course, the new prac­tice of pow­er came to pro­hibit this or that thing; nev­er­the­less, the goal was absolute­ly not say­ing, “you must not,” but rather essen­tial­ly obtain­ing a bet­ter per­for­mance, a bet­ter pro­duc­tion and a bet­ter pro­duc­tiv­i­ty in the army. The army as pro­duc­tion of dead bod­ies, this was per­fect­ed, or bet­ter still, this was what was assured by this new tech­nique of pow­er. This was absolute­ly not pro­hi­bi­tion. We could say the same thing of the dis­ci­pline in work­shops, which began to take shape in the 17th and 18th cen­turieswhen the small work­shops of a cor­po­rate type were replaced by large work­shops and an entire series of work­ers – hun­dreds of work­ers – it was nec­es­sary to both mon­i­tor [sur­veiller] and coor­di­nate move­ments, with the divi­sion of labor. The divi­sion of labor was, at the same time, the rea­son it was oblig­a­tory to invent this new dis­ci­pline of the work­shop, but, inverse­ly, we could say that the dis­ci­pline of the work­shop was the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty for achiev­ing a divi­sion of labor. With­out this dis­ci­pline of the work­shop, which is to say, with­out hier­ar­chy, with­out sur­veil­lance, with­out the appear­ance of fore­men, with­out the timed con­trol of move­ments, it would not have been pos­si­ble to achieve a divi­sion of labor.

Final­ly, the fourth impor­tant idea: the­se mech­a­nisms of pow­er, the­se pro­ce­dures of pow­er, it’s nec­es­sary to regard them as tech­niques, which is to say as pro­ce­dures that were invent­ed, per­fect­ed, that were unceas­ing­ly devel­oped. There is a ver­i­ta­ble tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er, or bet­ter still, of pow­ers, which have their own his­to­ry. Here, once again, we can eas­i­ly find between the lines of the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal an analy­sis, or at least the out­line of an analy­sis, which would be the his­to­ry of the tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er, such as it was exer­cised in the work­hous­es and fac­to­ries. I will there­fore fol­low the­se essen­tial indi­ca­tions and I will attempt, with regard to sex­u­al­i­ty, not to con­ceive of pow­er from the juridi­cal point of view, but from the tech­no­log­i­cal.

It appears to me, in fact, that if we ana­lyze pow­er by priv­i­leg­ing the State appa­ra­tus, if we ana­lyze pow­er by regard­ing it as a mech­a­nism of preser­va­tion, if we regard pow­er as a juridi­cal super­struc­ture, we will basi­cal­ly do no more than take up the clas­si­cal the­me of bour­geois thought, for it essen­tial­ly con­ceives of pow­er as a juridi­cal fact. To priv­i­lege the State appa­ra­tus, the func­tion of preser­va­tion, the juridi­cal super­struc­ture, is, basi­cal­ly, to “Rousseauify” Marx. It rein­scribes Marx in the bour­geois and juridi­cal the­o­ry of pow­er. It is not sur­pris­ing that this sup­pos­ed­ly Marx­ist con­cep­tion of pow­er as State appa­ra­tus, as instance of preser­va­tion, as juridi­cal super­struc­ture, is essen­tial­ly found in Euro­pean Social Democ­ra­cy of the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, when the prob­lem was pre­cise­ly that of know­ing how to make Marx work inside a juridi­cal sys­tem, which was that of the bour­geoisie. So, what I would like to do, in tak­ing up what can be found in the sec­ond vol­ume of Cap­i­tal, and in mov­ing away from all that was added, rewrit­ten after­wards on the priv­i­leges of the State appa­ra­tus, power’s func­tion of repro­duc­tion, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the juridi­cal super­struc­ture, is to attempt to see how it is pos­si­ble to do a his­to­ry of pow­ers in the West, and essen­tial­ly of pow­ers inas­much as they are invest­ed in sex­u­al­i­ty.

Thus, from this method­olog­i­cal prin­ci­ple, how can we do a his­to­ry of the mech­a­nisms of pow­er with regards to sex­u­al­i­ty? I believe that, in a very schemat­ic man­ner, we could say the fol­low­ing: the sys­tem of pow­er that the monar­chy had suc­ceed­ed in orga­niz­ing from the end of the Mid­dle Ages pre­sent­ed two major incon­ve­niences for the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. First, polit­i­cal pow­er, as it was exer­cised with­in the social body, was a very dis­con­tin­u­ous pow­er. The mesh of the net was too large, and an almost infinite num­ber of things, ele­ments, con­ducts, and process­es escaped the con­trol of pow­er. If we take for exam­ple a pre­cise point – the impor­tance of smug­gling in all of Europe up until the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry – we would observe a very impor­tant eco­nom­ic flow, almost as impor­tant as the oth­er, a flow which entire­ly escaped pow­er. And it was, more­over, one of the con­di­tions for the exis­tence of men; if there had not been mar­itime pira­cy, com­merce would not have func­tioned, and men would not have been able to live. In oth­er words, ille­gal­i­ty was one of the very pre­con­di­tions of life, but it sig­ni­fied at the same time that there were cer­tain things which escaped pow­er, and over which pow­er did not have con­trol. Con­se­quent­ly, eco­nom­ic process­es, diverse mech­a­nisms, which in a cer­tain way remained out­side con­trol, required the estab­lish­ment of a con­tin­u­ous, min­ute pow­er, in a cer­tain atom­iz­ing fash­ion; from a lacu­nal, glob­al pow­er to a con­tin­u­ous, atom­ic, and indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing pow­er: that every­one, each indi­vid­u­al in and of him­self, in his body, in his move­ments, could be con­trolled, in the place of total and mass con­trols.

The sec­ond great incon­ve­nience to the mech­a­nisms of pow­er, such as they func­tioned in the monar­chy, is that they were exces­sive­ly cost­ly. And they were cost­ly pre­cise­ly because the func­tion of pow­er – that which con­sist­ed pow­er – was essen­tial­ly the pow­er to levy, to have the right and the force to col­lect some­thing – a tax, a tithe wherever the cler­gy was con­cerned – from the har­vests that were made: the com­pul­so­ry col­lec­tion of this or that per­cent­age for the mas­ter, for roy­al pow­er, for the cler­gy. Pow­er was then essen­tial­ly tax col­lec­tor and preda­tor. In this way, it always per­formed an eco­nom­ic sub­trac­tion, and, by con­se­quence, far from favor­ing and stim­u­lat­ing eco­nom­ic flow, monar­chi­cal pow­er was per­pet­u­al­ly its obsta­cle and its restraint. Hence this sec­ond pre­oc­cu­pa­tion, this sec­ond neces­si­ty: find­ing a pow­er mech­a­nism such that, at the same time that it con­trolled things and per­sons right down to the most min­ute detail, it would nei­ther be expen­sive nor essen­tial­ly preda­to­ry on soci­ety, that it would, on the con­trary, be exer­cised through the eco­nom­ic process­es them­selves.

