Constituting Another Foucault Effect. Foucault on States and Statecraft

This on-line version is the pre-copyedited, preprint version. The published version can be found here:

‘Another Foucault effect? Foucault on governmentality and statecraft’, in U. Bröckling, S. Krasmann, T. Lemke, eds, Governmentality: Current Issues and Future Challenges, New York: Routledge, 56-73, 2010.[1]


“In the two volumes of his lectures of 1978 and 1979, we see Michel Foucault making a major intellectual change of direction, moving away from an analysis of power as the formation and production of individuals towards an analysis of governmentality, a concept invented to denote the ‘conduct of conducts’ of men and women, working through their autonomy rather than through coercion even of a subtle kind. Out of this concept and the extended analysis of political economy which provides the material for its elaboration, Foucault never produced a published work. […] This however did not prevent this concept of governmentality from meeting with great success in the English-speaking world, in many ways stimulating there an intellectual dynamic more intense than in the case of his published works, which rapidly became classics and were treated as such and with the deference that status entailed, but not with the excitement which met the lectures on governmentality. In 1991 […] The Foucault Effect (Burchell, Gordon, Miller 1991) set off this dynamic by centring the ‘effect’ in question precisely on this notion of governmentality. But in France Foucault’s lectures on the subject were not published until 2004 and without at first arousing great interest” (Donzelot and Gordon 2008: 48)

As Jacques Donzelot, a one-time collaborator of Foucault, notes, the Foucault effect has been particularly strong in the Anglo-phone world. Indeed the impact of his work on governmentality in this specific context might more properly be termed the “Anglo-Foucauldian effect” in order to distinguish it from the many other ways in which the work of Foucault and his French associates has affected philosophy, history, geography, and other branches of the arts, humanities, and social sciences at many times and places. As such, this effect refers to a particular mode of reception and appropriation of Foucault’s work on governmentality to generate a distinctive theoretical, epistemological, and methodological approach[2] to empirical studies, both historical and contemporary, of various technologies and practices oriented to “the conduct of conduct”. Even in regard to this one aspect of his work, however, there are other “Foucault effects” grounded in different readings and appropriations of his work on governmentality in various countries (for work within this broader field, see, e.g., Agrawal 2006; Bröckling, Krasmann, and Lemke 2000; Dean 1999; Krasmann and Volkmer 2007; Meyet, Naves and Ribmont 2006; Opitz 2004; Sanyal 2007; Walters and Larner 2004; and the many contributions to Foucault Studies).

This chapter offers another version of the Foucault effect based on closer attention to his later work on the state, statecraft, and the macro-physics of social power (for a first major contribution in this regard, see Lemke 1997; for an anticipation of some of these results, see Jessop 1990: 220-247). Such work reveals another Foucault effect in the broad field of governmentality studies but one that is interested in his significant contributions to the reconstruction of state theory and not merely to its deconstruction (see, for example, Corbridge et al., 2005; Dean 1999; Frauley 2007; Lemke 1997; Mitchell 1988, 1991, 2002; Walters and Haahr 2004). Accordingly my chapter first summarizes some key features of the Anglo-Foucauldian approach and the theoretical and political conjuncture in which it formed and notes that one of its effects has been to justify rejecting Marxist political economy and, more generally, to invalidate any “state theory” that takes the state for granted as its theoretical object. While there is some limited basis for this in some of Foucault’s work, this interpretation overlooks Foucault’s continued, if often unstated, adoption of key Marxian insights and his concern with the state as a (if not the) crucial site for the “institutional integration” of power relations (cf. Foucault 1979b: 96; on Foucault and Marx, see Jessop 2007; Marsden 1999; Nigro 2008; Paolucci 2003; Schärer 2008).[3] I then locate this more state-theoretical Foucault effect in his work on the role of the state in different periods in the strategic codification and institutional integration of power relations and on his insights into the art of government considered as statecraft and show how they can be integrated into critical but non-essentialist accounts of the state as a site of political practice (1980: 122; 1979b: 96; 2003b: 30-1, 88; 2008a: 108-109; 2008b: passim).

