«BEYOND DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH: FOUCAULT’S CHALLENGE TO CRIMINOLOGY Published in English thirty years ago, Discipline and Punish has exercised a ...»
However plausible this account may be as regards Discipline and Punish—a book which admittedly spends a great deal of time describing techniques for producing the right souls and minds by disciplining and training bodies, and which was also novel in taking specific techniques for punishing the body as a serious object of analysis—, as a commentary on Foucault’s importance for criminology this three-point summary of key “concepts” is misleading5. Explaining why the body’s prominent role in Garland’s account is somewhat problematic will provide us with an opportunity to consider some insights and analytical tools that have been largely neglected or ignored by criminologists: biopolitics, security, and ‘techniques of self’.
First let us consider ‘biopolitics’—a term designed to capture the collective governance of humans that Foucault argues only became possible with the emergence of ‘population’ and ‘populations’. Biopolitical strategies, from birth control programs to social security to genocide, often exist alongside disciplinary programs designed to normalize individuals and generate uniform, disciplined bodies of citizens; but they work at a different level, since their target is neither the individual nor the political collectivity but rather the more or less biologized entity that is ‘population’. War waged
by a sovereign against a political enemy may well inflict large-scale death:
but it is qualitatively different, Foucault argues, from the kind of twentieth century warfare waged on behalf of and in the name of a race or a people (Foucault 1980, 134) ‘Biopolitics’ has in recent years become another successful cookie-cutter, with proliferating ‘examples’ of biopolitics being uncovered within the sociology of health and medicine, postcolonial studies, and in theory circles generally. Here, however, we will limit our discussion to biopolitics’ relationship to ‘discipline’ and the reasons for the relative dearth of ‘biopolitical’ citations in the criminological literature.
Foucault’s neologism ‘biopolitics’ was presented to the public, orally, in the first of the 1978 lectures at the College de France (the ‘governmentality’ lectures (Foucault, 2004). Very briefly, ‘bio-pouvoir’ is said to be the name Foucault plans to use to cover a series of strategies for bringing biological phenomena (or rather, human activity thought of biologically) within the scope of political power, although in fact later lectures did not explore biopolitics in any detail. Perhaps because it remained largely undeveloped, biopolitics then became the title of the next year’s set of lectures, Naissance de la biopolitique, given in January-March of 1979 (Foucault 2005). But these lectures too turned out to barely mention biopolitics, being almost wholly devoted to lengthy analyses of German post-war liberalism and Anglo-American neoliberal economics.
In terms of work published during Foucault’s lifetime, the main discussion of biopolitics occurs in the final chapter of the first volume of the History of Sexuality (Foucault 1980), which had appeared in French in
1976. There the point is made that old-fashioned sovereignty wages war against those who are political rivals and competitors for territory, whereas modern governments wage war—sometimes against internal minorities more vigorously than against foreigners—in the name of the health of the nation, using the metaphor of cleansing the population rather than speaking the traditional sovereign language of loyalty, treason, and enmity. The ‘governmentality’ lectures develop this point somewhat, as did the previous (1976) set of lectures, Society Must be Defended (Foucault 2003). This latM a r i a n a Va l v e r d e ter set of lectures noted that racism was the key mechanism that enabled modern states to combine ‘positive’ biopolitical projects for maximing the health of populations, from vaccination to clean water supplies, with ‘negative’ biopolitical projects such as compulsory sterilization, collective discrimination, and genocide.
Clearly, then, ‘biopolitics’ was—along with ‘governmentality’, which will be discussed shortly—a key preoccupation for Foucault immediately after the 1975 publication of Surveiller et punir, even if he never produced the systematic account that two different sets of lectures promised. While ‘discipline’ was a term meant to help us understand the domestic governance of those seen as in need of normalization, from schoolchildren to prisoners, ‘biopolitics’ was presented as an umbrella term for strategies that governed both domestic and international relations by treating human beings not as individual bodies in need of training but rather from the aggregate point of view, as ‘populations’ (rather than royal subjects, offenders, souls, or modern individuals). And biopolitics is said to be linked to the rise of biological knowledges—although the discussion of ‘population’ in the governmentality lectures does not address this explicitly.
Biopolitics is a term that has been very heavily used in social studies of medicine, as well as in postcolonial studies of the governance of colonial populations and/or racialized subjects at home. But it has been rarely used in criminological work. One could argue, however, that some current lawand-order campaigns, namely those that see particular types of criminality as a quasi-biological threat to the health of the nation/population, could be illuminated by the use of this term and the related literature. It may prove useful to distinguish between those law-and-order campaigns that seek to discipline citizens (say, young white males) and those campaigns that have little or no disciplinary aim but that instead use an essentialized notion of ethnicity to promote the ‘health’ of what is perceived as the ‘good’ population through the exclusion or expulsion of the threatening populations.
