Chapter one: Foucault’s Grammar

Chapter one of the book



Anders Fogh Jensen 


Mellem ting. Foucaults filosofi
Frederiksberg: Det lille forlag, 2005
2. edition.: København: THP, 2012

Foucault’s grammar



In this chapter I argue that Foucault’s basic concepts can be understood as a coherent grammar, that has its roots in certain traditions in the history of Philosophy and in French ethnology and sociology in the 20th century. Contrary to the tradition that reads Foucault as an inheritor of Nietzsche and to the tradition that distinguish Foucault’s work in an early archeological phase and a later genealogical phase, this chapter argues that there exists an internal coherence in Foucault’s concepts together with an external coherence with contemporary structuralism, hermeneutics and sociology. From this point of view it becomes possible to analyse with Foucault the history of problematizations and experiences in coherence with other contemporary thinkers rather than seeing Foucault as a distinct ‘method’.

Main concepts: problematization, dispositif, experience and knowledge, the history of truth (and historical fiction), categorisations, apriory and historisation, rules, regularities and regulations, the synchronic and the diachronic, power (puissance and pouvoir), diagram, system, organisation, institution, social vectors, habitus and dispostif, truth and rationality, Technik, technical machinery and technology, the subject, subjectivations and the human sciences.

Main thinkers: Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, Ferdinand de Saussure, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Pierre Bourdieu.





People Create Problems

When faced with a problem, one looks for a solution. Solutions may not be staring you in the eye but usually they are to be found somewhere or other. Solutions of a problem may not be desirable and they may not remove the problem, but they are ways of dealing with the problem. Not to choose a solution is also a kind of solution, it is a solution that leaves the problem alone. Problems always seem to be asking: what are you going to do now?

When Foucault encounters a problem, he does the opposite. He takes the problem as an answer. He asks for a question behind the problem which the problem is an answer to:

What is the answer to the question? The problem. (Foucault 1970a: 90/359)

Foucault’s philosophy is a philosophy about problems. ‘Sexuality’, for example, is not part of human nature, but part of our culture, i.e. our history. Sexuality is a problem. Foucault asks: which question does sexuality answer? He answers: Sexuality is an answer to the questions: How am I to govern myself? How am I to control myself? And how am I to teach others to control themselves in order that we may avoid as much trouble as possible?

The world can be a dangerous place, and since man is part of the world, he can also be dangerous – to himself and to others. Danger here crystallises as a problem that concerns the matter of controlling oneself, controlling other people and controlling other people’s control of themselves. Sexuality is part of this problem complex.

However, sexuality is not always the same problem. This is so for several reasons, but partly because the world is not thought to be dangerous in the same way across the ages, and because man is not thought to be dangerous to himself in the same way across the ages. This means that when we are dealing with problems, we have to deal with them historically: at one point in history the problem was this and that, it changed, the problem turned into something else, and later it took the form of something entirely different, etc. The fact that Foucault includes historical circumstances and world pictures when he reconstructs problems makes his philosophy of problems rather complex.

Any given problem does not only come with all the questions that the problem is an answer to, it also comes with all the possible solutions that may solve it. Some solutions are typical of a certain age or period in time. They constitute a kind of model that may be used to solve a problem. For example, if we want to build a bridge in our time, we can reach out for the market and invite national or transnational companies to bid for the job of solving the bridge building problem in question by putting it out to tender. In the same way Foucault supposes that certain models are typical at different points in time and that society always tends to seek out these models. Foucault refers to such tendencies to rely on particular types of solutions as dispositifs (apparatuses or systems).

Problems and the ways in which we handle them are part of a society’s practice of mind and way of doing things. The ways in which a particular society deals with its problems gives rise to certain experiences among the people who take in it. The child who is reared, the patient who is diagnosed or treated or the customer who busy shopping all have a relationship to and an experience of the problem that is to be solved. For example, the child’s, patient’s or customer’s desires are part of the sexuality complex at that particular time and are shaped within and along with it. Foucault is trying to show that no human raw material, like the body, desire or consciousness, comes before society; that man comes into being only as a social being – in other words, that nature and history are concurrent.

Where do problems come from? My father use to say: “You mustn’t create problems. They come all by themselves.” Curiously, Foucault agrees with this. He would claim that those are few who create their own problems. Rather, problems happen to individuals all by themselves. This does not mean that problems are not man-made, however. Problems are problematised into existence; that is to say, people handle difficulties, dangers, each other and themselves by crystallising all kinds of questions about these activities as problems.

To Foucault such problematisations provide an entry point for understanding how a culture understands itself and its world. Whether the mad are locked up or not, whether they are whipped or medicated or compelled to listen to morally edifying speeches is decided by the ways in which mad people are made into a problem. The models of solution that are at disposal and which models are most commonly used depends on the problematisation in question, on how people were thinking at the moment in question and on what was practically available. Problem and solution give rise to certain experiences, e.g. the experience of being a patient, a criminal, mad, normal, in danger or in a safe place.

The problems and the solutions and experiences that are at disposal at a certain point in time form a triad that is always interconnected in Foucault’s philosophy. When Foucault writes the history of problematisations, it is all about the transformation of the relations between the three of them. He starts with the purpose of describing historical problematisations, and in the second phase he problematises contemporary problems by showing that although they were certainly given as problems, the given was not put together by necessity (Foucault 1984a: 17).

Problematization doesn’t mean representation of a pre-existing object, nor the creation by discourse of an object that doesn’t exist. It is the totality of discursive or non-discursive practices that introduces something into the play of true and false and constitutes it as an object of thought (whether in the form of moral reflection, scientific knowledge, political analysis, etc.). (Foucault 1984b: 670/ 257)

Gaston Bachelard claims the primacy of thought over the senses. When something is thought to be possible, it may give itself to the senses. Bachelard refers to this primacy as something being realised by thought. In Foucault this approach translates to the history of problematisations. Thought is the very problematisation that realises potential and likely (dispositional) models of dealing with problems – that is, practices. Problematisations and practices give rise to certain experiences. The view on crime, for example, changes in the course of time as the objects of crime shift in accordance with shifting problems: The view of the problem of crime shifts away from a focus on the actual criminal act to a focus on the transgressive act as expressing an underlying imperfect but rectifiable frame of mind  – a frame of mind that manifests itself in a shapeable body which in turn manifests itself in the transgressive act. The prison emerges as a model for solving the problem of handling rectifiable criminals – i.e. surveillance, discipline and punishment – and it gives rise to a new experience of criminals and new experiences of being a criminal. The idea of the collective body – society – shifts accordingly, i.e. it also gradually comes to be seen as shapeable. This results in new and different ambitions in regard to the question of what the individual as well as the collective body may be caused to do if thoroughly regulated. The idea of extensive regulation does not appear out of nowhere. It is tested and developed during the plague in the 17th century: whereas people used to export the danger of affection out of the city by moving the sick out of the city, they now start regulating their way out of the problem by mapping the urban spread of the disease and issuing rules for movement within the city. Thought realises new practices through the interplay between problematisation and existing practices. Subsequently, these new practices may spread to other areas than the ones they were initially intended for, such as factories or schools. The experience (expérience) of being monitored and regulated follows in the slipstream of such spreading of practices.


