Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Marx and Foucault: Some Conclusions

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.


Jim Denham said...

" this could be facilitated by Althusser."

Althusser: Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I had a horrible preminition that it would come to this.

You start with taking Foucault seriously, and you end up...murdering your wife and writing pretentious bollocks...

Fucking base and superstructure, indeed!

Dylan said...


Phil said...

Context is everything Jim. It was made quite clear these are posts from a seven year old dissertation, back when I considered myself an Althusserian of sorts. I don't now but I still think he had some very interesting things to say. He might have turned out to have been a very disturbed individual, but so what? From an AWoL point of view, does Shachtman's support for the Bay of Pigs invalidate all his earlier writings for all time? Of course not.

Jane Watkinson said...

Hi, I am reading about Foucault recently in relation to medicalization and i was just wondering if i could ask you a question about it as you seem pretty good at Foucault lol.

Basically, i am reading conflicting views arounds around his medical/clinical gaze. I read that the clinical gaze was the initial gaze, and this evolved to a clinical gaze in recent times as there is new technology to look within bodies. Is that right, or are they interchangeable concepts?

I read that the medical gaze represented a move towards taking the social psychological space into account and that he saw this medical gaze as a good thing? So would that support the analysis that the medical gaze is later development in society, and so a good development in medicine?

Am i right, or have i got this all wrong lol?



Phil said...

Unfortunately, I never got round to reading The Birth of the Clinic (have you read this yourself?) So there's not a lot I can say really.

But, knowing what a slippery character Foucault can be, I would hazard a guess that the morality of the move from the clinical to the medical gaze is something he would not have discussed.

Have you seen the opening to Discipline and Punish? I rather gory execution is counterposed to the regimen of a prison. What Foucault was trying to capture here was a shift in technologies of the body and how power managed them differently. In the first case, the sovereign power (body) protects itself by obliterating the bodies of others (which is why many medieval and absolutist regimes still hung, drew and quartered people even if they were dead before their "execution"). The prison system however is a symptom of a shift in power to where it concerns itself with managing and disciplining those that transgress society's laws.

For Foucault morality doesn't enter into it, he's merely marking the shift from one mode of power to another. I suspect Foucault's doing the same with the clinical gaze. The medical gaze represents a new set of "visual technologies", of a new regime of what Foucault would later call power/knowledge.

I hope this is of help?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply.

I haven't read Discipline and Punish, but i can see where you are coming from.

I can see what you mean in regards to the clincal/medical gaze, in terms of morality i am just a little confused as i read in a book that focault saw medicalisation as a good thing because of this. It is all a bit confusing lol.

Thanks again.

Phil said...

Because Foucault was quite a slippery character and, as a general rule, did not rigorously define his concepts (unlike Althusser and Bourdieu to name but two) there is always wriggle room for differing interpretations.

What was the book that made this argument?

JaneWatkinson said...

Yeah, I can see what you mean.

Well it is called, Health and Wellbeing: A Reader. It said that the changes in the (20th have lead the medical gaze to take into account the pyschosocial space now, and that this is a good thing and so that power is not repressive as people claim.

Confused lol.

Phil said...

Maybe the authors of the book are making a pitch for the psychiatric industry. Sounds like it!

There will be other Foucault-related literature that's worth looking at that might help clear things up. Understanding Foucault is not a bad place to begin. If memory serves they go through each of his books and illustrate with contemporary examples.

JaneWatkinson said...

Yeah, maybe that is quite possible.

Okies thanks, I will have a look.

Thanks for your help.