With the­se two objec­tives, I believe that we can rough­ly grasp the great tech­no­log­i­cal muta­tion of pow­er in the West. We have the habit – once again accord­ing to the spir­it of an ever so lim­it­ed Marx­ism – of say­ing that the great inven­tion was, as every­one knows, the steam engine, or at least inven­tions of this sort. It is true, this was very impor­tant, but there was an entire series of oth­er tech­no­log­i­cal inven­tions just as impor­tant as this one and which were, in the last instance, the con­di­tion of pos­si­bil­i­ty for the func­tion­ing of the oth­ers. Thus it was in polit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy; there was an inven­tion at the lev­el of forms of pow­er through­out the 17th and 18th cen­turies. Con­se­quent­ly, we must not only make a his­to­ry of indus­tri­al tech­niques, but also that of polit­i­cal tech­niques, and I believe that we may group the inven­tions of polit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy under two great chap­ters, and for the­se inven­tions we must cred­it, above all, the 17th and 18th cen­turies. I will group the­se polit­i­cal tech­nolo­gies under two great chap­ter head­ings because it appears to me that they were devel­oped in two dif­fer­ent direc­tions. On the one hand, there was this tech­nol­o­gy that I will call “dis­ci­pline.” Dis­ci­pline is basi­cal­ly the mech­a­nism of pow­er by which we come to exert con­trol in the social body right down to the finest ele­ments, by which we suc­ceed in grab­bing hold of the social atoms them­selves, which is to say indi­vid­u­als. Tech­niques for the indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion of pow­er. How to mon­i­tor [sur­veiller] some­one, how to con­trol his con­duct, his behav­ior, his apti­tudes, how to inten­si­fy his per­for­mance, mul­ti­ply his capac­i­ties, how to put him in a place where he will be most use­ful: this is what I mean by dis­ci­pline.

A moment ago, I cit­ed for you the exam­ple of dis­ci­pline in the army. It is an impor­tant exam­ple because it was tru­ly the site where the great dis­cov­ery of dis­ci­pline was made and devel­oped in the first place. Linked then to this oth­er inven­tion of a tech­no-indus­tri­al sort that was the inven­tion of the gun with a com­par­a­tive­ly rapid fire. Basi­cal­ly from this moment on, we can say the fol­low­ing: the sol­dier was no longer inter­change­able, was no longer pure and sim­ple can­non fod­der [chair à canon] a sim­ple indi­vid­u­al capa­ble of doing harm. To be a good sol­dier, he need­ed to know how to shoot; there­fore he had to under­go a process of appren­tice­ship. It was nec­es­sary that the sol­dier equal­ly know how to move, that he know how to coor­di­nate his move­ments with those of oth­er sol­diers, in sum: the sol­dier became some­thing skill­ful. Ergo, some­thing valu­able [pre­cieux]. And the more valu­able he was, the more he had to be pre­served; the more he had to be pre­served, the more nec­es­sary it became to teach him the tech­niques capa­ble of sav­ing his life in bat­tle, and the more tech­niques he was taught, the longer this appren­tice­ship, the more valu­able he became. And sud­den­ly, you have a kind of rapid devel­op­ment of the­se mil­i­tary tech­niques of train­ing [dres­sage], cul­mi­nat­ing in the famous Prus­sian army of Fred­er­ic II, which spent most of its time doing exer­cis­es. The Prus­sian army, the mod­el of Prus­sian dis­ci­pline, is pre­cise­ly the per­fec­tion, the max­i­mal inten­si­ty of this cor­po­re­al dis­ci­pline [dis­ci­pline cor­porelle] of the sol­dier, which was, to a cer­tain extent, the mod­el for oth­er dis­ci­plines.

Anoth­er instance where we see this new dis­ci­pli­nary tech­nol­o­gy appear­ing is edu­ca­tion. It is first in sec­ondary schools and then in pri­ma­ry schools where we see the­se dis­ci­pli­nary meth­ods appear­ing in which indi­vid­u­als are indi­vid­u­al­ized with­in a mul­ti­plic­i­ty. The sec­ondary school brings togeth­er dozens, hun­dreds and some­times thou­sands of high school­ers and school­child­ren, and it then became an issue of exer­cis­ing a pow­er over them that would right­ly be much less expen­sive than the pow­er of the tutor and that could only exist between pupil and mas­ter. Here we have one mas­ter for dozens of dis­ci­ples; it was nec­es­sary, how­ev­er, despite this mul­ti­plic­i­ty of pupils, to achieve an indi­vid­u­al­iza­tion of pow­er, a per­ma­nent con­trol, a sur­veil­lance of every moment. Hence the appear­ance of the fig­ure well known to all those who attend­ed sec­ondary school, the mon­i­tor [le sur­veil­lant], who, in the pyra­mid, cor­re­sponds to the non-com­mis­sioned offi­cer in the army; also the appear­ance of quan­ti­ta­tive grades, the appear­ance of exams, the appear­ance of com­pe­ti­tion, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty, by con­se­quence, of clas­si­fy­ing indi­vid­u­als in such a man­ner that each one would be pre­cise­ly in his place, under the gaze of the teacher, or in the qual­i­fi­ca­tion and judg­ment that we make of each indi­vid­u­al pupil.