Experience and Knowledge 

As in English the French expérience can mean both the perception of an event, the gathering of knowledge and skills, but it can also mean experiment. The latter suggests a certain orientation towards the future. Experience is something that causes you never to remain the same. Hence an experience is never simply something that fixes or demarcates or defines a subject, but something that continually reforms it. The subject is dissolved through experience and rebuilt as something new.

Foucault’s concept of experience – expérience – is about ways of experiencing the world through problematisations and ways of handling problems. Foucault’s concept of expérience is not to be understood as equivalent to the German Erfahrung, which, within the Hegelian tradition, is about a subject that constitutes itself through destruction. The French concept attaches more importance to the implication fahren in Erfahrung, i.e. something moving, something that is on the move: Expérience is ‘through-ing’, something that runs through. In other words, it is not to be understood as something that the subject does, but something that happens to the subject or befalls it.

Experience has to do with the ordinary experience of everyday phenomena – ’le vécu’, lived-experience, as the phenomenological term goes. As such lived experience is to be understood first and foremost as a result and not as a starting point. Subjective experience is not prior to the historical and the social, but something that is historically and socially created. In this respect one may encounter certain inconsistencies in Foucault, insofar as it is implied in especially Madness and Civilization (Foucault 1961) that subjective experience is the supposed base of or is prior to a social and historical process of construction – in the case of e.g. the experience of madness this involves a process of rationalisation and medicalisation. It may also be implied in The History of Sexuality 1 (Foucault 1976) that gender is supposed to be a form that is subjugated by the sexuality complex from the 19th century on. Yet it makes more sense to read Foucault’s histories from his endpoint, which means that the history of madness, medicine, science, the prison, the body and sexuality is not about how a pure experience is formed by the social, the way it is supposed in many of the theories of the social, health and human sciences, from sociology to nursing to discourse analysis with a more or less power-theoretical signature, which refer to themselves as continuations of Foucault. You only really read with Foucault if you strive to expound the relation between experience and sociality in ways in which experience does not come before the social, but occurs within and along with the social, as a product of historical clusters of problematisation and forms of practice. The body, the phenomenon and experience are not prior to history.


The Problem of the Subject

The fact that nature and history, as well as body and sociality, are concurrent affects another concept which is often turned into a key concept by Foucault and his interpreters: the subject. If experience occurs within and along with forms of social problematisations and practices, it means first of all that the subject is not a form or mould that is imposed on a person or body, but something that comes into being through socially constructed experiences, i.e. as the result of problematisations.

Secondly, it may be that the concept of subjectivisation is widely applicable, but Foucault is only interested in practices of subjectivisation as far as the interplay of the government of the self and the government of people is concerned. The interplay of self-government and the government of others is always political, but this does not mean that it is only political. There is more to the story than that.

Thirdly, subjective experiences are only one kind in a range of possible experiences. The experience of losing oneself, for example, is not a subject-experience. If ‘subject’ is to be understood as an identity, experience is something that does away with the subject. You’re moving – going through something – when you experience something. Accordingly, it seems more productive to understand the subject as something that is on its way, something that is always in the process of breaking up and turning into something new – going through something. This means that the relation between the subject and power is more complicated than the notion of power as fixing humans within an identity – as a subject – subjecting it in order to subjugate and exploit it. Foucault is trying to expand on Nietzsche’s, Bataille’s and Blanchot’s ideas of the borderline experience as that which tears the subject out of itself (Foucault 1980).

Fourthly, this means that it is impossible to establish any binary opposition between truth and subjective experience. Subjective experience is always a fiction, a construction of something true, of something that is given (Foucault 1980). Truth has to do with realisation, with how the subject comes into being through experience. Hence in understanding truth and life it is relevant to speak of truth as the becoming of something real, and in this respect, as I will show later, Foucault is not far removed from neither the tradition of historical epistemology nor from Heidegger.



The question of truth is not just a question that is asked by Foucault, it is also asked of Foucault’s philosophy which boasts of being the history of truth. What is the truth of the history of truth?

Foucault’s history is a history of truth on several levels: it is I) the history of truths insofar as it is the history of how truths have constituted themselves historically, and it is II) a history about the kind of relations between people that have been created by the construction and enunciations of truths at different periods in time.

It is III) true historiography insofar as its material is other than contemporary man – the face we may see drawn in the sand at the edge of the ocean, as it says somewhere (Foucault 1966: 398/422). It strives to write history as the truth about the present. What is the purpose of writing the true picture of history? It is IV) to rock the ground beneath current ideas of what is true. Why? To V) see new truths establishing themselves. But is Foucault then not a fictional writer? Yes, what he does is:

[…] a kind of historical fiction. In a sense I know very well that what I say is not true. […] My hope is my books become true after they have been written–not before. (Foucault 1980: 40/301)

This statement must be viewed in its context: a literary tradition of political fiction in the 1960s, le Nouveau Roman, in which writers resolved to create something political through fiction. The history of truth is about VI) creating a reality for possible struggles (Foucault 1978a: 633).

For these reasons Foucault’s philosophy is at one and the same time the history of truth (I), the history within truth (III), an attempt to create truth by VII) wresting the cocksureness from the present, i.e. the belief that its truth is ahistorical. Indeed, critical eyebrows may be raised in response to Foucault’s choice of material, the way in which it is pieced together and its want of falsificationality, and eyebrows certainly have been raised. However, as we shall see in the next chapter, the truths of even the natural sciences come about whenever someone has proclaimed a truth that did not yet exist. And, making a claim like that, Foucault’s philosophy is VIII) outside the true. It is not about facing the true state of things, it is about upsetting the state of things so that they may be overlaid by new layers. It is in this sense that IX) the battle of the truth of the future is fought in the writing of history (Foucault 1979: 805).

Thus Foucault’s philosophy is an analysis of the connections between things, which also makes an attempt to influence these connections. It is about questioning the naturalness of things in order to loosen things from their historical contexts, to upset the self-image of any age as ahistorical, natural and rational, so much so that both the past and the present are set in motion (VII). Certainly, Foucault’s histories have already set our views of madness, sexuality and the prisoner in motion. It is the history about the truths that may become true if things are rearranged. Foucault offers a refurnishing of things, and for this reason, and others, it is a philosophy in-between things.

There is more to Foucault’s philosophy than a questioning of the fixed positions of things. The project moves beyond a nihilistic endeavour to cause an epistemological dissolution of all existing values, although there is a tradition for ignoring this in countries in which the human and social sciences import their discipline from the western side of the Atlantic. There is more to Foucault’s expeditions into madness, spaces, places, literature and history than a wish to escape power in a celebration of chaos. They are expeditions that seek out instances where the walls of the modern are repetitively thumped in successful attempts to expand and renew the space of reality. In spite of their epistemological rhetoric, Foucault’s expeditions are attempts to prove the metaphysical thesis that all has not been said with the disclosure of things and the order of things and that all has not been done with the dissolution of morality.


