# FOUCAULT /// Episode 5: The Political Technology of the Body

The last ‘episode’ of this series was based on a text in which Gilles Deleuze was referring to a chapter of Discipline and Punish in order to analyze Michel Foucault‘s interpretation of the power as a strategy rather than a possession. From this chapter, entitled The Body of the Condemned, we can extract a shorter excerpt that will be the topic of this article; we can call it The Political Technology of the Body (text at the end of the article). Through it, Foucault attempts to propose a reading of the body, not  as a biological organism, but rather as a target for a political subjection as much as an anatomical mean of production:

the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.
[...]
the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body. This subjection is not only obtained by the instruments of violence or ideology; it can also be direct, physical, pitting force against force, bearing on material elements, and yet without involving violence; it may be calculated, organized, technically thought out; it may be subtle, make use neither of weapons nor of terror and yet remain of a physical order.

Those physical instruments evoked by Foucault, that we can call apparatuses, constitute precisely the political technology of the body among which architecture plays a very important role. Although he insists on the “physical order” of these apparatuses, Foucault probably thinks of architecture somehow abstractly as the receptacle of an institutionalized space of production: factory, school, university, office, hospital etc. but we should probably use his work as a basis on which to build a more specific reading of architecture as a political technology of the body. Each factory, each school,  each hospital, although sharing a reasonable amount of spatial and organizational characteristics, has its own physical specificity which subjectivize the body in its own specific way. Although they have been designed within a voluntarist strategical framework, institutional architectures are not the only one that contextualize the relations of power.  A house, a street, a park, a train station also constitute architectures that, through their physicality, greatly influence the exercise of power at a variety of scales, from the “microphysics” that Foucault writes about, to the macrophysics of the city that these architectures participate to compose.

In order to resist, we need to realize, helped by Foucault, that the “renunciation of power” is an illusion. Rather than attempting to disactivate power relations, we should try to understand them in order to “hack” their process of subjection. New relations of power emerge from this operation which need to be countered once again, continuously. Architecture, as an instrument of the political technology of the body, cannot liberate anybody from the subjection mechanisms but can nevertheless play its role in the microphysical hacking of the macrophysical cartography of power.

The Body of the Condemned
by Michel Foucault

Historians long ago began to write the history of the body. They have studied the body in the field of historical demography or pathology; they have considered it as the seat of needs and appetites, as the locus of physiological processes and metabolisms, as a target for the attacks of germs or viruses; they have shown to what extent historical processes were involved in what might seem to be the purely biological base of existence; and what place should be given in the history of society to biological “events” such as the circulation of bacilli, or the extension of the lifespan. But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs. This political investment of the body is bound up, in accordance with complex reciprocal relations, with its economic use; it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relations of power and domination; but, on the other hand, its constitution as labor power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjection (in which need is also a political instrument meticulously prepared, calculated, and used); the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body. This subjection is not only obtained by the instruments of violence or ideology; it can also be direct, physical, pitting force against force, bearing on material elements, and yet without involving violence; it may be calculated, organized, technically thought out; it may be subtle, make use neither of weapons nor of terror and yet remain of a physical order. That is to say, there may be a “knowledge” of the body that is not exactly the science of its functioning, and a mastery of its forces that is more than the ability to conquer them: this knowledge and this mastery constitute what might be called the political technology of the body. Of course, this technology is diffuse, rarely formulated in continuous, systematic discourse; it is often made up of bits and pieces; it implements a disparate set of tools or methods. In spite of the coherence of its results, it is generally no more than a multiform instrumentation. Moreover, it cannot be localized in a particular type of institution or state apparatus. For they have recourse to it; they use, select, or impose certain of its methods. But, in its mechanisms and its effects, it is situated at a quite different level. What the apparatuses and institutions operate is, in a sense, a microphysics of power, whose field of validity is situated, in a sense, between these great functionings and the bodies themselves with their materiality and forces.

Now, the study of this microphysics presupposes that the power exercised on the body is conceived not as a property, but as a strategy; that its effects of domination are attributed not to “appropriation,” but to dispositions, maneuvers, tactics, techniques, functionings; that one should decipher in it a network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity, rather than a privilege that one might possess; that one should take as its model a perpetual battle, rather than a contract regulating a transaction or the conquest of a territory . In short, this power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the “privilege,” acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic positions–an effect that is manifested and sometimes extended by the position of those who are dominated. Furthermore, this power is not exercised simply as an obligation or a prohibition on those who “do not have it”; it invests them, is transmitted by them and through them; it exerts pressure on them, just as they themselves, in their struggle against it, resist the grip it has on them. This means that these relations go right down into the depths of society; that they are not localized in the relations between the state and its citizens or on the frontier between classes and that they do not merely reproduce, at the level of individuals, bodies, gestures, and behavior, the general form of the law or government; that, although there is continuity (they are indeed articulated on this form through a whole series of complex mechanisms), there is neither analogy nor homology, but a specificity of mechanism and modality . Lastly, they are not univocal; they define innumerable points of confrontation, focuses of instability, each of which has its own risks of conflict, of struggles, and of an at least temporary inversion of the power relations. The overthrow of these “micropowers” does not, then, obey the law of all or nothing; it is not acquired once . and for all by a new control of the apparatuses or by a new functioning or a destruction of the institutions; on the other hand, none of its localized episodes may be inscribed in history except by the effects that it induces on the entire network in which it is caught up.

Perhaps, too, we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended and that knowledge can develop only outside its injunctions, its demands, and its interests. Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes people mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge. We should admit, rather, that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations. These “powerknowledge relations” are to be analyzed, therefore, not on the basis of a subject of knowledge who is or is not free in relation to the power system; but, on the contrary, the subject who knows, the objects to be known, and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of these fundamental implications of power-knowledge and their historical transformations. In short, it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge.

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison trans: Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977.

2 Comments on “# FOUCAULT /// Episode 5: The Political Technology of the Body

  1. Pingback: The Funambulist on Foucault | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Foucault: cartografia, arquitectura y poder « Filosofía Contemporanea

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