See, for exam­ple, how you are seat­ed in rows in front of me. It’s a posi­tion that per­haps appears nat­u­ral to you, but it is impor­tant to recall, how­ev­er, that this is a rel­a­tive­ly recent devel­op­ment in the his­to­ry of civ­i­liza­tion, and that it is pos­si­ble, at the start of the 19th cen­tu­ry, to find schools where the pupils are assem­bled in a stand­ing crowd, around a pro­fes­sor who instructs them. And this of course implies that the pro­fes­sor could not effec­tive­ly or indi­vid­u­al­ly mon­i­tor them: there is a crowd of stu­dents and, then, a pro­fes­sor. Cur­rent­ly, you are arranged in rows so that the gaze of the pro­fes­sor can indi­vid­u­al­ize each of you, so he or she can call your name to know if you are present, what you’re doing, if you’re dream­ing, if you’re yawn­ing… The­se are banal­i­ties, but very impor­tant banal­i­ties, for final­ly, at the lev­el of a whole series of exer­cis­es of pow­er, it was through the­se lit­tle tech­niques that the­se new mech­a­nisms were able to take over, were able to oper­ate. That which hap­pened in the army and in sec­ondary schools may be equal­ly observed in the work­hous­es through­out the 19th cen­tu­ry. This is what I will name the indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er, a tech­nol­o­gy that basi­cal­ly tar­gets indi­vid­u­als right down to their bod­ies, their behav­iors; it is grosso modo a kind of polit­i­cal anato­my, an anato­mo-pol­i­tics, an anato­my that tar­gets indi­vid­u­als to the point of anat­o­miz­ing them.

As I have indi­cat­ed above, we have a fam­i­ly of tech­nolo­gies of pow­er that appeared in the 17th and 18th cen­turies; we have anoth­er fam­i­ly of tech­nolo­gies of pow­er which appeared a bit lat­er, dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 18th cen­tu­ry, and which was devel­oped (we must say that the for­mer, to the shame of France, was above all devel­oped in France and Ger­many) above all in Eng­land: tech­nolo­gies that do not tar­get indi­vid­u­als as such, but which, on the con­trary, tar­get the pop­u­la­tion. In oth­er words, the 18th cen­tu­ry dis­cov­ered this cap­i­tal thing: pow­er is not sim­ply exer­cised upon sub­jects; this idea was the fun­da­men­tal the­sis of the monar­chy, accord­ing to which there was the sov­er­eign and the sub­jects. It was dis­cov­ered that pow­er is exer­cised over the pop­u­la­tion. And what does pop­u­la­tion mean? Pop­u­la­tion does not sim­ply mean a large group of humans, but liv­ing beings tra­versed, ordered and gov­erned [régis] by bio­log­i­cal process­es and laws. A pop­u­la­tion has a birthrate and a death rate; a pop­u­la­tion has a gen­er­a­tional curve [une courbe d’âge], a life table [une pyra­mide d’âge], mor­bid­i­ty, a gen­er­al state of health, a pop­u­la­tion might per­ish or might, on the con­trary, increase.

Now all of this begins to be dis­cov­ered in the 18th cen­tu­ry. We can there­fore glimpse that the rela­tion of pow­er with the sub­ject or, bet­ter still, with the indi­vid­u­al, need not sim­ply be this form of depen­den­cy [sujé­tion] that per­mits pow­er to levy goods, wealth, and pos­si­bly body and blood from the sub­ject, but, rather, pow­er must be exer­cised over indi­vid­u­als inso­far as they con­sti­tute a kind of bio­log­i­cal enti­ty that must be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion if we actu­al­ly want to use this pop­u­la­tion as a machine for pro­duc­ing, for pro­duc­ing wealth and goods, for pro­duc­ing oth­er indi­vid­u­als. The dis­cov­ery of the pop­u­la­tion is, along with the dis­cov­ery of the indi­vid­u­al and the train­able body, the oth­er great tech­no­log­i­cal core around which the polit­i­cal prac­tices of the West trans­formed them­selves. We invent­ed in that case what I will call, in oppo­si­tion to the anato­mo-pol­i­tics I men­tioned a moment ago, bio-pol­i­tics. It’s at this point that we observe the emer­gence of prob­lems like those of hous­ing, of qual­i­ty of life in the city, of pub­lic hygiene, of the mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the ratio between birth rate and mor­tal­i­ty. At this time the prob­lem appears of know­ing how to cajole peo­ple to pro­duce more babies, or in any case, how we can reg­u­late the pop­u­la­tion flow, how we can also reg­u­late the growth rate of the pop­u­la­tion, and migra­tion too. And from this moment on, a whole series of obser­va­tion­al tech­niques, includ­ing sta­tis­tics, of course, but also all the great admin­is­tra­tive, eco­nom­ic, and polit­i­cal organs, are given the duty of reg­u­lat­ing the pop­u­la­tion. There were two great rev­o­lu­tions in the tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er: the dis­cov­ery of dis­ci­pline and the dis­cov­ery of reg­u­la­tion, the improve­ment of anato­mo-pol­i­tics and the improve­ment of bio-pol­i­tics.

Life now becomes, begin­ning in the 18th cen­tu­ry, an object of pow­er. Life and the body. Pre­vi­ous­ly, there had only been sub­jects, juridi­cal sub­jects from whom we could col­lect goods, and life too, more­over. Now, there are bod­ies and pop­u­la­tions. Pow­er becomes mate­ri­al­ist. It ceas­es to be essen­tial­ly juridi­cal. It has to deal with real things [des choses réelles], which are bod­ies and life. Life enters the field of pow­er: a major trans­for­ma­tion [muta­tion cap­i­tale], doubtless one of the most impor­tant, in the his­to­ry of human soci­eties; and we can clear­ly see how sex [le sexe]7could become, from this moment for­ward, which is to say pre­cise­ly from the 18th cen­tu­ry, an absolute­ly cap­i­tal com­po­nent; for, basi­cal­ly, sex is sit­u­at­ed very pre­cise­ly at the point of artic­u­la­tion between the indi­vid­u­al dis­ci­plines of the body and the reg­u­la­tions of pop­u­la­tion. Sex is that through which one can assure the sur­veil­lance of indi­vid­u­als, and we under­stand why in the 18th cen­tu­ry, and pre­cise­ly in sec­ondary schools, ado­les­cent sex­u­al­i­ty became a med­ical prob­lem, a moral prob­lem, near­ly a polit­i­cal prob­lem of the high­est impor­tance, because, through – and under the pre­text of – this con­trol of sex­u­al­i­ty, one could mon­i­tor high school­ers, ado­les­cents, over the course of their lives, at each instant, even dur­ing their sleep. Sex will there­fore become an instru­ment of “dis­ci­pli­nar­iza­tion,” it will be one of the essen­tial ele­ments of this anato­mo-pol­i­tics of which I spoke; but also, on the oth­er hand, it is sex that assures the repro­duc­tion of pop­u­la­tions, it is with sex, with a pol­i­tics of sex that we are able to change the rela­tion between birthrate and mor­tal­i­ty; in any case, the pol­i­tics of sex will install itself with­in this whole pol­i­tics of life that will become so impor­tant in the 19th cen­tu­ry. Sex is the lev­er between anato­mo-pol­i­tics and bio-pol­i­tics; it is at the junc­ture of dis­ci­plines and reg­u­la­tions, and it is in this func­tion that it became, at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, a polit­i­cal com­po­nent of the utmost impor­tance for mak­ing soci­ety into a machine of pro­duc­tion.