The Anglo-Foucauldian Effect and its Conjuncture

The self-described Foucault effect identified by Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (1991b) is associated with scholars from Australia, Canada, and the USA as well as the United Kingdom who have been described as forming an “Anglo-Foucauldian school”. Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller, two of its key figures, write that it comprises ”an informal thought community that seeks to craft some tools through which to understand how our present had been assembled” (2008: 8). Anglo-Foucauldians do not aim to be Foucault scholars but selectively[4] apply his initial insights on governmentality to new areas. They draw on Discipline and Punish (1977) and the lecture on government from his 1977-78 course at the Collège de France, which appeared in English in 1979 (Foucault 1979a; also 1991). This shared Anglophone appreciation is reflected in the rise of a distinctive academic field: governmentality studies. The coherence of this field in the Anglophone world rests on its narrow understanding of governmentality and resulting neglect of its place in Foucault’s intellectual and political reflections. Elsewhere even this field has a somewhat broader scope.

In particular, the pioneers of the Anglo-Foucauldian effect approved of Foucault’s apparent rejection of the state as a decisive political agent and interpreted governmentality as a decentered rather than centered process (cf. O’Malley, Weir, and Shearing, 1997: 501). This is reflected in Rose and Miller’s claim that the governmentality perspective focuses empirically on “forms of power without a centre, or rather with multiple centres, power that was productive of meanings, of interventions, of entities, of processes, of objects, of written traces and of lives” (2008: 9). This involves a principled refusal to equate government with the state, understood as a centralized locus of rule, and focuses instead on how programmes and practices of rule are applied in micro-settings, including at the level of individual subjects. In short, government is the decentred but “calculated administration of life” (Rose and Valverde 1998). Thus adherents of the Anglo-Foucauldian approach seek to decompose power into political rationalities, governmental programmes, technologies and techniques of government (Miller and Rose 1990; O’Malley 1992; Rose 1999). This is consistent with Foucault’s critique of theoretical and political concern with the State as an originary, central institution in the exercise of political power (see below) and led the Anglo-Foucauldians to call for studies of the art and techniques of governmentality (for two good overviews, see Rose, O’Malley, and Valverde 2006 and Rose and Miller 2008).

These concerns reflect the specific theoretical and political conjuncture in which the Anglo-Foucauldian school formed. Theoretically, this was marked by the general turn against the “structural Marxism” associated with Althusser, Balibar, Pêcheux, and Poulantzas; and with the structural semiotics derived from Saussure, Bakhtin, and Barthes (Rose and Miller 2008: 2-4). The former was criticized for its economic reductionism, its functionalist account of “ideological state apparatuses”, its neglect of the relative autonomy of the many institutional orders and fields that shape political and social life, and its neglect of the specific modalities of ideological struggle and identity formation (Rose and Miller 2008; Rose, O’Malley and Valverde 2006). In general, then, according to their own accounts, the early Anglo-Foucauldian authors shared Foucault’s disillusion with the “Marx effect”, i.e., the institutions and practices associated with official Marxism, and also explicitly rejected structural Marxism and other structuralist approaches (e.g., in the field of semiotics and Ideologiekritik). It seemed to them that Marxism, if it had ever been useful, was certainly now obsolete, because it could not address the new forms of liberal governmentality, their associated technologies of power, and new forms of subjectivation.[5]

Politically, the “Anglo-Foucauldian” conjuncture was marked by the crisis of the post-war institutional settlement and class compromise based on the mass-production-mass-consumption economic dynamics in Western Europe, Canada and the USA, Australia and New Zealand. This crisis was associated with a proliferation of new social movements that were irreducible to class politics and that engaged in struggles on many sites of resistance (hospitals, housing, social work, prisons, universities, racial segregation, nuclear power, war, and the environment) and, just as importantly, by the first stirrings of neo-liberal critiques of big government, big unions, collectivism, bureaucracy, self-regarding professional monopolies, paternalism, and so on (Rose and Miller 1992). These critiques were linked to calls to expand individual freedom and autonomy in all spheres of society. A Californian slogan expresses the political climate well: “get the state off our backs, out of our pockets, and away from our beds”. This was the period that saw the rise of Thatcherism in the UK, Reaganism in the USA, “Rogernomics” in New Zealand, the “Common Sense Revolution” of the Progressive Conservative Party in Ontario, the neo-liberal regime shift of the Australia Labor Party, and neo-liberal turns in Continental Europe. It was also a time of challenge to the centralized “party states” in Central and Eastern Europe (ibidem: 172). These same trends, notably the rise of neo-liberalism in France, Germany, and the USA, led Foucault himself to refocus his 1978-79 lectures from biopolitics to liberalism and its transformation into neo-liberalism.

