Foucault's lecture Berkeley 1983

Michel Foucault

Foucault replies to questions from the audience at Berkeley's History Department in 1983. Transcribed by Arianna Bove from audiofiles that can be downloaded here

Foucault is a historian first and foremost so we are glad to have him here. Regarding the shift in the methodological focus from the earlier archaeological perspective to what you describe since the 1970s in the essay you wrote on Nietzsche as a genealogical perspective: is this a radical break?

This is a good and hard question: I used these two words in very different meanings and in order to indicate two different sets of problems. I would say that when I used the word archeological research I want to differentiate what I am doing from both social history, since I don’t want to analyse society but facts of discourses and discourses, and I also wanted to disassociate this analysis of discourses from what could be philosophical hermeneutics, which is something like the interpretations of what has been said or for the deciphering of something which wouldn't have been said.

With the term archaeological research what I want to say is that what I am dealing with is a set of discourses, which has to be analysed as an event or as a set of events. Something has been said, such and such things have been said, and in a way it is in this kind of discoursive events that are like any other events, but they have special effects that are not similar to what can be economic events, law or demographical change. That is what I mean by archaeology: it is the methodological framework of my analysis.

Geneaology is both the reason and the target of the analysis of discourses as events, and what I try to show is how those discursive events have determined in a certain way what constitutes our present and what constitutes ourselves: our knowledge, our practices, our type of rationality, our relationship to ourselves and to the others. So geneaology is the aim of the analysis and the archaoleogy is the material and methodological framework.

Does archaeology stress discontinuities whilst geneaology stresses continuities?

No: the general theme of my research is the history of thought. How could we make the history of thought? I think that thought cannot be disassociated from discourses and we can't have any access to thought, either to our own present thought, or our contemporaries' thought, or of course thought of people of previous periods, but through discourses. And that is the necessity of the archeological consideration. And that has nothing to do with continuity or discontinuity. You can find either continuity or discontinuity in those discourses.

For instance now when I look at the discourse of sexual ethics I have to recognise that we find the same considerations on sexual ethics in the C4th and now. The theory of marriage, of faithfullness and so on, is the same. So you have continuity. But in other systems of discourses, for instance in scientific discourse, you find discontinuity.

This is striking. That in our culture in certain fields such as ethics, you find such continuity, and in sciences, some very quick and drastic changes, that when you read a book of medicine from the beginning of the C19th you often cannot figure out what they are saying, you need all the translations to understand what kind of disease etc. But if you read a book from the beginning of the C19th, after Bichat and so on, even if you recognise that everything is wrong, you can recognise very well what they are saying and you can say whether it is true or not. For most of the books written before, you cannot even say if they are right or wrong, because it doesn't make sense from a medical point of view. But it is not a universal principle, that of continuity and discontinuity.

One of the critical responses concerns the lack of explanation for change in the archeological method.

Yes, I am aware that I haven't been clear enough about this problem of discontinuity, that for me is not very important. Once I have read one note about me in one line: my name, philosopher of discontinuity (laughs). I have been struck that nobody until now has really shown that I was wrong on these topics. When you look at the history at least of some of the sciences from the end of the C16th to beginning of the C18th you see very important changes in medicine, natural history and economics. And I put aside the problems of chemistry or physics, where I think you can find exactly these dramatic changes. This is a fact. I think this fact could be explained or reduced to some changes in society. I have never read anywhere any pertinent explanations of those dramatic scientific changes through correlative parallel and similar changes in society: and nobody has ever convinced me that the changes in capitalist society from the C17th to the beginning of the C19th is a good explanation for the changes from the natural history of the C16th to the biology of the C19th. I think that scientific thought has a type of historicity, a way of changing, which is specific and which has this kind of possibility of changing nearly everything at a certain moment, and it has the necessity of doing so drastically.

When something is changing at some point you are obliged to change other things. Of course, you find different levels of changes: you change only a concept, a theory or patterns (Kuhn), or sometimes you have to change more, nearly everything, the objects, the theory, the field, the type of rationality. Those dramatic changes where nearly everything changes (the whole field) are sometimes found in the history of science, for instance in the history of genetics from the mid C19th.

