chapter  2
26 Pages

Making culture, organising freedom, changing society

Let me go back for a moment to Foucault’s discussion of culture in The Hermeneutics of the Self. Thomas Osborne, as we have seen, glosses the distinctiveness of this passage in terms of the ‘“veridical” twist’ it proposes in contending that ‘the culture of the self is also a culture of truth’ (Osborne 2008: 70). Osborne’s interests focus on the implications of this veridical twist for the analysis of modern aesthetic culture. Approaching this as a practice of freedom of a particular kind, he places it in a different compartment from other conjunctions of culture, truth and practices of the self. There is much to admire in Osborne’s discussion, and I shall do it greater justice when I engage with it more fully in Chapter 7. I cite it here in order to highlight, by way of contrast, how I shall interpret the ‘veridical twist’ that Foucault brings to the concept of culture in order to bring it more into line with the principles of historical reasoning that Foucault recommends. These require that we treat aesthetic culture alongside the regimes of truth of a range of cultural disciplines, and the ways in which these work on, regulate, maintain or transform conduct through a variety of routes and mechanisms, some of which depend on practices of the self while others do not. I shall particularly urge the need for the roles played by aesthetics in these

regards to be placed alongside those of anthropology in their nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century forms.1 As cultural knowledges that emerged and developed in tandem with one another, aesthetics and anthropology have been complexly entangled in differentiating governmental programmes working through the free government of the self versus the coercive management of the Other. They have thus constituted significant points of reference between which the articulations of the relations between freedom, truth and government associated with the modern cultural disciplines have oscillated. The exclusionary logic Foucault attributes to the concept of culture have thus to be understood as operating across the relations between knowledges rather than simply being a process that is internal to each of them (although it is this too). We can, however, take full advantage of the ‘veridical twist’ that a Foucauldian optic brings to the concept of culture only if we remember Foucault’s insistence on the need to examine how practices of the truth are always tangled up with the material histories of specific governmental techniques and technologies.

This is not just a matter of considering the material entanglements of cultural practices within specific apparatuses (museums, libraries, etc.); it also involves a consideration of the place such apparatuses occupy in relation to broader material networks and infrastructures, including the roles these play in organising and distributing freedom. These, in rough summary, are the issues I address in this chapter. I do so by

outlining the relations between culture and the perspectives of governmentality theory in the light of the veridical, material and compositional ‘twists’ outlined in the previous chapter. I begin by discussing the concept of the ‘culture complex’, a term I have proposed to refer to a distinctive ensemble of regimes of truth, governmental rationalities, techniques of the self and other modes of intervening in the ‘conduct of conduct’ that has operated alongside the ‘psy-complex’ (Rose 1985) and other ensembles of knowledge and governing practices that have emerged over the course of the ‘modern’ period (Bennett 2010b, 2012). I then consider the relations between this complex and the somewhat vexed account Foucault offers of the relations between the emergence of the social and of population on the one hand and the development of governmental power on the other. I look briefly here, as matters I shall return to, at the roles of the public and the milieu as different ‘transactional realities’ through which culture’s governmental action is routed in organising and distributing freedom across the relations between liberal forms of government and biopower and the different relations to population that these involve. I then identify the implications of these considerations for a properly historical understanding of the relations between culture and the social before turning to the ways in which assemblage theory and science studies can usefully enrich the concerns and methodologies of governmental theory. I conclude the chapter by contrasting the account it proposes of the ways in which culture’s modes of action in relation to the social have been historically produced and assembled with Durkheimian conceptions of the autonomy of culture, while also outlining its implications for an ontological politics of culture.