While Anglo-Foucauldians shared the neo-liberal critique of the social state, i.e., the state forms and political practices that sought to create subjects with social claims on a national territorial sovereign state that were exercised at the expense of individual freedom and autonomy, they rejected neo-liberalism’s fetishistic market fundamentalism and some preferred to talk of “advanced liberalism” to signify the wide range of governmental practices extending beyond both market and state involved governing the habits of the people in this variant of liberalism. Accordingly they investigated neo-liberalism in terms of

“the range of techniques that would enable the state to divest itself of many of its obligations, devolving those to quasi-autonomous entities that would be governed at a distance by means of budgets, audits, standards, benchmarks, and other technologies that were both autonomizing and responsibilizing” (Rose, O’Malley, and Valverde 2006: 91).

They aimed to show the complex costs and benefits of those rationalities and technologies that sought to govern in the name of freedom rather than in the name of collective social rights to be upheld by the state’s discretionary authority (Rose 1999: 176; Rose 1996; Rose, O’Malley, and Valverde 2006: 93).

Bringing the State Back In

Foucault’s analyses of disciplinary power and governmentality represent one step in an evolving intellectual project. Yet Anglo-Foucauldians tend to interpret them as a definitive statement of his opposition to macro-theorization and, relatedly, to any concern with how micro-powers were assembled into bigger programmes and projects (cf. Kempa and Singh 2008: 340). Yet Foucault himself noted:

I have not studied and do not want to study the development of real governmental practice by determining the particular situations it deals with, the problems raised, the tactics chosen, the instruments employed, forged, or remodelled, and so forth. I wanted to study the art of governing, that is to say, the reasoned way of governing best and, at the same time, reflection on the best possible way of governing. That is to say, I have tried to grasp the level of reflection in the practice of government and on the practice of government. […] to grasp the way in which this practice that consists in governing was conceptualized both within and outside government, and anyway as close as possible to governmental practice. […] In short, we could call this the study of the rationalization of government practice in the exercise of political sovereignty (2008b: 2).

This comment from 1978 seems to indicate that Foucault was unwittingly distancing himself in advance from governmentality studies, especially as he also linked the emergence of governmentality or governmental practices to the macroscopic organization of the state and reflection on the government of government. He also argued for a combination of micro- and macro-analyses, presenting his later work on liberalism as a scaling up of his previous micro-analytics of power to macro-level questions about the state and political economy (2008b: 186; see below). For good or ill, the Anglo-Foucauldian approach took shape in the early 1990s when many of Foucault’s later texts on governmentality were unavailable in English, encouraging its early adherents to adopt a more micro-focus in their development of Foucauldian insights than might seem justified in the light of a broader understanding of his work in this area.

Foucault himself explored not only the generalization of the conduct of conduct across diverse spheres of society but also studied how specific governmental practices and regimes were articulated into broader economic and political projects. Thus he continued to argue into the late 1970s that capitalism had penetrated deeply into our existence, especially as it required diverse techniques of power to enable capital to exploit people’s bodies and their time, transforming them into labour power and labour time respectively to create surplus profit (see, for example, 1977: 163-4, 174-5, 218-23; 1979b: 37, 120-4, 140-1; 2003b: 32-7; 2008a: 338, 347; 2008b: 220-2). On this basis, one might expect Foucault to differ from Anglo-Foucauldian work on the import of changes in governmentality in terms of the logic of capital accumulation as well as on the nature of political domination as exercised in and through the state. This is exactly what we find.

Thus, as Foucault’s theoretical interests shifted from the micro-physics of the disciplinary society and its anatomo-politics of the body to the more general strategic codification of a plurality of discourses, practices, technologies of power, and institutional ensembles around a specific governmental rationality concerned with the social body (bio-power) in a consolidated capitalist society, we can find a space opening up for Foucauldian analyses of sovereignty, territorial statehood, and state power and for less well-substantiated claims about their articulation to the logic of capital accumulation.[6] As Kelly notes:

“The concept of government appears in Foucault’s thought as an attempt to deal with what his earlier analysis of power relations had deliberately bracketed, namely state power, as well as the other kinds of power which can be called governmental […] Having removed the state’s status as the central concern of political thought in his earlier work, Foucault now moves towards understanding the state in the specific role that it actually does have in networks of power” (Kelly 2009: 61, 61-62)

