ABSTRACT

Michel Foucault is an emblem of post-structuralism and postmodernism, theoretical and artistic movements that are often seen as reactions, inter alia, to a supposedly mechanistic Marxism. It is easy to see why. Foucault did not write a great deal about class, class struggle or imperialism; he did not refer to technology and value as motors of economic and hence social transformations; and he was not a historical determinist measuring change via successive modes of production. And where Marxism locates power in the ruling class and the state, Foucault looks for power on the periphery as well as at the centre. Renowned for criticizing Western Marxism’s investment in ideology critique, which presupposes an idealist subject imbued with a consciousness ready to be worked on, he substitutes discourse for ideology, extending the concept of relative autonomy beyond what most political economists can endure. His concern with discourse is seen as opposed to the notion of material interests, while his account of power as a productive force is at odds with both utopic and dystopic aspects of Marxism. Foucault hauls us away from the conventional split between base and superstructure in Marxist accounts of the person ‘under’ a given mode of production and the romantic or liberal-humanist aesthetic of the creative soul. He argues that the raw stuff of human beings is not individuals: people become individuals through discourses and institutions of culture, via a ‘mode of subjection [mode d’assujettissement], that is, the way in which people are invited or incited to recognize their moral obligations’ (Foucault, 1983: 66-7). This constitutes a simultaneous internalization and externalization, individuation and collectivization.