Two Ways Out of Kant

Foucault thinks after the German Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant. He thinks with Kant after Kant, and he thinks his way out of Kant in two ways. When I say that Foucault thinks with Kant after Kant, it means that he, like Kant, examines human forms of cognition, but that he also examines them historically. In The Critique of Pure Reason Kant examined how the matter of human cognition – the perceived – was also shaped by reason. According to Kant, cognition always consists of matter and two types of form: the matter of cognition is given through the senses, but is always shaped by certain categories and by time and space (Anschauungen); cognition is the total product of the object matter and the two types of form.

Foucault thinks this much with Kant, but he also historises cognition: in Foucault the question of the rational forms of cognition becomes a question of how these forms vary historically, that is to say, how the forms of reason and perception, which in Kant are prior to experience (so-called a priori), actually turn out to be historical forms of a priori. After Kant, the cognising subject is seen as a historical subject. Foucault historises Kant’s ideas and the problem of cognition by asking: how did it become possible for things to give themselves in this order at this period of time? And he historises the problem of cognition by asking: how did it become possible for that particular person to problematise that particular phenomenon and pursue that particular knowledge and that particular solution within that particular historical space of solutions?

As indicated above, problematisation is not only about knowledge, but also about government and control. This is Foucault’s second way out of Kant. Kant criticised the way people deprive themselves of the control of their own state of affairs when subjecting themselves to the law, religion and common sense, rather than subjecting themselves to pure reason. The call for people to take responsibility for their own use of reason was a project of freedom to Kant. To Foucault, the history of problematisations is the history of what humans are made into through the ways in which they are problematised, but it is also about problematising the problematisations in order to provide people with the opportunity to do something about these conditionalities. In Foucault, Kant’s call is repeated as an appeal to do something with whatever it is one has been made into. The history of the government of problematisations is the history of the de-authorisation and authorisation of the self. But after Kant, the history of government has taken yet another turn insofar as a considerable degree of de-authorisation of the self may be said to result from an increased authorisation of the self.

One of the insights we gain from writing the history of problematisations is how various historical problematisations dehistorise themselves. It is examined how any historical age understands and explicates its problematisations as ahistorical and values them precisely as such. In this book we will be following close behind Foucault as he traces the historical transformations of problematisations and arrives at the point where he asks the question: How did it become possible to think like that? As a parallel problem, we will also be tracing the question of how it became possible for Foucault to think the way he did. If the historisation of Kant amounts to a grafting of Kant on to Kant – to criticise cognition by use of the critique of cognition – then it is the business of this book to graft Foucault on to Foucault – or, if you like, Kant on to Kant on to Kant – in order to arrive at an answer to the question: how did it become possible for Foucault to ask the question about how it became possible in particular historical periods to ask certain questions but not others? The topic of the next chapter is how Foucault’s kind of thinking was made possible.


A Grammar of the Social 

The Synchronic and the Diachronic

Why write history at all? Because it is a helpful way of understanding one’s own age. The second half of the twentieth century was marked by a certain kind of historylessness, which means that explanations of the present were sought in the kind of oppositions that existed at the time. In other words, people would employ synchronic principles of explanation.

Possibly, many phenomena allow themselves to be understood through contemporary oppositions, but in this way you run the risk of understanding present phenomena as things, positions and positionings, rather than something in-between. What is consciously left out of sight by the synchronic observation is that the contemporary is the result of historical developments, results and coincidents. Such developments are the objects of the diachronic method of observation.

The difference between the diachronic and the synchronic approach may be illustrated by two different ways of dividing a jam roll: the diachronic cut is a lengthwise cut which makes it possible to see how the jam runs along within the roll, whereas the synchronic cut is a crosswise cut, as when cutting a slice, which makes it possible to see how the jam coils within each individual sliver.

French structuralism took over the synchronic method of observation from Saussure’s

linguistics and applied it on cultural symbols. The legitimacy of the synchronic analysis is often affirmed by use of a comparison between the analysis of culture and language with a game of chess: it makes no difference to the grasp of a game of chess to know what the pieces are made of, where the game comes from and who plays it, what matters is the difference between positions.

It is true that the course of a game of chess is not changed by the facts about how the game came about, but the origin of the game is nevertheless a decisive condition for the fact that we are playing exactly that game rather than any other game. In addition, the analogy of the chess game presupposes that the players are not human, or at least that the human players do not take their opponents into account, their previous moves and challenges, the usual strategies, the minute twitches of the upper lip and any other knowledge about the opposition. The analogy also presupposes that a specific game is not influenced by any fundamental basis of understanding or valuation external to it, e.g. the value of various strategies, the value of winning as opposed to the experiment of trying out new ideas or indulging in the beauty or amusement of sacrificing pieces, or sparing them, etc.


Truth Games

Thus the game of chess is far too static to make a useful image of the cultural. When it comes to the human pieces, they all have projects, volition, interests and intentions.

The social analyst must keep the individual intentions of the pieces in view, because the dynamics of the social game are generated by exactly such individual intentions.

What kind of game do humans play? In terms of Foucault’s analysis humans play a game of truth. They comply with traditions and rituals for the enunciation and execution of the true; they fight each other to get to speak the true or to get the role as listener; they do not only deploy offensive strategies to turn their interests into truth, they also deploy defensive strategies, luring each other out of hiding, allowing each other to express themselves in certain ways only to act on this expression afterwards. Foucault’s philosophy may be understood as the analysis of strategies of truth games across time. Humans are to be understood as playing pieces, with their own individual wills, formed as the dice are thrown by history.


Rules, Regulations and Regularities

The Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, contributed to a change of direction in the philosophy of language, paving the way for a functional turn with his considerations of rule obedience (Wittgenstein 1953: §§138-242). At the basis of the idea of rule obedience lies an understanding of the social as a game. When humans play games – in this case games of language – they follow rules. Rules are regularities which are constitutive and regulative at one and the same time: The fact that language games are constituted by regularities means that different and particular actions are continued within a kind of uniformity that generates not only a norm but also a normativity.

Regularities are regulative. The regulating effect of regularities gives shape to the social as a game which, in contrast to the binary regularity of the chess game – allowed and not-allowed – plays host to a certain factor of indeterminacy that causes it to remain in motion and always a little indeterminable. To experience or to go through a given form of life requires certain forms of behaviour, which is to say that people tend to play the social games in certain ways rather than others. This also implies that people recognise certain forms of life while dissociating themselves from others. The repetition of the play of a certain way of life consolidates this difference, whereas the move which is wide off the mark – be it a verbal or a nonverbal form of behaviour – causes the identity of the game to slip.

The regulation of the social is not just something that guarantees a certain degree of uniformity – e.g. that words mean more or less the same, or that you may expect a certain kind of behaviour from others – it is also a regulation that sorts and classifies insofar as it makes it possible to distinguish between those who execute the regularity and those who do not. In this way the social game may be viewed as battles or struggles.

Foucault thinks of this in terms of history, society and truth: in order to articulate a false judgement you have to be already within the true, i.e. you have to speak from within the acknowledged world picture of your time and its forms of perception, and you have to be in a position of being heard in order to be able to say something false (Foucault 1970b: 36).