The scope for integrating the study of sovereignty, statehood, and state power is reinforced when we recall Foucault’s announcement that, if he could alter the title and theme of his 1977-1978 course, he would no longer refer to “security, territory, population but to the “history of governmentality”. He would concentrate on “government, population, political economy”, which “form a solid series that has certainly not been dismantled even today” (2008a: 108). Thus sovereignty-territory-security moved to the margins of Foucault’s theoretical concerns even though he acknowledged the continued importance of this complex into the 20th century. It is replaced by interest in: (a) government as a relatively new and certainly more important mode of exercising power than sovereignty, discipline, etc.; (b) population as the specific object of governmental practices (in contrast to the body as the anatomo-political object of disciplinary power);[7] and (c) political economy as the overarching object of inquiry and reference point for veridiction that frames governmental rationality in the transition from the administrative state in the 15th and 16th centuries towards the self-limiting governmentalized state in the 18th century and beyond. Foucault then suggests that, while the state has been overvalued as a cold monster and/or as a unified, singular, and rigorously functional entity, it should remain an important object of study. Accordingly, it should be approached as a “composite reality” and “mythicized abstraction” that has survived into the present because it has been governmentalized. He then elaborates this claim:

“it is likely that if the state is what it is today, it is precisely thanks to this governmentality that is at the same time both external and internal to the state, since it is the tactics of government that allow the continual definition of what should or should not fall within the state’s domain, what is public and what private, what is and what is not within the state’s competence, and so on. So, if you like, the survival and limits of the state should be understood on the basis of the general tactics of governmentality” (Foucault 2008a: 109).[8]

Foucault’s interest here and in related work is different from that imputed to him by Anglo-Foucauldian scholars. He insisted in the so-called “lecture on governmentality”, in earlier work, such as the first volume of the History of Sexuality (1979b), and in the three courses that directly or indirectly address the governmentalization of the state (Society Must be Defended, Security, Territory, Population and The Birth of Biopolitics) (2003b; 2008a; 2008b), not only that the state apparatus had a continuing importance as part of the general economy of power but also that its overall form, its specific organization, and its activities were shaped by the distinctive combination and the relative primacy of different forms of exercising power within and beyond the state. In this regard he argues that the intelligibility of a given social phenomenon does not depend on the search for a cause but on the study of “the constitution or composition of effects”. Thus we should ask “[h]ow are overall, cumulative effects composed? […] How is the state effect constituted on the basis of a thousand diverse processes?” (2008a: 239; cf. ibidem 247-8, 287; 2003b: 45; and, on the Napoleonic state, 1977: 169, 217). In short, Foucault was concerned with the “state effect”. He wanted to explain how the state can act as if it were unified, as if it had a head even though it is headless (Dean 1994: 156; cf. Kerr 1999).

In contrast, governmentality studies tend to focus on the logic, rationalities, and practices of government or governmentality in isolation from this broader concern with the state’s role as a major site for the institutional integration of power relations within the more general economy of power (Foucault 1979b). At issue here is not the value of specific studies of governmentality but their capacity to grasp the bigger picture that guided Foucault’s work when he realized the limits of his earlier concern with disciplinary techniques, anatomo-politics, and the micro-analytics of power. In short, whereas Foucault was increasingly concerned to put the state in its place within a general economy of power and went on to explore how government is superimposed on preceding forms of state, including sovereignty over territory as well as disciplinary power and biopolitics (2003b: 36-39), governmentalists have been more concerned to take it off the agenda entirely in favour of specific questions about specific techniques of power and, at best, their position within successive or at least, different forms of liberalism (cf. Curtis 1995; Deacon 2002; Dean 1994: 153-9; Lemke 2007; Meyet 2006).

In the 1977-78 lecture course, Foucault argues that the investigation of liberalism required movement beyond the microphysics of power to more macro-analyses. He explains this shift in relation to his earlier concern with power relations as follows:

“What I wanted to do – and this was what was at stake in the analysis – was to see the extent to which we could accept that the analysis of micro-powers, or of procedures of governmentality, is not confined by definition to a precise domain determined by a sector of the scale, but should be considered simply as a point of view, a method of decipherment which may be valid for the whole scale, whatever its size. In other words, the analysis of micro-powers is not a question of scale, and it is not a question of sector, it is a question of a point of view” (2008b: 186).[9]