For instance, think of the genetics still used by Darwin. As used by Darwin, genetics is completely strange and foreign to our genetics. After Mandel, not only has the pattern changed, but there is also a new field of research that appeared. In those 30 years between Mandel and ... you have a dramatic change. it is not a revolution or imperialism that can be credited with the rise of genetics. In the Order of Things I tried to show how those empirical sciences developed in the C17/C18th , with some dramatic changes, and there is no external explanation for it, or at least I know nobody who could give me an external explanation. But it is not at all a principle for me to refuse these kinds of explanations. And excuse me if I speak about myself but you asked me. In the book about madness I tried to show how a certain situation, certain relations to madness or at least to mad people have changed form the C16th to the beginning of the C18th. Those changes have been determined by some social processes, like the development of industrial society, the crisis and problem of unemployement and unemployed people in the C17th, for which these great general hospitals were being built. All that is the social context through which you can understand not why such and such scientific theories have been developed about madness, but why madness became a problem at a certain time. I think that is something that is worthwhile to underline: there is a difference between explaining the change in the scientific model or rationality, and I don't think they can be explained through social processes; but on the contrary I think that the fact that something becomes a scientific problem and emerges as a problem that society has to deal with can be explained by social processes as in the case of madness. Also why diseases and physical illness have become a real social problem at the end of the C18th? At that point when they have been forced to organise those great hospitals. The reasons are found in the social and demographical development of towns, epidemics etc.; all that was the reason why disease and physical illness became a huge social and political problem. You can see it in important books like, the French book called ... what's the name, or the eight volumes German book on the politics of health. This book was one of the great signs of the emergence of physical illness as a social and political problem for the whole of society. But few years later, Bichat used a type of rationality in order to analyse certain symptoms, and you find the same type of rationality used for analysing social systems.

I'll now open up the questions to the floor.

You never stopped doing archaeology?

No. And I never stopped doing genealogy.Geneaology defined the target and aim of the work. Archaeology indicates the field in order to do geneaology.

Why history as a profession?

I have a student who is working on this field. Well, my idea *was* that the development of historical studies in France was very important at the end of the C17th and beginning of the C18th when the aristocracy and the monarchy came to compete about the foundations of their own rights. Is monarchy only the expression of an aristocratic social structure or is monarchy something that has its roots in the nation, in the third estate or in the bourgeoisie? That has been a very important problem. You can see in this period when the great administrative monarchy began to decline, then you find a real explosion of these historical researches, and it is both juridical and historical, and the link between them is very clear. That was my hypothesis, and I told that to the student, but now she has found something else that is all those scholarly researchers done by the monks and the Benedictines in the beginning of the C17th which was to have been the most important root in the climate of the counter-reformation. Of course it is a very simple scheme and experimental. But we could say that for the Reformation the problem was to get back to the first text - to THE text - and of course the historical researches about this text were very important to them, but much more than the historical research was the problem of hermeneutics. How to interpret this text, since it is the text, for which we had to find the meaning nowadays. The problems of the counter-reformation and for the Catholics was quite different, it was to find and justify a historical continuity from the early times of Christianity until now, and to give the juridical foundation and historical justification of this continuity. This is the schema, and you can see a kind of split, between the hermeneutical orientation (typical of Reformation) and the historical justification (typical of Catholicism). And that can be a hypothesis.

Century as historical unit, typical technique notion of temporal unit through which to write history. In the Reformation it is a new notion of temporal unit. The question is about the internal changes producing these notions and the changes outside. If you look far enough in the internal changes. Do you look at this kind of thing now?

If I caught the question I think ... mmmh. I didn't say that you cannot have a conception of the self outside of writing. Of course, all the problem of for instance collecting the sources, which is something important and related to this problem of continuity. The Catholics started to reform due to the Reformation, and started to collect all the documents that could justify this continuity. For instance the beginning of C17th saw a technique of collection that was important. The problem of chronicles and administrative archives is important. The archivism starts in the C17th. There are temporal techniques as I call them, which have been developed and which are the technical and material conditions of the development of historical knowledge.

Can you say that the law has an important role in the formation of ....Discipline and punish. Criminal law and system whether today they continue to have an important role.

First of all what I meant in this prison book was not that the disciplinary society starts with the development of prisons. I would say exactly the contrary since the problem which struck me when I was studying this field was that when you read the books written by the social Reformers in the C18th you notice a very strong aggressivity against any system of imprisoning. For a very simple reason, because prison was at least in the French, Italian and German system, it was a little different perhaps in England, was that prison was not at all a punishment; it was an administrative measure taken against people outside of the law, outside the juridical system and judicial institutions only when the administration, the monarchic power wanted to get rid of someone: they put them in jail.

And the criticism of prison is generalised in the mid C18th. Then you look at what happened and what was organised and institutionalised at the end of the C18th with the new penal codes in France in Germany and so on and then you find prisons everywhere. It was the major means of punishment. And why this change? That was my problem and that was the theme of the book: I had the feeling that the reason was that despite the fact that the prison was the symbol of monarchic arbitrariness they found that prison and unprisonment could be a very good means and tool not only to punish but to reform prisoners and inmates and this reform, this change in the minds and attitudes and behaviours. So how could they imagine they could obtain it? Through disciplinary techniques. Where did they find these disciplinary techniques? In the schools, in the army, where they have been used since the mid of the C17th, not in the system of old prisons. They have tried to build prison institutions on the model of school army etc. The penal system is the expression, one of the last consequences of this disciplinary system that had developed in other institutions. As it often happens, this final application of the disciplinary system became then a model for a new development of these disciplinary techniques in other fields. Bentham's panopticon is interesting because Bentham had this idea in order to organise good prisons, where people could be treated, reformed as in a disciplinary institution and then, after having this idea, he had the idea that this panopticon could be used also for factories, for schools etc.

