Friday, August 19, 2011

notes concerning Foucault

      Fairly early in The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Foucault links the the biological and the economic through the 'political economy of population.'  He states, "Through the political economy of population there was formed a whole grid of observations regarding sex.  There emerged an analysis of the modes of sexual conduct, their determinations and effects, at the boundary line of the biological and the economic domains....  In time these new measures would become the anchorage points for the different varieties of racism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  It was essential that the state know what was happening with its citizen's sex, and the use they made of it, but also that each individual be capable of controlling the use he made of it.  Between the state and the individual, sex became an issue, and a public issue no less; a whole web of discourses, special knowledges, analyses, and injunctions settled upon it."  (Foucault, 20)  My first observation on this passage is that the question of racism enters into Foucault's analysis much earlier than I had initially remembered.  It's difficult to imagine that it took so long to turn to the analysis of racism contained in his work, only entering into academic conversations with the printing of Society Must Be Defended and the work of Ann Stoler.  The second observation is that Foucault gestures towards something that I am having difficulty producing in my dissertation on reproductive politics.  Within this work, there is the tendency to work within one of two economies, either focusing on the biopolitical, focusing on questions of racialization and sexuality, or focusing on the question of consumption, labor and technology in the household.  But Foucault is gesturing towards the interconnection of these two issues, the question of population occurs at its boundary.  My research has found an interesting parallel between two phenomena, the narrative offered by Foucault about the introduction of the working class into the regime of sexuality, an introduction which is only finalized with the advent of 'late capitalism' and the creation of what Stuart Ewen calls 'the social democracy of consumption.'  Both find their focal point of the household, constructing intense networks of discourse based on new institutions and forms of expertise.  Unfortunately, there aren't many examples of how to link these questions together.


  1. Robert: I have stumbled across precisely these problems in trying to think "reproduction." I think that there is an inevitability to this, to some extent, insofar as I think the term does hold together multiple concepts whose links are at times more homonymic than they are conceptual or even material. Not that we don't need to keep thinking this, but sometimes that's a bit of comfort to me when I am feeling especially tangled up and daft...

  2. Nice observation, Robert. Angela Mitropoulos has in the last year or so done some excellent work connecting these two economies (though maybe not exactly as your thinking of it). Anyway, try these if you are interested:
    And more at her blog: