Although the concept of governmentality was elaborated in Foucault's last years, its philosophical premises are to be found in many of his earlier publications. From 1961 (Madness and Civilization) to 1984 (The History of Sexuality) , he explored various forms of powers and constraints, in order to determine in what way a specific mode of subjection was able to give birth to man as an object of knowledge for a discourse with a 'scientific' status1. The case of the execution of Damiens (1757) perfectly illustrates this shift in objectives: what was important in the regicide was structured around questions like 'what happened and who did it?'. Slowly, the attention of the judge turned to questions that referred to the nature itself of the defendant, what he went through in his life, his attitude, etc.
The emergence of these questions had a paramount influence on criminal psychology, and on the formation of a criminality that will become the object of penal intervention rather than the crime itself2. Medical, scientific, penal, pedagogical, military, educational or psychiatric domains were progressively understood as areas of knowledge; and the institutions they gave birth to, prison in the case below, aimed at normalizing self-subjecting bodies, both inside and outside their walls.
Foucault's neologism gains clarity, and its commonly accepted definition appears more accessible: The ensemble formed by the institution procedures, analysis and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, has as its target the population, as its principal form of knowledge the political economy, and as its essential technical means the apparatuses of security
[...] It is a simple aspect of our political experience. Thus, governmentality is not an instrument for the state, but rather what has met the state, what has invested it. 5 Ethics : subjectivity and truth, Michel Foucault, 1981/ Security, Territory, Population, Michel Foucault, 1977/78 Finally, among those who tried to perpetuate or refine the concept, we can find Hunt and Wickham (who proposed a more basic definition7), as well as Dean who examined governmentality through a wider scope, and saw government as anything to do with conducting oneself or others. [...]
[...] As the main object of political analysis, Foucault therefore substitutes the process aimed at inflecting conducts to the traditional mission of edicting universal, compulsory and general norms. The properties of this gouvernement are strongly opposed to the “empire of it emerges as an equilibrium point between interacting forces (without ever being really in equilibrium), its compulsory character is accidental, and far from being universal and general, it is in fact necessarily local and particular. Finally, and it may be the most important characteristic, for Foucault, this gouvernement doesn't operate a scission between what is political and what is not (the private, personal, etc.). [...]
[...] The highlight on the emergence of a biopower, even if it overlaps or contains other political analyses about the recent evolutions of our states' means and areas of influence, is of utmost importance in our Western societies. Indeed, the current tendency to recenter and tighten the penal system around the 'system' of social exclusion (in France of prisoners are either workers, unemployed or homeless), is in my opinion one of the most serious threats on the future cohesion of our societies, as it dramatically affects the society-state relationship . [...]
[...] Neoliberalism's core element is indeed not as much laissez- faire as a kind of relative interventionism orientated toward giving incentives to certain practices, or discouraging others. It is a governmentality insofar as it targets economy while taking direct ideological benefits from its potential success: the smooth functioning of competition is the foundation of its legitimacy. But the concept is much wider than that. Foucault's aim, in studying various historical domains (early Christianity, early modern Europe, etc), was to show how governmentality was separated from the previous forms of power (disciplines and sovereignty). [...]
[...] For him, it is to be considered as “political physics”, whose actions are directed toward a naturality, which is not really what resists politics but what is penetrated by it in order to define new areas of relevance. Here comes his notion of biopolitics, an important aspect of our question, which Foucault defines as ensemble of mechanisms through which what constitutes the fundamental biological features of the human species will enter politics, a political strategy, a general strategy of power; in other words, how Western modern societies have, since the 18th century, taken into account the fundamental biological fact that man constitutes the human species”6. [...]
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