So prison is only a part of this disciplinary system. When I say disciplinary system I don't mean that society has been organised this way. Disciplinary system is much more a kind of rationalite' than a total institution. Prison is only a part of this system; that's the difference with that Gothman has described as real institutions with a certain kind of internal organisation. Disciplinary system is a rationalite: how can we govern people, form other people, obtain that people behave in a certain way? What are the best means, the most economical and efficient means to obtain that? That is the discipline. After a while, one century of using this system, people thought that it was not the most economical means, very costly, and that there are much more efficient and discrete and implicit ways for forming and leading people than these disciplinary techniques. To give you only an example: when you see how the great factories have been organised in France at the beginning of the C18th, you see very well that they had as a model of disciplinary rationality, with general survey, very strict rules and so on. At this point when the great mines were being exploited in France in the second half of the C18th the idea of the government was to use soldiers as miners or to transform miners into soldiers, because they thought that there was one good disciplinary organisation which was the army and the working class had to be organised as an army, in order to be efficient, docile and so on. But in the mid C19th (even in 1830) people saw that this was not a good means at all to have docile workers, and that a system like the insurance saving banks etc. was much more efficient than this military discipline. A new kind of organisation developed at this moment: the insurance control system which is much more efficient and much more acceptable than the disciplinary system.

In the disciplinary system which is a type of technique, a technology very specific to a certain age, you can find now means much more sophisticated to obtain that people behave in a certain way. The disciplinary system is not efficient. I'll give you an example: even in the army, which has always been the focus of disciplinary techniques, even now disciplinary techniques have have changed a lot. Even in one of the most efficient armies in the world, the Israelian one, you could find disciplinary techniques but very little in comparision to what was found in the world war armies.

Inaudible question ...something about the question of the self ...would your point be that in the lecture there were two essential models of the self, and your interest is in what the self anticipated in terms of the present? Freudian Marxism etc.

When I opposed Plato and this kind of relation to oneself which is described in this very strange dialogue which is the Alcibiades to the historic one I didn't oppose them as the internal to the external. I should say nearly the contrary, since in Alcibiade, which is not typical of Platonic philosophy - the Neoplatonists consider this text as the first Platonic text to be studied, but in fact it is a very strange text. In this text when he analyses the notion of taking care of oneself he says that Alcibiades had to take care of himself because he had to rule others as a political leader first; and that in order to take care of himself he had to know what he was, and what he was meant what his soul was; and how could we know our soul if we do not contemplate it in its essential and its divine element. It is not exactly an internal relationship to oneself since in order to know yourself you had to look at divinity, you have to turn your eyes towards the light the supercelestial (hyperuranium). So you have to move from what is closest to you, what is your body, your everyday life, your sensations etc. in order to go beyond the world and then you discover what you are, what you are, what you are. So it is not an internal relation, even if memory is very important but it is a memory that takes you somewhere else than your immediate world.

In the case of the stoics is it not an external one. You have to care of your life to be ready to die. The idea of the stoic is to live every day of your life as if it was the last one, and there is Seneca's letter, a very interesting text, where he says that the day is small image of the year, the morning is the spring and so on, and the year is a small image of life, that is spring is childhood, summer is youth, which is Pythagorean idea anyway. And Seneca says you have to live everyday as if it was a year and also as if it was your all life. Every morning you have to recognise yourself as a child and to know that by the evening you will be your old age and that you must be ready to die at the end of the day. It is not exactly an anticipation of death, it is not the attitude turning from the past with memory to the future with death. It is in order to look at your life as if it was completely achieved, that is, to have your whole life under your eyes and to have its perception as a memorisation. I think in the case of the Stoics this anticipation towards death is a kind of memorising integration of whatever events could happen to you in your life. So you see it is not the exactly the opposition between external and internal.

And the questioner goes on ...

What I wanted to show is that this kind of attention that the Stoics wanted people to have towards themselves, this conformity between what they had to do and what they had really done, starts a new kind of relationship to oneself, a kind of permanent attention but for the Stoics the problem was not at all to discover, to decipher what people were really. The problem of what they were was not important: the problem was whether the things they had been doing during the day was conformed or not to the law. But it was a first step to a new kind relationship that becomes important in Christianity. People started to ask the questions: through the ideas and things I have been doing, can I recognise what is the reality of myself, the real degree of purity of my soul? Since the problem of the Christian is to attain a degree of purity so that one could be saved. The problem between purity, salvation and the deciphering of the self is important. You cannot find it in the Stoics there is no question of purity or salvation in another world. There you have a problem of conformity and perfection in this world. In this stoic relationship theres a kind of preparation to christianity, the attention to oneself has been used in monastry, you find it in self-examination, in Seneca, and is apparently the same formula which was used in christianity until now, but Ithink in fact the question asked by Seneca to himself is rather different. You find it in the Benedicts for instance, but the target in the Benedicts is different, who in memorising the deeds of the day are trying to recognise which is the degree of purity of the soul.