In other words, the study of governmentality and the art of government need not be confined to the microphysics of power nor should microphysics be privileged. His initial interest in micro-powers reflected his concern with anatomo-politics and did not exclude alternative entrypoints into other topics (cf. Gordon 2001: xxv). Foucault’s approach is scalable and can be applied to the state, statecraft, state-civil society, or state-economy relations just as fruitfully as to the conduct of conduct at the level of interpersonal interactions, organizations, or individual institutions. Thus The Birth of Biopolitics is mainly concerned with macro-institutional issues and questions of government rather than specific governmental practices. Foucault traces the development of state projects and the general economic agendas of government over four centuries, noting how the problematic of government shifts during this period and poses different problems at each turn about the limits of state power as well as about the rationales and mechanisms of such (self-)limitation. Thus Foucault notes, for example, that, whereas political economy leads to non-intervention in the economy but strong legal intervention in the field of Ordnungspolitik, totalitarianism subordinates the state to the governmentality of the party (2008b: 106-17). Commenting on this perspectival shift, Senellart argues that “the shift from ‘power’ to ‘government’ carried out in the 1978 lectures does not result from the methodological framework being called into question, but from its extension to a new object, the state, which did not have a place in the analysis of the disciplines” (2008: 382).

In contrast to the warm embrace by Anglo-Foucauldians of a decentred account of the state, Foucault proclaimed “the problem of bringing under state control, of ‘statification’ (étatisation) is at the heart of the questions I have tried to address” (2008b: 77, my emphasis). In practice this translated into concern with the statification of government and the governmentalization of the state (2008a: 109). Foucault initially argued that the study of power should begin from below, in the heterogeneous and dispersed microphysics of power, explore specific forms of its exercise in different institutional sites, and then move on to consider how, if at all, these were linked to produce broader and more persistent societal configurations. One should study power where it is exercised over individuals rather than legitimated at the centre; explore the actual practices of subjugation rather than the intentions that guide attempts at domination; and recognize that power circulates through networks rather than being applied at particular points (Foucault 1979b: 92-102; 2003b: 27-34). All of these microphysical themes are repeated by the Anglo-Foucauldian school. However, after this initial move, Foucault argued that, whilst starting at the bottom with the micro-diversity of power relations across a multiplicity of dispersed sites, three further interrelated issues required attention.

First, whilst he did once celebrate the infinite dispersion of scattered resistances and micro-revolts, he later conceded the need for resistances to be readjusted, reinforced, and transformed by global strategies of transformation (Foucault 1979b: 96; cf. 1980: 143, 159, 195, 203; 1979c: 60). Foucault noted that resistances needed co-ordination in the same way that the dominant class organized its strategies to secure its political preponderance in diverse power relations (ibidem). And he criticized the French socialists for their failure to develop a coherent account of socialist governmentality (2008b: 91-2).

Second, Foucault suggests that the overall unity of a system of domination must be explained in terms of the strategic codification and institutional integration of power relations. This process is both intentional and non-subjective. It is intentional because no power is exercised without a series of aims and objectives, which are often highly explicit at the limited level of their inscription in local sites of power (Foucault 1979b: 94). He refers here to explicit programmes for reorganizing institutions, rearranging spaces, and regulating behaviors (1980: 9). But it is also non-subjective because the overall outcome of the clash of micro-powers cannot be understood as resulting from the choice or decision of an individual, group, or class subject (cf. Foucault 1979b: 94-5). Things never work out as planned because

“there are different strategies which are mutually opposed, composed, and superposed so as to produce permanent and solid effects which can perfectly well be understood in terms of their rationality, even though they don’t conform to the initial programming; this is what gives the resulting apparatus (dispositif) its solidity and suppleness” (Foucault 1980: 10).

 Or, as Foucault expressed it elsewhere: “the logic is perfectly clear, the aims decipherable, and yet it is often the case that no one is there to have invented them, and few can be said to have formulated them” (1979b: 95).

And, third, Foucault will suggest that power can be exercised at different scales and that the question of whether one focuses on micro-powers or the organization of the state as a whole is a question of perspective. Thus The Birth of Biopolitics applies the same nominalist analytics to the succession of forms of state and forms of the limitation or self-limitation of state power. This course explores the import of political economy and the emergence of the notion of homo economicus as an active entrepreneurial subject rather than as the bearer of exchange relations (2008b: 225-294 passim).

With Foucault beyond Foucault

Some of the ambiguities and confusions surrounding Foucault’s analyses of power and its significance in social life can be resolved if we distinguish three moments in the development of power relations. These are variation in the objects, subjects, purposes, and technologies of power; selection of some technologies and practices rather than others; and retention of some of these in turn as they are integrated into broader and more stable strategies of state and/or class (or national or racial) power. These three moments overlap and interact in real time but they receive more or less attention at different times and in different texts in Foucault’s work. Ignoring these differences for the moment, we can connect the three moments to his genealogical remarks on invention and innovation (variation), then on the emergent convergence of various technologies of power to delineate general conditions of domination as they are seen to have economic or political utility for an emerging bourgeoisie (selection), and, finally, on the strategic codification and retention of these practices of government to produce a global strategy oriented to a more or less unified objective (retention and institutionalization) (Foucault 2003a: 270).