Being in a position in which you are listened to does not necessarily mean that you are more powerful than those who listen. Sometimes someone’s speech may be the steerage way that is necessary for someone else to be able to lay a situation on its course.

Wittgenstein’s considerations of rule obedience contribute to the understanding of yet another aspect of the regularity of the social: that rules are formed by use. Using a rule correctly consolidates the rule. Most applications of rules – battles within the games of truth – change the rules a little bit or push them a little bit because these applications are never entirely according to the rules. To apply rules in concrete situations always requires adaptations, and these adaptations always have repercussions on the rule.

Foucault’s approach goes like this: look for some regularity or pattern in any given social practice – a system (dispositif) – and then take a further look back in time to see how the pattern was formed, that is to say, how the pattern appeared as something new before it became a pattern.

Foucault further refines Wittgenstein’s considerations of rule obedience by adding the concept of norm: through the perspective of norms one may differentiate the regular and hierarchise it in ways that make it possible to expand one’s scope of examination to places where otherwise there was no need to look. Unlike the gymnast, whose movements are all of high significance as they are all turned into objects of judgement, the soccer player is not involved in situations that call for judgement during a great deal of the match. Foucault’s introduction of the concept of norms into the examination of social game would correspond to the introduction of style marks in the game of soccer.

But where are rules to be found? Rules do not exist as definite protocols of rules, rules are regularities. And yet there are grammars that freeze the development of rules, imprinting them in codes of practice. Grammars mirror the logic of human communication at a given point in time.

In this respect Foucault’s philosophy may be seen as a grammar of the social: it draws a map of regular forms of exchange and intercourse between people. But it is not a synchronic grammar mapping the present by collating existing forms of exchange and social intercourse; it is a diachronic grammar that unearths the kinds of changes that have brought about the present collocation. A dia-grammar like that exposes the social the way language would be exposed by a co-thinking of the diachronic historics of philology and the synchronic analytics of linguistics.


Grammar and Physics

There is a historical coincidence between the refurbishment of mathematical and physical space in the twentieth century, on the one hand, and the refurbishment of the space of meaning on the other.

René Descartes and Isaac Newton think of space as an absolute space, i.e. as an expanded system of co-ordinates that determines all positions in a given space without being affected by what is placed within that particular space and how movements occur. The mathematics and physics of the twentieth century do away with this absolute system of co-ordinates by making space dependent on all the movement that occurs in it.

Synchronic linguistics and structural culture analysis – in fact structuralism in all its varieties – do to the same to linguistic and cultural axes of meaning, by seeing relations between positions as decisive for the production of meaning. No meaning is ever determined by itself, it happens only through its relations to something else. In other words, linguistic and cultural spaces depend on whatever is within their spaces and how these contents are positioned. If the positions between elements are changed, the linguistic and cultural space of meaning is also changed.

In a sense it could be said that physics and mathematics are one step ahead of structuralism insofar as it operates with movement as the foundation of reality. Yet, to say that structuralism is incapable of operating with the concept of change is certainly a caricature of structuralism; structuralism only claims that any change must be viewed with existing constellations as a point of departure. Hence, any change of the system causes structural analysis to relate to a new constellation of positions. Structuralism is indeed capable of thinking in terms of movement between positions, but it does not think of these as the very basis of reality. In spatial terms: structuralism freezes movement in points and positions and in doing so it eludes the vector physics of a space deprived of absolute axes. If it had made the same moves as physics, structuralism could have taken the step to push movement into a more central position within its ontology of the social. Foucault makes this move towards movement along with thinkers like Bourdieu, Derrida and Deleuze.


Social Vectors

In this regard, Foucault’s philosophy is not only comparable with a grammar of the social or an analysis of games; it is also comparable with the calculation of vectors. It is about how the various directions of wills and assemblages of wills – systems – collide, amalgamate and generate regularities, which forms axes within the social, which in turn has repercussions on wills insofar as wills are fitted with co-ordinates.

Problematisations attach themselves to such axes, and, among other things, the value of any particular action depends on the extent to which the action relates to the problems of its time and reaches out for the usual ways of handling them – for example, whether a personal crisis is regarded as a cosmological, social or psychological problem and whether the attempts of handling it call on self care, social struggles or self-sufficiency. To comply with the governmental system of one’s own time is to lead a rational existence.

Foucault’s social vector physics is an expansion of Hobbes’ political philosophy and Nietzsche’s metaphysics. In contrast to these thinkers, the social was understood as a realisation of nature in the Middle Ages. The relation between social morality and individual nature was turned into a problem by political thought in the 16th century, as the question of who has the right to do what was increasingly turned into a question of who has the power to do what. This coincided with a thought of life as a force, which is why the problem of the individual and the social was posed accordingly as a question of whether life really expands within the social or if the social is in fact a restraint of life. This is a problem that may very well be said to have grown out of the problem of ‘the flesh’ but which was caused to take a materialistic turn in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In The Prince (1532) Niccolò Machiavelli initiated an early rupture within legal thought towards a thinking based on power by thinking in terms of an economy of power whose singular aim was its own preservation. Thus, the process of separating power from a position within the social as a transcendental right was launched. The politico-philosophical problem to Hobbes may be seen as an extension of this: Why did individuals have to subordinate their power to social authority?

If Nietzsche was interested in forces – the will to power – then at least he was also concerned with the question of how constellations of forces are capable of ordering individual forces within systems, e.g. within religion or science. When Nietzsche characterised Christianity as a banding together of the weak wills against the strong wills, or when he spoke about a weak will as a will to systems, then we are to understand this as relations between forces (Nietzsche 1888: 76/946).  Such relations between forces may be described as power. In French Nietzsche’s Macht is translated as puissancepower. Foucault speaks of pouvoir when he speaks about power. Forces are to be understood as events, power as stratifications, regularities – or to stay within the analogy: power (pouvoir) is the axes within the system of co-ordinates in which forces (puissance) constitute the vectors. Here the insight of modern physics that axes are dynamic is to be included in our thinking. Axes are affected by the vectors. Foucault’s analyses are about the stratification and formation of social spaces, and about which particular events they emerged from before they turned into regularities. When Foucault talks about freedom, he is concerned with forces.

Foucault has something in common with the way in which the social was thought of in the 16th century in terms of forces and compounds of forces. E.g. when Foucault identifies a difference between gender and sexuality, gender is to be understood as a force that assumes its form within an ordered instantiation of power, sexuality. And yet it is not possible to use Foucault in telling the old tale of productive forces and the regulation of forces. Why not? Because forces themselves are historical entities. The body and man are never completely outside history. They are historical entities which take part in shaping history through events – exertions of forces. The forces that might be analysed as prior to the ordering of power (the putting together of forces) are themselves products of certain orderings. It is in this way that we are to understand the idea that nothing exists outside history or outside the ordering of power. Of course this does not mean that history is dead or that everything is power.



