The purpose of this series of articles was to investigate the significant divergences between Marx and Foucault in their treatment of power and the levels their methods operated on. It was then established that both Marx and Foucault would have to undergo some modification of their approaches if they were to be accommodated in the same theoretical framework. The preceding discussion demonstrated how this could be facilitated by Althusser.
Out of the ‘three Foucaults’ (i.e. the periodisation of Foucault's career into three phases - the archaeological, the genealogical, and the preoccupation with the self), the encounter was explored here at the level of genealogy because of the common ground shared by Foucault and Althusser, particularly where the rejection of metaphysics and (different) commitments to materialist social theory were concerned. It is also the genealogical Foucault who has had the widest ranging impact on contemporary social theory. The emphasis he places on the micro technologies of power and subject formation have helped provoke feminist debates around epistemology and ontology and has led to important contributions to the field of sexual difference. For example, Judith Butler’s challenging but influential work on the discursive construction of sex. Therefore if Marxism is to meet the challenges of providing convincing and rigorous analyses of contemporary social processes, it needs to encounter this body of work. It is hoped the brief sketching out of the terms of a rapprochement between Foucault and Marx will help facilitate this.
The convergence discussed in the last chapter is by no means exhaustive or conclusive. Instead it should be viewed as the opening of a dialogue between the two perspectives. We have seen with Foucault’s how power inscribes the body, providing an account more sophisticated than top-down Marxist explanations of subject formation. We have also seen how beyond a certain level of abstraction Foucault has practically nothing to say, whereas Marxism does. By bridging the gap between the two, Althusser’s approach to social formations offers an avenue for the enrichment of Marxism, adding to the explanatory value of concepts like bio-power and power/knowledge.
The Marx-Foucault encounter is but one place where the explanatory capacity of materialist social theory can be renewed. Today it is a pastiche of different trends and theorists. In their own ways, each subject a particular facet(s) of late capitalist society to searching analysis and criticism and providing a greater or lesser number of insights about its operation. Given the potentiality of abstraction discussed in this paper, there is no reason why the recent innovations coming out of poststructuralist and non-poststructuralist social theory cannot be received by and built upon by a materialist sociology. Pursuing this is ambitious and tradition-wide in its scope. Its challenge is to produce new analysis while constantly interacting, engaging and critiquing the arguments and findings of competing schools of thought. It is hoped the encounter here between Marx and Foucault shows the Marxist tradition has enough theoretical resources to carry this programme through.
The whole contents of Toward a Marxian/Foucauldian Encounter can be viewed here.