The first step in this trajectory introduces the familiar notion of genealogy and can also be related to the notion of the event or eventalization. This refers to the irruption of chance in social development so that the analysis must focus not on Ursprung (origin, initial source) but on Erfindung (invention, innovation) and discontinuous Herkunft (provenance, descent) (cf. Kelly 2009: 13-14, 22). In this sense Foucault notes how elements that will prove central to the formation of the modern state often emerged through separate innovations away from the centres of power. Thus, following his more general rejection of totalizing accounts of social events, Foucault noted that the modern state’s disciplinary techniques had a pre-history: they originated as inventions in response to particular needs in dispersed local sites far from the centers of state power in the Ancien Régime and emerging sites of capitalist production and had their own distinctive disciplinary logics (cf. 1977: 137-8, 224). In this sense they could also be seen as pre-adaptive, i.e., as prior inventions that can be mobilized, instrumentalized, extended, and intensified in response to crises, challenges, or needs that emerge at a later date. Thus disciplinary normalization initially focused on the conduct of persons who were not directly involved in capitalist production (e.g., in asylums, prisons, schools, barracks). Such innovations can be seen as sources of local variation (each with its own forms of contestation and resistance) and would only later be selected and combined in trial-and-error experimentation to produce more global ensembles of power (Foucault 1977).

The second step re-introduces social classes, capital, and the state after the micro-analytics of power had dismissed them as significant social forces. Foucault recognized that some technologies and practices were selected and integrated into other sites of power. Not all new technologies succeed in inserting themselves into the network of power relations (Kelly 2009: 44). On the contrary, some techniques are “doomed to immediate failure and abandonment” (Foucault 1977: 123). As Foucault asked in Discipline and Punish:

“The problem, then, is the following: how is it that, in the end, it was the third [technology of power] that was adopted? How did the coercive, corporal, solitary, secret model of the power to punish replace the representative, scenic, signifying, public, collective model? Why did the physical exercise of punishment (which is not torture) replace, with the prison that is its institutional support, the social play of the signs of punishment and the prolix festival that circulated them?” (1977: 131).

In short, why do some technologies of power, some governmental practices, tend to disappear and others get selected? This has something to do with tactics that turn everything to account (1977: 139), to practices that accelerate some innovations, rescale them, and given them more precise instruments (ibidem: 139, 144). Thus Foucault notes that the state intervenes, directly or indirectly, to annex operations of disciplinary power through “selection, normalization, hierarchicalization, and [pyramidal] centralization” (2003b: 181). He also showed, for example, how the disciplinary techniques first developed on the margins of the economy and the state later came to be deployed closer to the centres of power. Thus disciplinary techniques that were invented elsewhere were introduced in factories to control the division of labour and aspects of the new anatomo-politics were deployed to bind men to the productive apparatus and facilitate a capitalist political economy of time based on abstract labour.[10] Foucault also observed that the rise of the modern state was bound up with the problem of “population” in its relation to territory and wealth as reflected in the new science of “political economy” (cf. Foucault 1980: 161; 1989: 217-219; 2008b).

The shift of attention from variation to selection can be seen in the transition between Discipline and Punish (1977) and the first volume of the History of Sexuality (1979b). Whereas the former mostly emphasized the dispersion of power mechanisms (whilst still noting the correlation between forms of punishment and modes of production),[11] the latter began to explore more explicitly how different mechanisms were combined to produce social order through a strategic codification and institutional integration that made them more coherent and complementary. In particular, addressing the problem of selection, Foucault notes the role of interest in influencing the adoption of some inventions rather than others. At this stage, it seems, “the interesting thing is to ascertain, not what overall project presides over all these developments, but, how, in terms of strategy, the different pieces were set in place” (1980: 62). Foucault often remarks that the perceived interests of an emerging bourgeois class in social cohesion or the anarchic, profit-oriented, market-mediated logic of capital accumulation guide the selection of some forms of sovereign, disciplinary, or governmental power in preference to others. But he never regards the bourgeoisie, capital, or the state as pre-constituted forces, treating them instead as emergent effects of multiple projects, practices, and attempts to institutionalize political power relations.