As a social grammar, that is to say, as the exercise of unearthing regularities within the social along with their dispositional and normative effects, Foucault’s philosophy is about unearthing patterns. But it is at least just as much about unearthing interferences between patterns. Just as the philologist is capable of deciphering the influence of foreign languages on a language by locating changes within modes or patterns of inflection, Foucault identifies how patterns deflect other patterns and cause them to work together. To a great extent Foucault’s philosophy is about how things become increasingly complex because old patterns are not just eliminated but are encased within the expansion of new dominant patterns.

A grammar may look like a prediction of the future, but it is no more than a determination of tendencies. In the eyes of the grammarian, language use looks like grammar gone wrong. Foucault’s philosophy is about the social grammars that went wrong.

Foucault refers to the ideals of human exchange and intercourse that always go wrong in practice as diagrams (Foucault 1975: 174/202 & 207/239). The perfect control envisioned by the panopticon, the total emptying of the soul in the practice of confession or the idea of the free market without any barriers are examples of diagrams inscribed in all kinds of concrete institutions, prisons, confessionals or trade-promoting offices.

Yet, there is a concept that inserts itself between the concrete shape of the social, e.g. the concrete form of government, and the diagrams: programs. A program is a concrete ideal, i.e. an ideal of how the concrete execution may come about in order to manifest the diagram. The program of a festival is a plan of how the ideal festival may take place in the best possible way in concrete terms, but no festival ever takes place the way the program sets it down. The architect has to take the landscape into consideration when he wants to create an ideal house, i.e. when he creates his program out of the architectural drawing, but no house ever comes to look exactly like the drawing. The same goes for the rationality of governmentality:

All govenmentality can only be strategic and programmatic. It never works. But it is in relation to a program that we can say that it never works. (Foucault 1978b: 405/387)

Foucault’s philosophy may be called a dia-grammar in a twofold sense of the word: it is a diachronic grammar – a historics – of the social, and it is an analytics of diagrams and programs. There are three levels: concrete social events, programs for the events, diagrams as ideals.



The System (Dispositif)

Certain problematisations are regular within a given period of time. However, the regular is not just something normal, it is also normative. The social does not just offer certain solutions for particular problems, it also prescribes solutions.

What is at issue is a double dynamic: wills and intentions leave their mark on the shaping of the social space within which they occur while at the same time being marked by it. As a philosophy of problems Foucault’s focus is not on the action of an agent, rather, it is on the agent’s experience of the historically transformable axes – in other words, on the way spaces of action are experienced.

Problematisations structure spaces of action and the probabilities of the outcome. Problems stratify and arrange social space e.g. by opposing the criminal or the perverse with the normal, or the less criminal with the more criminal. Such classifications arrange social space in such a way that particular problems and models of solution may give themselves as obvious – e.g. imprisonment or treatment – which are what Foucault refers to as dispositifs, i.e. systems (as mentioned in the introduction ‘dispositif’ is not translated as ‘apparatus’ in this book, but as ‘system’).

Systems are arranged arrangements in the sense that they are arranged organisations of ways of handling the problems of a particular age which co-ordinate experiences, knowledge, technology and institutions in ways that are rational by the standards of the time, and they are arranging arrangements in the sense that these co-ordinations influence the generation of norms, in that way drawing up lines for future actions.

The variations of ways in which the social is arranged always imitate an ideal form which they never get to resemble exactly. Such an ideal form, which is never present in reality but is often implicitly understood, is a diagram. Whereas a system signifies the dispositions of the social, a diagram is the ideal type of a disposition, cleared of any friction. The disposition of the social to solve problems, e.g. the building of a bridge by inviting tenders from the market is a system. In that particular case the diagram would be the ideal of a totally free and transparent market that is presupposed by the market system.

If we consider the system as a regular and systematic way of organising and planning behaviour, we may refer to it as a system of governance which we may approach in more or less the same way as the systems of thinking, i.e. as something that enables and incites certain forms of social exchange while preventing or impeding others. E.g. the market is a control system of governance in the sense that it is a way of planning, judging and sorting events and behaviour, as in for instance the building of a bridge or the management of a festival (purchase and sale, inviting tenders, offers, quotations, etc.). It would be correct to say that the system of government runs according to standard procedures which are perceived as legitimate and rational. Any age is dispositioned (arranged) to work according to one particular or a number of particular systems of governance as opposed to other kinds.

Systems, or systems of governance, are always more cloudy than their diagrams: e.g. the camp, the colony, the mental asylum or the market all have concrete shapes, ways of functioning and programmes which are determined by cultural, historical and material circumstances. As made clear above, the system is one of the key concepts in the way in which this book reads Foucault. The concept may be easier to understand if we borrow the meaning of one of Bourdieu’s key concepts: the concept of habitus.


The System and Habitus – Foucault and Bourdieu

In Bourdieu’s sociology habitus designates the dispositions within individuals or classes that are socially inscribed. It denotes the tendency of the individual to act and classify reality in accordance with the social class he or she comes from or lives in – including the classification of the behaviour of others and oneself. Hence, apart from denoting the tendencies of an agent to give preference to certain choices and to understand the world in certain ways, habitus also denotes the way in which social segments reproduce themselves through individuals. According to Bourdieu’s model, a concrete situation will develop as a product of three things: the psycho-social disposition (habitus), concrete circumstances and the choices made by individuals.

The task of social analysts is to facilitate a theoretical reconstruction of the former on the basis of the two others, that is, the patterns of dispositions that appear within the choices that are made by individuals and groups. Or as Bourdieu puts it:

The ethnologist is someone who reconstitutes a kind of unwritten score which lies behind the actions of the agents, who think they are improvising their own melody. (Bourdieu 1980: 89/56)

Foucault is also interested in dispositions, but he is primarily interested in dispositions in the context of social space as a whole. Only secondarily does he share Bourdieu’s interest in the struggle of various social segments against each other through the shaping of the dispositions of their respective individuals. For example, to Foucault disciplining is primarily a matter of the general problems that disciplining is a solution to and only secondarily about the way in which disciplining may be used in class struggles, e.g. as the disciplining of the working class or the self-disciplining of the bourgeoisie in the aspiration to quasi-nobility.

The individual body is always historical, which means that historical events – a change of the rules of interpretation (1971 146/378-379) – inscribe themselves in the body and turn into natural articulations. The vanishing act of history is to cause historical acts of classification to appear as naturally induced. History is the rearrangement of these classifications, their superpositions in new systems and their embeddedness within humans.

If Foucault can be said to be interested in historical a priori – the horizons of an entire sociality – then Bourdieu can be said to be interested in the contemporary incongruous a priori of different social fields. If it makes sense to say that Foucault historises Kant, it also makes sense to say that Bourdieu sociologises Kant insofar as Bourdieu asks the question: in what way may the classifications of cognition be said to be variable within a society?

This way of co-thinking sociality and cognition originates from the French sociologist, Émile Durkheim, and his nephew, the anthropologist Marcel Mauss, who in “De quelques formes primitives de classification” demonstrated how the classifications within different tribes emanated from their social conventions (Durkheim & Mauss 1903). While Mauss and Durkheim were engaged with the uniform classifications of entire tribes and with the diverse classification systems of diverse tribes, Bourdieu redirects this diversity towards social domains and positions. Social differentiation may very well be Foucault’s concern insofar as new historical forms of cognition and morality emerge as products of the self-legitimation of a social class or a profession. To the extent that he is interested in those struggles it is to locate the origin and growth conditions of something that later turns out to have become a general and social horizon.