Given the resurgence of ethnic identifications that have little to do with expert-driven disciplinary projects, the term ‘biopolitics’ could be made to do some useful work in analyzing how certain kinds of collective criminality are targeted differently than the non-racialized delinquent of Discipline and Punish.
Nevertheless, ‘biopolitics’ too can become a victim of its own success (as is happening in circles influenced by Agamben’s ahistorical approach to questions of sovereignty and the right of death). In addition, to properly deploy ‘biopolitics’ to analyze some of today’s ethnic identifications one
would have to think hard about the ways in which cultural ‘essences’ have in many instances replaced biological knowledges. In general, the postWorld War II shift away from biological dividing lines and toward culturalist explanations of differences among groups (e.g. the rise of ‘culture of poverty’ arguments, and more recently, ‘cultural difference’ discourse) suggests that ‘biopolitics’, while remaining useful, may need adjusting and revising. Biological knowledges are no longer the main resource for drawing essentialized distinctions among human groups.
This brief discussion of biopolitics raises a more general point, namely that there are few terms—if any— that cannot be turned into simplifying mechanisms that reduce the complexity of the world and attempt to turn temporal flows into static entities. By and large, terms that are treated statically in one’s analysis (as in conventional theorizing that demands a ‘rigorous’ definition of each term) also have the effect of treating the world as if it were static. Thus, while arguing that ‘biopolitics’ could be useful to criminologists, and more generally showing that some terms drawn from Foucault are overused while others are under-used, the more crucial point of this article is to show that all terms borrowed from Foucault’s work have been misused by being turned into familiar entities, i.e. sociological ‘concepts’.
If biopolitics is already becoming somewhat trendy even though it is not much in use in criminology, ‘security’, on its part, remains unknown— not surprisingly since it is a term that was almost never used in the works Foucault published during his lifetime. Indeed, even in the set of lectures entitled Security, Territory, Population, the term is only used in the first few lectures, with Foucault changing his mind halfway through the course and declaring that ‘governmentality’ is a better term to designate the same thing (Foucault 2004, 67). Governmentality has certainly been deployed by criminologists—especially those studying neoliberal techniques for ‘empowering’ people in trouble with the law (cf. Rose, O’Malley and Valverde 2006).
By contrast, ‘security’ has not, despite its obvious relevance to current work that argues that criminologists ought to focus on the governance of security rather than on crime.
How could this term be used? It is crucial to first note that Foucault contrasts securité to sûreté, a distinction that cannot be easily rendered in English. Securité, in Foucault’s lectures and also in ordinary French usage, does not exclude coercive institutions, but encompasses ‘social security’ and other projects to increase the prosperity and wellbeing of the citizens. By contrast, sûreté is associated with the more Hobbesian focus on the wellbeing and security of the sovereign (which of course for Hobbes as for authoritarian
M a r i a n a Va l v e r d e
government generally, is seen as the only assured means to protect citizens from the insecurity of human interactions). Foucault explains the difference between the logic of sovereignty-punishment and the logic of security-governmentality with a criminological example: while a theft is treated by the system of sovereign criminal law as an act to be punished, security strategies insert the phenomenon of theft—turned into an aggregate, something that is facilitated by the emergence of ‘populations’—into a series of probable events (Foucault 2004, 7-8). Security is future-oriented and mainly preventive, and works on individuals only indirectly, through aggregate data collection, through incentive mechanisms, through what we would now call risk management, and through policies aimed at populations.
It is clear even from this very brief description that ‘security’ and ‘biopolitics’ shade into one another in practice, even though security/governmentality is said to operate largely through economic logics rather than through biological or quasi-biological distinctions among populations. In keeping with his usual methodology—which is driven by the practices being studied and not by existing concepts, and which therefore thoroughly revises the conceptual apparatus as the problem to be analyzed demands—Foucault does not address how ‘security’ relates to ‘biopolitics’ in general. But if one were for heuristic purposes to compare ‘security’ to ‘biopolitics’ in the manner of conventional, concept-driven theory, it would be appropriate to say that biopolitics is one type of security governance—that which proceeds by biologizing or quasi-biologizing ‘populations’ and differentiating them, for example by promoting the perceived health of one group by excluding another. This distinction does not do very much work, however. In some texts Foucault identifies ‘governmentality’ with liberal political economy and subsequent techniques of governance that are modelled on it—governmentality is said to govern through incentives and indirect pressure rather than through coercion, for example (Foucault 2004, 352-4). However, it is also plausible to take security/governmentality to encompass both liberal techniques of incentivization and resource maximization and biopolitical projects of all kinds, both negative (including ethnic exclusion and genocide) and positive (such as public health). In this latter reading, which I prefer because it emphasizes the illiberal conditions of liberal subjectivity (Valverde 1996), security/governmentality practices, while acknowledged to have much affinity for certain liberal techniques (especially liberal political economy), are seen as also present in nondemocratic states that, whether they govern the economy liberally or not, govern persons and populations in highly illiberal ways.