M. Fou­cault: Would you like to ask some ques­tions?

Male Audi­tor: What pro­duc­tiv­i­ty does pow­er tar­get in pris­ons?

M. Fou­cault: It’s a long his­to­ry. The pris­on sys­tem, I mean the repres­sive pris­on, the pris­on as pun­ish­ment [châ­ti­ment], was estab­lished late, prac­ti­cal­ly at the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry. Before the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry, pris­on was not a legal sanc­tion [puni­tion légale]; we impris­oned men sim­ply to hold them before ini­ti­at­ing legal process again­st them and not to pun­ish them, except for in excep­tion­al cas­es. Well, we cre­ate pris­ons, as a sys­tem of sup­pres­sion, by declar­ing the fol­low­ing: the pris­on is going to be a sys­tem for the reed­u­ca­tion for crim­i­nals. After doing time in pris­on, thanks to a domes­ti­ca­tion of a mil­i­tary and schol­ar­ly type, we will be able to trans­form the offend­er into a law-abid­ing indi­vid­u­al. We were there­fore seek­ing, with their time spent in pris­on, the pro­duc­tion of obe­di­ent indi­vid­u­als.

Now, very quick­ly, from the very begin­ning of the pris­on sys­tem, we saw that the sys­tem was absolute­ly not con­duct­ed [con­dui­sait] towards this result, but that it was frankly pro­duc­ing pre­cise­ly the oppo­site result: the longer an indi­vid­u­al stayed in pris­on, the less re-edu­cat­ed and more delin­quent he became. It was absolute­ly not zero pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, but rather neg­a­tive pro­duc­tiv­i­ty; oth­er­wise, the pris­on sys­tem, under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, would have had to dis­ap­pear. So it stayed, and it con­tin­ues, and when we ask peo­ple what we might replace pris­ons with, no one responds.

Why do pris­ons per­sist, in spite of this coun­ter-pro­duc­tiv­i­ty? I would say: on the con­trary, they per­sist pre­cise­ly because, in actu­al­i­ty, the pris­on sys­tem is busy pro­duc­ing offend­ers and because delin­quen­cy has a par­tic­u­lar eco­nom­ic-polit­i­cal util­i­ty in the soci­eties with which we are famil­iar. We can eas­i­ly uncov­er the eco­nom­ic-polit­i­cal util­i­ty of delin­quen­cy: first, the more offend­ers there are, the more crimes there will be; the more crimes there are, the more fear there will be with­in the pop­u­la­tion, and the more fear there is in the pop­u­la­tion, the more accept­able, and even desir­able, the sys­tem of police con­trol will become. The exis­tence of this small per­ma­nent inter­nal dan­ger is one of the con­di­tions of accept­abil­i­ty for this sys­tem of con­trol; it explains why, in the news­pa­pers, on the radio and tele­vi­sion, in all coun­tries of the world with­out a sin­gle excep­tion, we give so much space to crim­i­nal­i­ty, as if the pass­ing of each day made it some kind of nov­el­ty. Since 1830, in every coun­try of the world, cam­paigns around the the­me of an increase of delin­quen­cy were devel­oped, even though this increase was nev­er proven; but this sup­posed pres­ence, this men­ace, this growth of crim­i­nal­i­ty is an accep­tance of the­se con­trols.

But that’s not all. Delin­quen­cy is eco­nom­i­cal­ly use­ful. Look at the amount of traf­fick­ing – per­fect­ly lucra­tive and engaged in cap­i­tal­ist prof­its – which is crim­i­nal­ized: thus pros­ti­tu­tion – every­one knows that the con­trol of pros­ti­tu­tion in every coun­try of Europe (I don’t know if this also hap­pens in Brazil) is per­formed by men whose pro­fes­sion is called pimp­ing, who are all ex-offend­ers and have the role of chan­nel­ing the prof­its earned from sex­u­al plea­sure into eco­nom­ic cir­cuits like the hotel indus­try, and towards bank accounts. Pros­ti­tu­tion allowed for the sex­u­al plea­sure of some pop­u­la­tions to become expen­sive, and its man­age­ment and super­vi­sion has allowed prof­its on sex­u­al plea­sure to be divert­ed into speci­fic cir­cuits. Arms traf­fick­ing, drug deal­ing, and, in fact, an entire series of traf­fick­ing, which for one rea­son or anoth­er can­not be forth­right­ly or legal­ly con­duct­ed in soci­ety, fall under the delin­quen­cy that accord­ing­ly sus­tains them.

If we add to all this the fact that crim­i­nal­i­ty was large­ly used in the 19th cen­tu­ry, and in the 20th cen­tu­ry too, by an entire series of polit­i­cal manoeu­vres, such as break­ing up strikes, infil­trat­ing labor unions, being used as a work­force and as body­guards by the heads of polit­i­cal par­ties, includ­ing those more and less respectable. Here I’m speak­ing more specif­i­cal­ly about France, where all polit­i­cal par­ties have a work­force which ranges from the bill­posters to the hood­lums (the vio­lent riot­ers), a work­force con­sti­tut­ed by offend­ers. Thus, we have a whole series of eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that func­tion on the basis of delin­quen­cy, and, to this extent, pris­ons, which pro­duce pro­fes­sion­al offend­ers, have a util­i­ty and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.