So, what Foucault and Bourdieu have in common is that they operate with schemata of classification which are prior to the individual’s conscious choice of forms of cognition and that they see these pre-individual or extra-individual forms as constituting individual experiences. But their focuses differ: Foucault is mostly interested in common historical classifications, ‘historical a priori’ whereas Bourdieu is primarily interested in ‘segmentiel a priori’.

What is the cause of this difference? Bourdieu hails from a Marxist tradition and, hence, from Hegel. This means that he understands social space and social fields as constituted by struggles for each other’s recognition: the fighting for capital, for positions within the social space, for mobility within the social space, either by achieving more capital or by adjusting the reckoning of one’s position, i.e. changing the recognition of capital. In short, to Bourdieu the social is a struggle for capital and the exchange rates between these.

From time to time Foucault also sees the social space in terms of struggle, but in a different way because, as mentioned, he hails from a politico-philosophical tradition made after Nietzsche’s ontology of forces rather than Hegel’s dialectic of recognition. Whereas the Hegelian tradition understands the particular as an assertion of the commonplace – or if you like: the individuality as the concretisation of the social – in the tradition from Hobbes through Nietzsche is more a question about how the particular may escape the general – how the individual may get rid of or reduce the commands of the social. In the former tradition, power struggles are struggles of recognition whereas in the latter it is a matter of the specific escaping recognition as yet another constituent of the general. For example, in a Bourdieuian optics the struggle of someone who is classified as a social case is a struggle for equal status, whereas in a Foucauldian perspective it is a matter of shunning such classification altogether, or at least to destabilise it.



To Nietzsche the problem of the particular and the common is also a problem of language because the universals of language reduce all that differs to the same – in fact, the grammar of language implies a metaphysics of things, according to Nietzsche, in which all that is referred to as the same involves the same thing (Nietzsche 1889: §715).

This also seems to be an urgent problem to Foucault on several levels. First, there is a social level on which everything that is in-between things is apprehended, rather, as clear-cut and unambiguous things, the way the hermaphrodite is considered to belong to one of the two sexes (Foucault 1978c). To Foucault that problem is also historical as it is a question of when Western society gets to need a “true sex”. Secondly, it is a problem on an epistemological level because language misleadingly represents the fluid as fixed and all the relational – all that is in-between things – as things. Foucault aims to demonstrate the connection between the two levels by tracing things on the epistemological level back to the handling of problems on the social level – a handling of problems that is based on a certain cognition of things. In this perspective the thought of things and the practice of things keep biting each other’s tales.

The problem becomes crucial as we move closer to the concept of power. The common use of the term ‘power’ implies that power is supposed to be something that someone is supposed to have and to use against someone else with a certain aim in mind.

It is impossible to determine the nature of power outside all the relations that it is always a part of and which are never simply power relations. Power is not a thing, it is in-between things. A considerable part of the pains Foucault takes with this concept are aimed at demonstrating what is ‘involved in power’ rather than what power is. This further means that readers who insist on reading Foucault’s philosophy as a theory of power risk returning from their studies with a couple of uselessly broad definitions. One yields a poor crop if reaping the fruits of Foucault by asking for his concept of power.


Problems as Expressions of Culture

Instead Foucault offers insights into the ways in which humans come to know themselves and their world through their problems. Humans respond to their insecurities, their struggles and questions with problematisations. One may for example recognise a culture by the ways in which it problematises otherness, how it employs exclusion and integration as solutions – for example, how it treats the mad:

In fact a society expresses itself positively in the mental illnesses manifested by its members; and this is so whatever status it gives to these morbid forms: whether it places them at the centre of its religious life, as is often the case among primitive peoples; or whether it seeks to expatriate them by placing them outside social life, as does our own culture. (Foucault 1975: 75/63)

Foucault turns himself into a keyboard instrument for various epochs and gets them to play chords of problems, solutions and experiences. Hence, Foucault’s historical analyses are comparable with Bourdieu’s reconstruction of scores in the sense that they are not concerned with finding things, but with a sketching of what individuals understand as universal and rational and self-composed within any given point in history without being able to see that they are only reproducing articulations within a range of variations of something locally and culturally contingent. As in sociology the task of historical-epistemological reconstruction consists in reconstructing the problem in a culture’s own self-image.



Truth and Rationality

Rationality is a way in which the world is made thinkable – a way in which one thinks it may exist, work and develop. If Max Weber wanted to reconstruct modern technical rationality, and if Martin Heidegger wanted to reconstruct modern rationality as technical, then Foucault wants to reconstruct the rationalities of different ages and, not least, the clashes and intertwinement of rationalities. The question of how certain problems used to be arranged and how truths were produced is also about how something became practically possible as sensible and reasonable, i.e. as rational.

Whenever a system is understood as a disposition or tendency to a form of regular control, regulation and optimisation of humans according to a given kind of rationality this book will refer to it as a system of governance.

A system is a rational way of handling a historical problem which does not conceive of itself as historical. The striving of a system towards a complete rationalisation of its object corresponds to the striving for an organisation of reality as in a diagram. As concerns the system of discipline the determination of everything in terms of space and time by means of rules and regulations, surveillance and plans reflects the kind of perfection that the social is trying to realise – e.g. in the field of industrial production. In other words, concrete industrial production tries to realise itself within programs whose perfection is based on the complete predictability of discipline.

So, rationalities vary according to the nature of the system, but the fact that system involve tendencies to rational solutions seems to make up a constancy. Ideally, the history of rationality may be written as a history of diagrams – for example, the history of the kind of models that have formed the basis of different ways of combating epidemics. In practical terms such ideal models of social regulation are to be understood as social technologies.


Technical Machinery and Technology 

The movement of the mind that French epistemology attempts to make in regard to problem and rationality may be described as an endeavour to insert the history of ideas into history. Writing the history of technical machinery is not the same as writing the history of technologies – the way it is commonly understood within the Heideggerian tradition. The fact is that the same technical device may very well have different purposes, i.e. different rationalities. Technology means a use of technical devices in keeping with a certain rationale, meaning and purpose. For example, Foucault shows how a ‘rotatory swing’ which was intended as a truth and cure technology in 1804 – by exporting melancholy from the body while importing a manic agitation by way of the rotating movement of the machine – is suddenly used in 1818 to punish people by producing violent movements (Foucault 1961: 342/321). The technical machinery is the same but the initial rationality has been replaced by another which gives rise to a new technology (Raffnsøe 2002: I 81).

By technology we usually understand something technical in the scientific sense of the term, but in Foucault’s universe one has to understand it as social technology. Traffic lights are a form of social technology that makes use of scientific machinery. A cell, a statistic, an inquiry form, a medical examination are all social technologies. They are all rational ways in which to operate within a given realm of problems. Any system comes with its own rational social technologies, e.g. a form of surveillance, a vaccine or a form of insurance.