The third step concerns the retention and institutionalization of some practices, programmes, and projects and their integration into broader ensembles of power relations. Foucault typically rejected any a priori assumption that different forms of power were connected to produce an overall pattern of class domination and argued that any post hoc integration cannot be derived from the functional needs of the economy or explained in terms of formal isomorphism. But this did not mean that he rejected the possibility of such global configurations as terminal forms of domination. Quite how this works remained unclear. Thus, in seeking to explain how a general strategic line emerges, Foucault resorts to a wide range of terms: these include “social hegemonies”, “hegemonic effects”, “hegemony of the bourgeoisie”, “meta-power”, “class domination”, “polymorphous techniques of subjugation”, “sur-pouvoir” (or a “surplus power” analogous to surplus value), “global strategy”, and so forth (1979b: 92-4;1980: 122, 156, 188; 1977: 29, 80, 223; 1979c: 60). The range of metaphors deployed here indicates that Foucault was struggling to find an adequate explanation for what is occurring in this third stage in the development of power relations. He nonetheless highlighted in general terms how the immanent multiplicity of local, indeed infinitesimal, relations and techniques of power are

 “colonized, used, inflected, transformed, displaced, extended, and so on by increasingly general mechanisms and forms of overall domination […] and, above all, how they are invested or annexed by global phenomena and how more general powers or economic benefits can slip into the play of these technologies of power” (2003b: 30-1; cf. 1977: 223; 1980: 195; 2008a: 239).

Heterogeneous elements with their own pre-histories are thereby reworked and readjusted to produce “phenomena of coagulation, support, reciprocal reinforcement, cohesion, and integration” (2008a: 239; see also 2003b: 14). For example, in the first volume of History of Sexuality and the roughly contemporary lecture course, Society Must be Defended, Foucault links the retention of particular forms of disciplinary and governmental power explicitly to bourgeois recognition of their economic profitability and political utility (1979b: 114, 125, 141; 1980: 41; 2003b: 30-33). Similar ideas were presented earlier in Discipline and Punish (1977: 174-5, 206-7, 218-23; see also Marsden 1999: 157-8, 190-1).

Foucault did identify one key factor in this complex process of consolidation, and institutionalization. He gave a privileged role to the state as the point of strategic codification of the multitude of power relations and as the apparatus in which the general line formed meta-power (e.g., 2003b: 27-28, 31-35; cf. 1979b: 92-96; 1980: 122, 156, 189-90, 199-200; 1982: 224; 2008a: 238-9, 338). Foucault argues, for example, it was the rise of the population-territory-wealth nexus in political economy and police that created the space for the revalorization and re-articulation of disciplines that had emerged in 17th and 18th century, i.e., schools, manufactories, armies, etc (2008a: 217-19). Likewise, in discussing the development of Ordo-liberalism, the Chicago School, and neo-liberalism, the state once again figures prominently both as a site of struggle for hegemony (even including efforts to limit the role of the state itself vis-à-vis the market and society) and as the central apparatus in and through which codified practices are rolled out in the wider society (2008b.: passim). It is in this way that the “state effect” is produced and in turn has its own “state effects”. In short, the State invests and colonizes other power relations in a conditioning-conditioned relationship to generate a kind of “meta-power” that renders its own functioning possible (2008b: 122-3).


In approaching Foucault’s work in these terms, we can escape the dichotomy of micro- and macro-power, the antinomy of an analytics of micro-powers and a theory of sovereignty, and the problematic relation between micro-diversity and macro-necessity in power relations (cf. Jessop 1990; Kerr 1999: 176). This is something that Foucault himself indicated was both possible in principle (because micro-powers have no ontological primacy) and necessary in practice (to understand the successive but subsequently overlapping arts of government in the exercise of state power beyond the state) (2008a: 15, 109; 2008b: 186, 313; cf. 2003b: 36-9, 173, 242, 250). For Foucault’s insistence on the complexity, diversity and relative autonomy of local, everyday relations of power overturns neither Marxist accounts of the state nor liberal theories of popular sovereignty; it only exposes them as limited and inadequate (Deacon 2002). The challenge is to show how they might, in some circumstances, in some contexts, and for some periods of time, be linked. The idea of government as strategic codification and institutional integration of power relations provides a bridge between micro-diversity and macro-necessity and, as Foucault argues, a focus on micro-powers is determined by one’s choice of scale but involves analytical insights that can be applied across all scales. It is a perspective, not a reality delimited to one scale (Foucault 2008b: 186; cf. 1977: 222; 2003b: 28-31). Foucault still argued for the dispersion of powers, insisted that the state, for all its omnipotence, does not occupy the whole field of power relations, and claimed that the state can only operate on the basis of other, already existing power relations. Indeed, “power relations have been progressively governmentalized, that is to say, elaborated, rationalized, and centralized in the form of, or under the auspices of, state institutions” (ibidem: 345). This is why Barret-Kriegel could note that “Foucault’s thought opened the way to a return to the study of the State and the law” (1992: 192).