Male audi­tor: First of all, I’d like to express what a plea­sure it has been lis­ten­ing to you, see­ing you, and reread­ing your books. All of my ques­tions are based on the cri­tique that Dominique [Lecourt] lev­eled at you: if you go one step fur­ther, you will no longer be an archae­ol­o­gist, an archae­ol­o­gist of knowl­edge; if you go one step fur­ther, you will fall into his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism.8 That’s the basis of the ques­tion. Then, I would like to know why you main­tain that those who defend his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism and psy­cho­analy­sis are not sure of them­selves, are not sure of the sci­en­tifici­ty of their posi­tions. The first thing, and this sur­prised me, after read­ing so much about the dif­fer­ence between refoule­ment and répres­sion9, a dif­fer­ence which we do not have in Por­tugue­se, is that you start by speak­ing of sup­pres­sion with­out dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing it from refoule­ment. It’s sur­pris­ing to me. The sec­ond sur­prise is the fol­low­ing: in attempt­ing to trace an anato­my of the social by draw­ing on dis­ci­pline in the army, you make use of the same ter­mi­nol­o­gy that the lawyers today use in Brazil. In the OAB10 con­gress, which took place in Sal­vador, the lawyers were con­stant­ly using the words “off­set”11 and “dis­ci­pline” to define their juridi­cal func­tion. Curi­ous­ly, you make use of the same terms to speak of pow­er; you use the same juridi­cal lan­guage. What I would like to ask you is whether or not you fall vic­tim to the same rep­re­sen­ta­tive dis­course of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, to the illu­sion of pow­er, the dis­course that the­se lawyers have start­ed using. Thus, the new law of pub­lic com­pa­nies appears as an instru­ment for dis­ci­plin­ing monop­o­lies, but what it actu­al­ly rep­re­sents is a very advanced, valu­able, tech­no­log­i­cal instru­ment that obeys pur­pos­es inde­pen­dent of the will of jurists, to wit the neces­si­ties of cap­i­tal repro­duc­tion. In this way, your usage of the same ter­mi­nol­o­gy sur­pris­es me, to con­tin­ue, while you estab­lish a dialec­tic between tech­nol­o­gy and dis­ci­pline. And my last sur­prise is that you use the pop­u­la­tion as an ele­ment of social analy­sis, return­ing, there­fore, to a peri­od pri­or to Marx’s cri­tique of Ricar­do.

M. Fou­cault: There is a prob­lem of time. At any rate, we are going to meet again tomor­row after­noon, at 3:30, and then we can more com­plete­ly dis­cuss the­se major ques­tions bet­ter than right now. I’m going to attempt to respond briefly to two ques­tions and tomor­row you will pose them anew. This doesn’t both­er you, does it? Is this okay? Here’s the gen­er­al sub­ject of the ques­tion. About the Lecourt prob­lem and of his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism we will speak tomor­row, but the­se two oth­er points, you’re right, for they make ref­er­ence to what I main­tained this morn­ing. In the first place, I have not spo­ken of refoule­ment; I spoke of sup­pres­sion [répres­sion], the for­bid­den, and the law. This is due to the nec­es­sar­i­ly brief and allu­sive char­ac­ter of what I’m able to say in such lit­tle time. Freud’s thought is in fact much more sub­tle than the pic­ture I’ve pre­sent­ed here. Around this notion of repres­sion we find the debate between, we could say, grosso modo Reich, the Reichi­ans, Mar­cuse, and, on the oth­er hand, psy­cho­an­a­lysts prop­er, like Melanie Klein and above all Lacan. For the con­cept of repres­sion could be used for an analy­sis of the social mech­a­nisms of sup­pres­sion by argu­ing that the demand which deter­mi­nes repres­sion is a par­tic­u­lar social real­i­ty that estab­lish­es itself as real­i­ty prin­ci­ple and imme­di­ate­ly pro­vokes repres­sion.

In gen­er­al terms, this is a Reichi­an analy­sis mod­i­fied by Mar­cuse with the con­cept of sur­plus repres­sion.12 And on the oth­er hand, you have the Laca­ni­ans who take up the con­cept of repres­sion and main­tain: it is not that at all, when Freud speaks of repres­sion, he is not think­ing about sup­pres­sion, he is instead think­ing about a par­tic­u­lar mech­a­nism absolute­ly con­sti­tu­tive of desire; because, for Freud, says Lacan, there is no non-repressed desire: desire only exists as desire by virtue of the fact that desire isre­pressed, and because that which con­sti­tutes desire is the law, and there­fore he derives the con­cept of repres­sion from the con­cept of the law.

As a result, two inter­pre­ta­tions: an inter­pre­ta­tion with sup­pres­sion and an inter­pre­ta­tion with law, which in fact describe two phe­nom­e­na or two absolute­ly dif­fer­ent process­es. It’s true that the notion of repres­sion in Freud could be used, accord­ing to the text, either in the one sense or in the oth­er. It’s to avoid this dif­fi­cult prob­lem of Freudi­an inter­pre­ta­tion that I only spoke of sup­pres­sion, because as it hap­pens, his­to­ri­ans of sex­u­al­i­ty have nev­er used a con­cept oth­er than sup­pres­sion, and for a very sim­ple rea­son: this con­cept reveals the social con­tours that deter­mine repres­sion. We could then do a his­to­ry of repres­sion using the con­cept of sup­pres­sion; where­as, using the con­cept of the for­bid­den – which, in a cer­tain sense, is more or less iso­mor­phic to every soci­ety – we couldn’t do a his­to­ry of sex­u­al­i­ty. This is why I avoid­ed the con­cept of repres­sion, and why I only spoke of sup­pres­sion.

Sec­ond­ly, it sur­pris­es me a lot that the lawyers are using the word “dis­ci­pline” – as for the word “off­set,” I nev­er used it a sin­gle time. In this respect I’d like to say the fol­low­ing: I believe that, from the appear­ance of what I call bio-pow­er or anato­mo-pol­i­tics, we live in a soci­ety which is in the process of no longer being a juridi­cal soci­ety. Juridi­cal soci­ety was the monar­chi­cal soci­ety. Euro­pean soci­eties from the 12th to the 18th cen­tu­ry were essen­tial­ly juridi­cal soci­eties in which the prob­lem of rights was the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem: we fought for rights; we made rev­o­lu­tions for them. From the 19th cen­tu­ry onward, in soci­eties which appear as soci­eties of rights, with par­lia­ments, leg­is­la­tures, codes, courts, an entire­ly dif­fer­ent mech­a­nism of pow­er was begin­ning to seep in, which did not fol­low juridi­cal forms and which did not have the law as its fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple, but instead had the prin­ci­ple of the norm, and which no longer had courts, law, and juridi­cal appa­ra­tus as its instru­ments but instead, med­i­cine, social con­trols, psy­chi­a­try, psy­chol­o­gy. We are there­fore in a dis­ci­pli­nary world; we are in a world of reg­u­la­tion. We believe that we are still in a world of law, but, in fact, this oth­er type of pow­er is tak­ing shape through chan­nels [relais] that are no longer juridi­cal chan­nels. So it is per­fect­ly nor­mal that you would find the word “dis­ci­pline” in the mouths of lawyers. It’s sim­i­lar­ly inter­est­ing to see, regard­ing a speci­fic point, how the soci­ety of nor­mal­iza­tion […]13 inhab­it­ed the rights soci­ety and at the same time caused it to mal­func­tion.