By now a question is becoming increasingly urgent: Is it possible for ‘problem’, ‘rationality’, ‘technology’, ‘experience’ and ‘system’ (dispositif) to be reckoned as ahistorical concepts? The answer is no, as they change along with their contents. The system of law, the system of discipline and the system of security are system in each their own way. For instance, they all have different ambitions and objectives and they understand the natural, the perfected, the secure, the managed in different ways. But yes, it is necessary to adhere to some concepts to be able to speak about that which is in-between things and about that which is changing. Foucault adheres to the fact that humans constantly put their ways of handling the world and each other into a greater meaningful whole, just as he adheres to the premise that there are certain regularities in the ways in which people organise social forms of exchange and intercourse.


Systems, Organisations and Institutions

As a way of handling the social, the system resorts to organisation. An organisation is a linking together of elements – including people – for a specific purpose. Accordingly a systematising organisation involves the arrangement of a space of possible outcomes and a stimulation of the probability within this space. The kinds of purposes, values and rationalities that get attached to forms of organisation vary historically, but it seems to be a fact of constancy that people organise themselves by means of technologies of organisation. Evidently, from this perspective, the Human Resource theories that first saw the light of the day in the 1930s did not come about as something radically new; they were rearrangements of thoughts on human management that go very far back in time. People in Antiquity and in the Middle Ages also developed ideas on how to organise people to make the best of or the most of people.

Institutions play a certain part in the history of systematising organisations, but they do not always play the same part either. E.g. Foucault assigns a great role to the institution in the development of the system of discipline whereas the pastoral system works both within and outside the institution.

By now I have said about enough about the system, or dispositif, for Foucault’s very broad definition of the concept to make sense:

What I’m trying to pick out with this term is, firstly, a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus [le dispositif]. (Foucault 1977: 299/194)



So a system is a grid or a web of a wide range of social elements. As regularity (the past) and as an arrangement (the expectation of the past repeating itself in the future), the system is also a norm. It is a norm for social exchange which individuals have to comply with if they want to assert themselves.

However, a norm depends on the system within which it operates. Behaviour that does not comply with the norm in for instance a legal system designates unacceptable behaviour and tends to give cause to mechanisms of exclusion after the passing of a sentence. However, norms are transformed into a matter of graduation by the system of discipline in the 17th century: the question of being more or less normal. The coupling of norm and medicine produces the scale of graduation between the more or less disordered. The coupling of norm and the human sciences produces the scale of graduation between the more or less human. This transformation of the norm is superposed by a (legal) system of exclusion which confines e.g. madness by the use of a system of normalisation – as we shall see in chapter five, this applies to the system of discipline, the system of sexuality and the system of security. Systems of normalisation also make it possible for all kinds of treaters (such as the school nurse or the social worker) to invest themselves with or to be invested with a judicial authority, as they make their judgements of how normal each individual is and which sanctions or measures to employ in rendering the person concerned more normal.

Norms are prescriptive. The system of discipline procures a distinction within the realm of the individual between the normal and the abnormal on the grounds of a norm – what ought to be – e.g. normal behaviour or normal upbringing. However, the relation between norm and the normal is reversed from the beginning of the 19th century which causes the normal to change from a matter of perfection to a matter of pertaining to the general attributes of a society: the nature of a society’s distribution of normality. From that time onwards norm politics concerns entire populations and norms are procured from the normal rather than the other way round: Norm becomes a matter of influencing what is generally considered to be normal, e.g. in the direction of causing people to expect an increasingly lower risk of dying of a given disease (Foucault 1978b: 63-66/61-64). Norms play a key role in the crossing between governance, the social and medicine – we shall return to this in chapters four and five.


Something In-Between the Active and the Passive

The concept of the ‘dispositif’ (the system) is not a word Foucault invents for the occasion, as is the case with another of his key concepts, such as “la gouvernementalité”. Yet it is worth noticing that the concept is a substantivised adjective, i.e. that it points to a certain feature or quality of something – that something is disposed to do something else – that it is not a self-sufficient entity.

As disposition the system is neither active nor passive but something in-between. Neither the French nor the English language is very suitable for describing such phenomena. In English we usually attach a subject to a verb in such a way that a process or a development is attributed to someone who causes the event, as for instance “I understand”. If we want to avoid that kind of articulation, we have to resort to the passive voice, as for instance “it is understood by me”, “it is understood that”, whereby we turn something else into the subject or the cause of action. Some languages – ergative languages – use verbs that attach themselves to a subject to a lesser degree, i.e. causing verbs to take up a far more central position, as for instance in the expression in English: “I fell asleep”. Other languages have cases for the expression of something in-between, e.g. a medium case which is in-between the active and the passive voice.

Foucault’s philosophy produces the best results all according to the extent to which one is able to sustain such an in-betweenness between the active and the passive. In this respect the fact that our languages may be predisposed to articulate things rather than that which is in-between things is a vexatious inescapability, a constant problem.

Hence, there are several circumstances concerning language that we have to be aware of if we are to understand what it is that Foucault means: When speaking about relations between things or when speaking about processes which are neither passive nor active, language pulls us toward the self-identity of things, activities and causes.



Systems dispose of relations between people in order that they may take certain courses of action or behaviour. For example, a doctor’s call brings several speech positions into play within historically conditioned perspectives on the illness concerned and the degree of validity that is assigned to the patient’s own report, which all put together causes the doctor’s call to be disposed to progress in a certain fashion. The social offers positions which one has to take in order to accomplish certain actions, e.g. a doctor’s call. Foucault refers to such positions as sujets, subjects. The process through which an individual is made into a certain subject is called un assujetissment, a subjectification and subjection. One of the theses in The History of Sexuality 1 is that subjection happens through an act of liberation – the individual’s adoption of a self-confessing, hence a self-liberating subject. Moreover, one of the central points in Foucault is that this model of sexuality may be transferred to many other modern forms of human governance: Human governance is more than oppression; it also involves the governance of people through the allocation of liberty and self-government. Expanding on Foucault’s terminology in this regard one may refer to the model of handling problems in which the individual assumes a kind of modern subject that is supposed to liberate the individual if he or she confesses to the presumed truth of his or her own limitation, mortality and inner abyss, as a system of subjectification.


The Human Sciences

The system of subjectification is not only closely connected to sexuality, which is a modern phenomenon according to Foucault, it is also closely connected to ‘the human sciences’ of the 19th and 20th centuries. ‘Sciences humaines’ or ‘sciences anthropologiques’ are not only limited to the humanities, they also include the sciences of anthropology, ethnology and sociology as well as sciences of a quasi-medical nature, pedagogics, psychology, phrenology and more static sciences like demography and geography. The human sciences are the sciences of the innermost sides to man and people in their environments. The subject is the object of quite a number of these sciences, that is, they produce knowledge about the subject that knows: They understand what the individual is incapable of understanding and thus bring the individual to understand. In this way these sciences live with the paradox that they consistently thematise the limit of knowledge and our ability to understand while constantly transgressing this limit.