The difference between the Foucauldian and Anglo-Foucauldian approaches to the state and governmentality can be explained in part in terms of Foucault’s distinction between “the relationships of power as strategic games between liberties – strategic games that result in the fact that some people try to determine the conduct of others – and the states of domination, which are what we ordinarily call power” (1997: 299). He adds that:

 “between the two, between games of power and the states of domination, you have governmental technologies … The analysis of these techniques is necessary because it is very often through such techniques that states of domination are established and maintained. There are three levels to my analysis of power: strategic relations, techniques of government, and states of domination” (ibidem).

In these terms, it seems that the Anglo-Foucauldians are uninterested in interpersonal power games and little interested in states of domination (in part because they reject essentialized notions of economic or political interests) and seem to prefer an empirical analysis of techniques of government, types of governmental practice, and forms of liberalism. Thus they focus more or less exclusively on governmental technologies.

In this sense, the so-called Foucault effect identified by the “Anglo-phone community of thought” is the product of a rather one-sided reading of his work shaped by the same conjuncture in which Foucault operated but with different theoretical and political consequences. I do not deny that the Anglo-Foucauldian paradigm has proved powerful and productive. But there are other ways of developing Foucault’s approach to governmentality. This can be seen in his contributions to political economy, his parallel critiques of the changing forms and functions of state power, and the production of the “state effect” (cf. Dean 1994; Mitchell 1991). In arguing for an alternative Foucault effect, I do not pretend to have revealed the true essence of Foucault’s interest in governmentality but to offer an alternative reading to “governmentalist” accounts of his work. For one can also see his work on governmentality as a contribution to a “critical and effective history” of the state considered not as a universal or as a self-identical political formation but as the site of practices that produce different forms of state, each with their own historical specificities, agendas and typical forms of governmental practice.


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[1] This chapter has benefitted from numerous detailed comments and editorial inputs from Susanne Krasmann, Ulrich Bröckling, and Thomas Lemke. Eventually I accepted most of them and the argument is much improved as a result. Nonetheless I remain responsible for the final form of the analysis and its claims about the Anglo-Foucauldian school and Foucault.

[2] For an insider’s view on the heterogeneity of the Anglo-Foucauldian school, see Donzelot and Gordon (2008: 51-2).

[3] In referring to the state’s role in the institutional integration of power relationships, Foucault draws an analogy with the ‘strategic codification’ of points of resistance than enable a revolution to occur (1979b: 96).

[4] Rose and Miller declare themselves ‘pickers and choosers’ rather than Foucault scholars (2008: 8).

[5] Recalling their views during the rise of the new perspective, Rose and Miller note that it was felt essential, at a minimum, to go beyond the accumulation and distribution of capital to explore, in addition, the accumulation and distribution of persons and their capacities (2008: 2; cf. Foucault 1977: 220-1, 1979b: 140-1).

[6] One source of Foucault’s difficulties in linking capital and the state is his tendency to reduce the economy to exchange relations in line with liberal thought: this rendered invisible the contradictions and substantive inequalities in the capital relation. Likewise, when he introduces the logic of capitalism, he does not ground it in a detailed account of the social relations of production as opposed to transferable techniques and/or technologies for the conduct of conduct (Tellman 2009; cf. Marsden 1999).

[7] On the emergent properties of population as an object of government, see also Foucault (1979b: 24-6, 139-146; 2003b: 242-51, 255-6; 2008a: 67-79, 109-110, 352-7).

[8] Cf. Mitchell 1991: 78.

[9] Cf. Foucault 1977: 222-3; 1979b: 99-100; 2003b: 23, 32-4.

[10] Discipline was also used to control workers’ bodies: ‘it was not just a matter of appropriating, extracting the maximum quantity of time but also of controlling, shaping, valorizing the individual’s body according to a particular system’ (Foucault 2001: 82).

[11] Initially in relation to the work of Rusche and Kirchheimer, then in his own name (Foucault 1977: 24-6, 77, 84-, 122-3,163-4).

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