Look at what hap­pened in the penal sys­tem. I don’t know if it hap­pened in Brazil, but in Euro­pean coun­tries like Ger­many, France, and Great Britain, there is prac­ti­cal­ly not a sin­gle crim­i­nal of the slight­est impor­tance, and soon there will not be a sin­gle per­son who, in pass­ing through the crim­i­nal courts, does not also pass through the hands of a med­ical, psy­chi­atric, or psy­cho­log­i­cal spe­cial­ist. This is because we live in a soci­ety where crime is no longer sim­ply and essen­tial­ly a trans­gres­sion of the law, but rather a devi­a­tion in rela­tion to a norm. Regard­ing penal­i­ty, we no longer speak of it except in terms of neu­ro­sis, deviance, aggres­sion dri­ve, as you all know very well. So, when I speak of dis­ci­pline and nor­mal­iza­tion, I’m not falling back into a juridi­cal frame­work; it’s on the con­trary the men of rights, men of law, jurists, who are oblig­at­ed to use the vocab­u­lary of dis­ci­pline and nor­mal­iza­tion. That they speak of dis­ci­pline in the O.A.B. Con­gress only con­firms what I’ve said, and not that I’ve fal­l­en back on some juridi­cal con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. They’re the ones who have been dis­placed.

Male audi­tor: How do you see the rela­tion between knowl­edge and pow­er [savoir et pou­voir]?Is it the tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er that pro­vokes sex­u­al per­ver­sion or is it the nat­u­ral bio­log­i­cal anar­chy among men that pro­vokes it?

M. Fou­cault: On this last point, which is to say, on that which moti­vates, that which explains the devel­op­ment of this tech­nol­o­gy, I do not believe we can say it’s bio­log­i­cal devel­op­ment. I attempt­ed to show the oppo­site, which is to say how this trans­for­ma­tion in the tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er absolute­ly takes its depar­ture from the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. The trans­for­ma­tion takes its depar­ture from this devel­op­ment to the extent that, on the one hand, the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism neces­si­tates this tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion, but also, this trans­for­ma­tion enables the devel­op­ment of cap­i­tal­ism. In short: a per­ma­nent impli­ca­tion of the two move­ments, which are in a way enmeshed in each oth­er.

Now, the oth­er ques­tion, which con­cerns the fact that the rela­tions of pow­er have […]14 when plea­sure and pow­er work togeth­er. It is an impor­tant prob­lem. I’d like to briefly say that it’s pre­cise­ly this, which seems to char­ac­ter­ize the mech­a­nisms in place with­in our soci­eties; it’s this that equal­ly gives us pause in sim­ply say­ing that pow­er has the func­tion of for­bid­ding, of pro­hibit­ing. If we admit that pow­er only has the func­tion of pro­hibit­ing, we must invent some types of mech­a­nisms – Lacan must do this, and the oth­ers too – to be able to say: “Look, we self-iden­ti­fy with pow­er”; or oth­er­wise we say that there is a masochis­tic rela­tion of pow­er that is estab­lished, which makes us love the one who pro­hibits. But, then again, once you admit that the func­tion of pow­er is not essen­tial­ly to pro­hibit, but to pro­duce, to pro­duce plea­sure, at that moment you can per­fect­ly under­stand how we are able to obey pow­er and find plea­sure in this obe­di­ence, which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly masochis­tic. Chil­dren can serve as exam­ples to us: I believe that the way in which the sex­u­al­i­ty of chil­dren was made into a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem for the bour­geois fam­i­ly dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry pro­voked and made pos­si­ble a great num­ber of con­trols over the fam­i­ly, over par­ents, over chil­dren, and cre­at­ed at the same time a whole series of new plea­sures: the plea­sure of par­ents in mon­i­tor­ing chil­dren, the plea­sure of chil­dren in play­ing with their own sex­u­al­i­ty, again­st their par­ents and with their par­ents, an entire­ly new econ­o­my of plea­sure around the body of the child. We needn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly say that par­ents, out of some sort of masochism, self-iden­ti­fy with the law…

Female audi­tor: You haven’t respond­ed to the ques­tion that was asked of you regard­ing the rela­tion between knowl­edge and pow­er, and of the pow­er that you, Michel, you exer­cise through your knowl­edge.

M. Fou­cault: Thank you for repeat­ing the ques­tion to me. Indeed, the ques­tion must be posed. I believe that – in any case, it’s one mean­ing of the analy­ses that I make, in which you can see the source of inspi­ra­tion – I believe that the rela­tions of pow­er must not be con­sid­ered in such a sim­plis­tic man­ner as if there are those who, on the one hand, pos­sess pow­er and, on the oth­er, those who do not. Once again, here a par­tic­u­lar ver­sion of aca­d­e­mic Marx­ism fre­quent­ly uses the oppo­si­tion of dom­i­nant class ver­sus dom­i­nat­ed class, the dom­i­nant dis­course ver­sus­the dom­i­nat­ed dis­course. And yet we will nev­er find this dual­ism in Marx; how­ev­er, it can be found in reac­tionary and racist thinkers like Gob­ineau, who main­tains that, with­in soci­ety, there are always two class­es, a dom­i­nat­ed and anoth­er who dom­i­nates. You can find this in many places, but nev­er in Marx, because, in fact, Marx is too cun­ning to main­tain some­thing like this; he knew per­fect­ly well that what strength­ens rela­tion­ships of pow­er is that they nev­er stop; there is not some sin­gle rela­tion­ship of pow­er here, and many over there; they course through­out every­thing: the work­ing class retrans­mits rela­tion­ships of pow­er; it makes use of rela­tion­ships of pow­er. From the mere fact of being a stu­dent, you are already insert­ed in a par­tic­u­lar posi­tion of pow­er; I, as a pro­fes­sor, I am also in a posi­tion of pow­er; I am in a posi­tion of pow­er because I am a man and not a wom­an, and, from the fact that you are a wom­an, you are also in a posi­tion of pow­er, not the same, but we are all like­wise in posi­tions of pow­er. Of any­one who knows some­thing, we could say: “You exer­cise pow­er.” It’s a stu­pid cri­tique to the extent that it is lim­it­ed to just that. What is indeed inter­est­ing is to know how the mesh of pow­er func­tions in a given group, class or soci­ety, which is to say, what is the local­iza­tion of each group with­in the net of pow­er, how each exer­cis­es it anew, how each pre­serves it, how each pass­es it on.