The systems of thinking within the human sciences are politically interesting insofar as they are normative systems of governance. Their accounts of regularities and irregularities, balances and disturbances, normalities and abnormalities accumulate a normative picture for what it means to be human. A continuous play unfolds itself between the rationalities of human governance and the human sciences: Whenever science needs power to expand, power rushes in to pave the way. Whenever power can no longer justify itself through violence or force, science rushes in to pave the way. Various systems of human optimisation, such as the police science of the 18th century or the socialised medical services of the 19th century cause the world of human governance to spread out in ever new and increasingly subtle ways.



It is tempting to read Foucault in such a way that leaders appear to be increasingly loathsome. This may be the case, but it is not the point. It is not Foucault’s intention to write the historical progression of evil. It is not Foucault’s intention to write the history of mistakes either, but the history of problems and truths – i.e. what kind of problems are posed, which solutions make sense, what kind of truths do these solutions produce and what kind of significations is a given production of truth surrounded by. Hence, it would make more sense if we try to include benevolence in our understanding of systems, along with rationality and meaningfulness. Doing so we may discover ever new ways of rationalising and improving man within the superpositions of systems. It makes more sense to read the history of governance Foucault unfolds in terms of how systems of governance aim to secure the salvation of the individual throughout the entire duration of the Middle Ages; in terms of how systems of governance aim to improve the conditions within one’s territory throughout the 16th and 17th centuries; in terms of how systems of governance  in the 18th century aim to optimise the population and, from the 19th century, to reduce the damaging effects of social conditions.

This means neither that history is driven by necessity, nor that development takes place as a consequence of human intention. The process of development may very well run counter to prevailing intentions, as was the case with the prison in the 18th century. The prison was supposed to ensure a merciful and inexpensive form of punishment, but it turned out to be a complete failure; nevertheless it produced a model for the disciplining of people which proved to be very economic in the long term; the prison was a massive success, although not in the way it was originally intended.

Man is a thinking being. The way he thinks is related to society, politics, economics, and history and is also related to very general and universal categories and formal structures. But thought is something other than societal relations. The way people really think is not adequately analyzed by the universal categories of logic. Between social history and formal analyses of thought there is a path, a lane – maybe very narrow – which is the path of the historian of thought. (Foucault 1982: 777-778/ 9)

The history of the systems of thought – including the history of systems of governance – is the history of the mutual relations between the sciences, problems, the practices of handling problems, institutions, rationalities, technologies and experiences. It is a grammar of philosophy in the sense that it delineates the programs and ideals that emerged as the efforts of putting old programs into effect fell through. New regularities are formed in the constant attempt to rationalise prevailing forms of human governance.

This does not mean that we can hitch the past to the carriage of futurology by inverting historical analyses in order that they may shed light on the future. If history teaches us anything, it is that it was quite impossible at any given point in time to know how it would all turn out. Turning diagnostics into prognostics is to violate this insight.

Doing justice to history means to acknowledge the effort it takes to produce new concepts. As we shall see in the next chapter, this is the point of departure of historical epistemology. This is the tradition that Foucault continues and develops as he concerns himself with different epistemological spaces, the different historical realms within which thought may move. The reconstruction of a thought requires an analysis of its origin and its scope of possibility. This also applies to Foucault.











Works and articles of Michel Foucault

1961: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique, Paris: Gallimard, 1972
History of Madness, London and New York: Routledge 2006.

1966: Les mots et les choses, Paris: Gallimard 1966
The Order of Things, London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2002.

1970a: Theatrum philosophicum” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; II, pp.75-99
/ ”Theatrum philosophicum” volume II pp.75-99 / “Theatrum Philosophicum” in James D. Faubion and Paul Rabinow (eds.), Michel Foucault: Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology. Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume Two, London: Penguin Books 2000; pp. 343-368.

1970b: L’ordre du discours, Paris: Gallimard 1971

1971: ”Nietzsche, la généalogie, l’histoire” bind II pp.136-156
/ “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in James D. Faubion (ed.): Michel Foucault. Aesthetics. Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984. Volume 2, London: Penguin, 2000

1975: Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison, Paris: Gallimard 1975
/ Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin, 1991

1976: Histoire de la sexualité 1, La volonté de savoir, Paris: Gallimard 1976
/ The Will to Knowledge. The History of Sexuality


1977: ”Le jeu de Michel Foucault” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; III pp.298-329
/ “The Confession of the Flesh” in Colin Gordon (ed.): Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, New York: Pantheon Books, 1980; pp. 194-228

1978a:”Précisions sur le pouvoir. Réponse à certains critiques” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; III pp.625-635.

1978b : Sécurité, territoire, population. Cours au Collège de France 1977-78, Paris: Seuil/Gallimard 2004.
Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collége de France, 1977-78, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2007

1978c : : Hercule Barbin dite Alexina B., Paris: Gallimard 1978.

1979 : Foucault étudie la raison d’État” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; III pp.801-805.

1980:”Foucault étudie la raison d’État” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; IV pp.37-41.
/ “Truth Is in the Future” in Sylvére Lotringer (ed.): Foucault Live. Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, new York: Semiotext(e), 1996; pp. 298-301

1982: ”Vérité, pouvoir et soi” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; IV pp.777-783
/ “Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault – October 25th, 1982” in L. H. Martin, et alTechnologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, London: Tavistock 1988; pp.9-15

1984a: Histoire de la sexualité 2, L’usage des plaisirs, Paris: Gallimard 1984

1984b DE350-IV 1984: ”Le souci de la vérité” in Dits et écrits 1954-84, Paris: Gallimard 1994; IV pp.668-678.
/  “The Concern for Truth” in L. D. Kritzman (ed.), Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, New York, Routledge 1990; pp. 255-67


Works of others

Bourdieu, Pierre 1980: Questions de sociologie, Paris: Minuit 1980
/Sociology in Question, London: Sage Publications 1993

Durkheim, Émile & Marcel Mauss 1903: ”De quelques formes primitives de classification” in Mauss Marcel: Essais de sociologie, Paris: Minuit 1968; pp.162-230.

Fogh Jensen, Anders 2005: Mellem ting, Foucaults filosofi, Frederiksberg: Det lille forlag, 2005, 2. edition: Forlaget THP 2012.

Kant, Immanuel 1781: Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag 1998.

Machiavelli, Niccolo 1532: Il principe in Il principe e altri scritti, Bari: Laterza 1969.

Nietzsche, Friedrich 1888A: Götzen-dämmerung in Kritische Studienausgabe ed. Colli & Montinari,, München: dtv/de Gruyter 1998 KSA; VI
Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bänden,München: Carl Hanser Verlag (Schlecta) 1955; II, pp.939-1033.

Nietzshe, Friedrich 1889: ”Nachlass”in Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke in drei Bänden,München: Carl Hanser Verlag (Schlecta) 1955; III, pp.415-925.

Raffnsøe, Sverre 2002: Sameksistens uden common sense. En elliptisk arabesk, København: Akademisk forlag 2002

Wittgenstein, Ludwig 1953: Philosophische Untersuchungen, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1971.