i [heart] foucault

Tyler responds to a reader who asks: Should economists care about Foucault? Tyler is correct to be skeptical. Foucault’s ideas aren’t germane to modern economics. Same with philosophy, which in its academic form is all about very precise language and narrow arguments. However, Foucault is still hugely important. Here’s why:

  1. Surveillance and self-discipline: Social order in modern society depends on people disciplining themselves, rather than being punished by the state. Who needs guns to keep order in a world of street cameras? A crucial alternative to Weber and Hobbe’s theory of social order. (Discipline & Punish, the Power/Knowledge writings).
  2. Institutions as social control mechanisms: Schools, clinics, hospitals – not about rational  policy. It’s about controlling people. (Birth of the Clinic, Madness and Civilization, I Pierre Rivierre…)
  3. The bio-politics thesis: The state is a network of policies and institutions designed to manage some population. Think about: migration policy, census taking, public health, eugenics, etc. Alternative to the liberal theory of the state (solving public goods problems) or the Marxist theory of the state (it’s about repressing the workers/helping the business class).
  4. “Episteme”: The idea that sciences aren’t rational expression of scientific thought. Rather, sciences are bundles of ideas and practices tied with an era’s culture and political ambitions. These ideas then factor into how we view ourselves. (History of Sexuality)

Since I am not in the humanities, I can’t comment on what literary critics get out of Foucault, but I do respect the death of the author essay. In modern discourse, the author gets buried and we live in a world of interpretation around the text. That seems important.

Bottom line: Foucault is one the most important social thinkers of the 20th century. Any one of these ideas would easily establish a scholar as a leading figure in area, but to generate all of these (and more that I didn’t mention) is astounding.


Written by fabiorojas

January 12, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Posted in fabio, just theory

6 Responses

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Social Psych. Social Psych said: news i [heart] foucault: Tyler responds to a reader who asks: Should economists care about Fouca… […]


  2. I have become a regular commentor. I just want to advertise Barbara Townley’s 2008 book “Reason’s Neglect”, which provides a nice down-to-earth no-jargon reading of Foucault on rationality.

    Unlike Fabio, I do not think Foucault has “the idea that sciences aren’t rational expression of scientific thought”. What he does is to show how norms concerning what is rational have shifted over time. As he himself points out this is not entirely of his innovation, but rather it is Kant who already pointed out that what counts as rational is a normative question. Foucault takes this and goes on to conduct a historical analysis on the shifting norms of rational claims made in “human sciences” (his term). Thus, he talks of ‘rationalities’. Personally I think they may not be that discreet.

    The distinction is substantial. Cultural and political ambitions do not create deviations from scientific rationality (akin to additional independent variables), but rather the rationality itself is a constituted by shared norms. If you look into it, it is not a very PoMo idea: after all the pre-pomo philosophy has been concerned about the explication of optimal norms to achieve the best possible scientific rationality.



    January 13, 2011 at 8:11 am

  3. […] Pourquoi lire Foucault ? sur orgtheory. […]


  4. […] i [heart] foucault, par Fabio Rojas. Quelques bonnes raisons synthétiques qui nous poussent à lire ou à relire Michel Foucault. L’occasion également de découvrir ce blog,, en anglais. […]


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