—Trans­lat­ed by Christo­pher Chit­ty


1. This lec­ture was deliv­ered by Michel Fou­cault in 1976 at the invi­ta­tion of the Phi­los­o­phy depart­ment of the Fed­er­al Uni­ver­si­ty of Bahia in Sal­vador, Brazil. It was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in two parts, trans­lat­ed into Por­tugue­se for issue 4 of the jour­nal Bar­bárie in 1981 and issue 5 in 1982 respec­tive­ly. The lec­ture is repro­duced in its entire­ty in Michel Fou­cault, Dits et écrits, vol II, eds. Daniel Defert, François Ewald and Jacques Lagange (Paris: Édi­tions Gal­li­mard, 2001), 1001-1020. All notes are the translator’s unless oth­er­wise indi­cat­ed.

2Refoule­ment or repres­sion is the French trans­la­tion of Freud’s ver­drän­gung, and répres­sion is the French trans­la­tion of Unter­drück­ung tra­di­tion­al­ly ren­dered “sup­pres­sion” in Eng­lish.

3. The Stan­dard Edi­tion of Freud uni­form­ly trans­lates Trieb as “instinct.”

4. See the work of Pier­re Clas­tres, col­lect­ed in Soci­ety Again­st the State: Essays in Polit­i­cal Anthro­pol­o­gy, trans. Robert Hur­ley and Abe Stein, Zone Books, 1989 [pub­lished in French by Ed. De Minu­it in 1974; note in orig­i­nal].

5. There is a temp­ta­tion to trans­late le droit as “the law” in Eng­lish; how­ev­er, to do so is to miss some­thing essen­tial about Foucault’s sub­tle argu­ment here. For Fou­cault, le droit, all claims on a right, are always indi­ca­tions of a strug­gle over pow­er rather than evi­dence of some uni­ver­sal sub­ject of the law. He uses “right” in the sense of the com­mon Eng­lish expres­sion “might makes right.” The­se themes are explored in depth in Foucault’s lec­tures from this year at Col­lège de France, Soci­ety Must Be Defend­ed: Lec­tures at the Col­lège de France, 1975-1976, Pic­a­dor: New York, 2003, 49-52; I quote the end of that dis­cus­sion in which Fou­cault defines rights dis­course: “the sub­ject who speaks in this dis­course, who says ‘I’ or ‘we,’ can­not, and is in fact not try­ing to, occu­py the posi­tion of the jurist or the philoso­pher, or in oth­er words the posi­tion of a uni­ver­sal, total­iz­ing, or neu­tral sub­ject… he is involved in the bat­tle, has adver­saries, and is work­ing toward a par­tic­u­lar vic­to­ry. Of course, he speaks the dis­course of right, asserts a right and demands a right. But what he is demand­ing and assert­ing is ‘his’ rights – he says: ‘We have a right.’ The­se are sin­gu­lar rights, and they are strong­ly marked by a rela­tion­ship of prop­er­ty, con­quest, vic­to­ry, or nature. It might be the right of his fam­i­ly or race, the right of supe­ri­or­i­ty or senior­i­ty, the right of tri­umphal inva­sions, or the right of recent or ancient occu­pa­tions. In all cas­es, it is a right that is both ground­ed in his­to­ry and decen­tered from a juridi­cal uni­ver­sal­i­ty… it is always a per­spec­ti­val dis­course. It is inter­est­ed in the total­i­ty only to the extent that it can see it in one-sid­ed terms, dis­tort it and see it from its own point of view.”

6. The edi­tors of Dits et écrits includ­ed a foot­note that refers to the Ger­man and French edi­tions of Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal: A Cri­tique of Polit­i­cal Econ­o­my, Vol­ume II: The Process of Cir­cu­la­tion of Cap­i­tal (New York: Pen­guin, 1992). How­ev­er, it seems more like­ly that Fou­cault is invok­ing the sec­ond vol­ume of vol­ume 1 of Cap­i­tal, since the French trans­la­tion had been pub­lished in mul­ti­ple vol­umes by Édi­tions Sociales. This sec­ond vol­ume of vol­ume 1 – con­sist­ing of sec­tions 4, 5, and 6 – con­tains the mate­ri­al on man­u­fac­ture that Fou­cault refers to through­out Dis­ci­pline and Pun­ish. I would like to thank Jason Read for bring­ing this to my atten­tion.

7. French has no way of dis­tin­guish­ing between “sex” and “gen­der,” as many fem­i­nist crit­ics, fol­low­ing Monique Wit­tig and Judith But­ler, are wont do in Eng­lish. Le gen­re is a gram­mat­i­cal con­cept deter­min­ing the class of nouns accord­ing to a nat­u­ral divi­sion of the sex­es and oth­er for­mal cri­te­ria, where­as le sexe is a qual­i­ty of bod­ies. Le sexe can sig­ni­fy the cel­lu­lar, organ­ic, hor­mon­al, phys­i­cal and cul­tur­al ways in which men are dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed from wom­en, in addi­tion to the way we thus cat­e­go­rize oth­er ani­mal species and plants. Le sexe can also mean “gen­i­tals” and “sex­u­al activ­i­ty.” Like his con­tem­po­rary Jacques Lacan, Fou­cault deploys le sexe by retain­ing the ambi­gu­i­ty of its ref­er­ent. See His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty, Vol­ume 1: An Intro­duc­tion, trans. Robert Hur­ley. (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1990),40-46, where he argues that the pow­er invest­ed in sex becomes gen­er­al­ized through focus on and con­cern for the fig­ures of wom­en, chil­dren and sex­u­al deviants. The impli­ca­tion is that sex­u­al cat­e­gories are the result of a his­tor­i­cal­ly new tech­nol­o­gy of pow­er. The peri­odiza­tion here sig­nif­i­cant­ly revis­es His­to­ry of Sex­u­al­i­ty’s empha­sis upon sex­u­al sci­ence of the late-nine­teen­th cen­tu­ry.

8. Dominique Lecourt notes that Archae­ol­o­gy of Knowl­edge sig­nif­i­cant­ly revis­es Foucault’s the­o­ry by aban­don­ing its cen­tral notion of the epis­te­me: “For my part, I think the crit­ics are well-advised; they are not wrong to trem­ble, for the con­cept of his­to­ry which func­tions in The Archae­ol­o­gy has many con­so­nances with anoth­er con­cept of his­to­ry which they have good rea­son to hate: the sci­en­tific con­cept of his­to­ry as it appears in his­tor­i­cal mate­ri­al­ism. The con­cept of a his­to­ry which is also pre­sent­ed as a process with­out a sub­ject struc­tured by a sys­tem of laws. A con­cept which, on this basis, is also rad­i­cal­ly anti-anthro­pol­o­gis­tic, anti-human­ist and anti-struc­tural­ist.” Marx­ism and Epis­te­mol­o­gy: Bachelard, Can­guil­hem and Fou­cault, trans. Ben Brew­ster, (Lon­don: New Left Books, 1975), 189.

9. Orig­i­nal words are in French in the tran­script. It should be not­ed that refoule­ment is the French trans­la­tion of Freud’s ver­drän­gung, and répres­sion is right­ful­ly trans­lat­ed by the Eng­lish word “sup­pres­sion.” In psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic the­o­ry, sup­pres­sion, or répres­sion, is a desire that is con­scious­ly pushed back into the uncon­scious; repres­sion, or refoule­ment, is pushed back into the uncon­scious with­out hav­ing attained the lev­el of con­scious­ness.

10Orden dos Advo­ga­dos do Brasil: The Order of Brazil­ian Lawyers. [Note in orig­i­nal.]

11. The lec­tor says “com­penser.”

12. See Her­bert Mar­cuse, Eros and Civ­i­liza­tion, (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1966).

13. A gap in the record­ing, indi­cat­ed in the orig­i­nal Brazil­ian text. [Note in orig­i­nal.]

14. Gap in the record­ing. [Note in orig­i­nal.]

Author of the article

was the author of The Order of Things and The History of Sexuality.

11 Responses

  1. Viewpoint: Theory and Practice. | reificationofpersonsandpersonificationofthings

    […] The Mesh of Pow­er | Michel Fou­cault […]

  2. Foucault’s “The Mesh of Power” « Viewpoint Magazine « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

    […] The full Eng­lish ver­sion of this impor­tant essay (with links to the French and an intro­duc­tion) is avail­able here: The Mesh of Pow­er « View­point Mag­a­zine… […]

  3. Foucault – The Mesh of Power | Progressive Geographies

    […] ‘The Mesh of Pow­er’ is avail­able online in Eng­lish (with a link to the French) at View­point Mag­a­zine. This lec­ture was pre­vi­ous­ly trans­lat­ed by Ger­ald Moore for the Space, Knowl­edge and Pow­er: […]

  4. Teo Ballvé
    Teo Ballvé at |

    I have not been able to locate this stuff in Marx’s Cap­i­tal Vol. II (stuff about power(s), the army, etc.). Is he actu­al­ly ref­er­enc­ing the chap­ter on “coop­er­a­tion” in Vol­ume I? Any­one know?

  5. John S. Ransom
    John S. Ransom at |

    Back in the day, I did a course on pow­er and one book I came upon--and which Foucault’s dis­cus­sion above reminds me of--is: William H. McNeill, The Pur­suit of Pow­er. Fas­ci­nat­ing book. I assigned Chap­ter 1, “Arms and Soci­ety in Antiq­ui­ty,” then from Chap­ter 4, “Advances in Europe’s Art of War,” through Chap­ter 8, “Inten­si­fied Mil­i­tary-Indus­tri­al Inter­ac­tion 1884-1914.” I know everyone’s read­ing list is pro­hib­i­tive­ly long, but in an ide­al world, I would rec­om­mend this book to you in light of Foucault’s empha­sis on dis­ci­pline in the mil­i­tary.

  6. John S. Ransom
    John S. Ransom at |

    Foucault’s empha­sis on not just ‘dis­ci­pline,’ but all sorts of local/regional forms of pow­er, plus his cri­tique of the “sov­er­eign­ty” mod­el of pow­er, which goes along with his cri­tique of the idea that “pow­er only says no” reminds me of a com­ment Fou­cault made in “Two Lec­tures,” in Power/Knowledge, p. 108: “For this rea­son, again­st the­se usurpa­tions by the dis­ci­pli­nary mech­a­nisms, again­st this ascent of a pow­er that is tied to sci­en­tific knowl­edge, we find that there is no solid recourse avail­able to us today, such being our sit­u­a­tion, except that which lies pre­cise­ly in the return to a the­o­ry of right organ­ised around sov­er­eign­ty and artic­u­lat­ed upon its ancient prin­ci­ple. When today one wants to object in some way to the dis­ci­plines and all the effects of pow­er and knowl­edge that are linked to them, what is it that one does, con­crete­ly, in real life, what do the Mag­is­trates Union or oth­er sim­i­lar insti­tu­tions do, if not pre­cise­ly appeal to this canon of right, this famous, for­mal right, that is said to be bour­geois, and which in real­i­ty is the right of sov­er­eign­ty? But I believe that we find our­selves here in a kind of blind alley: it is not through recourse to sov­er­eign­ty again­st dis­ci­pline that the effects of dis­ci­pli­nary; pow­er can be lim­it­ed, because sov­er­eign­ty and dis­ci­pli­nary mech­a­nisms are two absolute­ly inte­gral con­stituents of the gen­er­al mech­a­nism of pow­er in our soci­ety.” And so not only is it true that in polit­i­cal the­o­ry, we still need to “cut off the king’s head” (also said in “Two Lec­tures,” but that oppo­si­tion­al thought too often finds itself in an unpro­duc­tive cul-de-sac.

    1. http://guerrillablog2.blogspot.com
      http://guerrillablog2.blogspot.com at |

      One fol­lows Ai Wei­Wei and his strate­gies.

  7. Marx, Foucault and Power. | reificationofpersonsandpersonificationofthings

    […] new issue of View­point fea­tures a trans­la­tion of Foucault’s The Mesh of Pow­er. In the talk Fou­cault makes some very inter­est­ing com­ments about vol­ume II: How may we attempt to […]

  8. Foucault’s ‘The Mesh of Power’ « cosmonautmonkey

    […] it’s rather long and b) it’s prob­a­bly best read in its entire­ty, but here’s the link. Go check it out. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was post­ed in Trans­lat­ed […]

  9. foucault – the mesh of power | being-in-exodus

    […] Link to new Fou­cault at View­point. […]

  10. Foucault: criticism, judgement and assessment « Refracted input

    […] dif­fi­cult to imag­ine, let alone imple­ment, in an envi­ron­ment where holes in the chain mail of the mesh­es of pow­er, as described by Fou­cault, have become small­er and small­er. Lyotard argues that cracks in the […]

Comments are closed.