More questions on the technology of the self today. She is interested in the idea of ... Bay area ... boh.

What is the most striking in the Greco- roman culture is that they have somethings which seems to be a real autonomous culture of the self, not that it has no social or political relation, but in the sense that people (or some of them in the upper classes) decided if they wanted to take care of themselves, as for instance some people today decide to cultivate themselves and visit painting exhibitions etc. It was not an authoritative obligation, or something obligatory but it was proposed to them as something valuable, which would give them ability to attain a better life, new type of existence. It was a question of personal choice. Secondly, this culture of the self was not at all related to religion. (not this simplistically, see Pythagoras) but for instance for Seneca it was not for religious reasons that he did what he did. Plutarch, when he took care of himself, did it for personal reasons. He was very religious but in taking care of the self, the techniques of the self were not embedded in religious political or educational institutions. This is what I mean by autonomous. The structure of the self was independent, had its own literarure, letters, ideas, recipes, treaties. People wrote letters exchanging techniques. (See Plutarch's treaties and notebooks on the soul, of advices, and his personal notebooks sent to political figures). It is a small world of techniques, notions and practices, circulated. That is what I mean by autonomous existence, but I don't remember the question.

Technology is an odd word, and kids in front of TV sets not knowing how to think for themselves...

Yeah, this autonomous culture of the self disappears in a way, after the development of Christianity since the formation of the self and the way people have to take care of themselves then became embedded in religious, social and educational institutions. For instance the Christian confession is from this point of view very interesting because to confess is to examine yourself, your deeds, your sins, to tell your penance. All that is in a way a relationship to yourself. But you see, this technique became first obligatory for people to do every month, every week, every year at least, or every day (for a monk). But it was imposed on you as a directive: no choice. And in 1215, when confession became obligatory in Christianity, you had to confess to the parish of your village and nobody else, and you had to answer a set of questions that were always the same, and most of the time it was the priest who asked the questions and imposed on you the penances. It was a way for you to take care of yourself, or to let somebody take care of yourself. You can say the same of the educational system and the problem of the constitution of the self that there is not this autonomous culture of Greco- roman society.

You say the individual had the choice to do one or the other, to be able to go to church or not...

Did I say that? I am sure I said that if you say I did but I was wrong.

Can you see lines of development from this ancient forms? My question is whether the archaeology is one way of devaluing or make more contingent the modern culture of the self. Do you see ancient way as a continuous possibility or something that has simply disappeared?

It is always the simplest questions ... (laughs) I had a discussion with Paul on this this morning. The striking thing is you see, before I came here I had no idea of this question and I nearly finished my book and didn't feel this difficulty or this question. No possibility for the culture of the self? It is not at all ... Paul let me become aware of that which is not clear in my book. It is not the presentaion of a certain golden age when everything was okay and people had the leisure of taking care of themself; far from Christianity and bourgeois society and industrial pressures and bad environment ... no, no, no... it is not at all that. One could show how horrible sexual ethics of antiquity can be. It is only a dream, a Hegelian one maybe, of aufklarung, that Greek society has been a golden age where the beautiful totality of life was aware of itself: no, there was no beautiful totality. You remember very well that in our society nowadays our morals have been linked to religion for centuries; and with civil laws and juridical organisation morals took the form of a kind of juridical structure, think of Kant. You know that ethics has been related to science, a means for medicine, psychology, even psychoanalysis etc. I think these great references - to religion, law and science - have now worn out. We know well that we need an ethics and we cannot ask either religion or science or law to give us this ethics. We have an example in Greco- roman society where a great ethics existed without these three references. This ethics is so important that part of our Christianity comes from that. The problem is not to go back to this ancient age because part of our world comes from there. But we know that it is possible to make research in ethics, to build a new ethics, to give a place to what I should call an ethical imagination without any reference to religion, law and science. That's why I think this analysis of Greco- roman ethics as an aesthetics of existence can be interesting.

Question on the relation between discipline and care of the self ... current practices of self care and knowledge.

I would say I cannot answer directly cause I'm not sure but I'd say that the care of the self at the very beginning was something very different from discipline. Discipline was (at least very strong discipline you can find in the Prussian army in the C17th) has really nothing to do with the care of the self, it is something that deals with behaviours, bodies, attitudes etc.

But it is the fact that there have been at certain times links between care of self and disciplinary techniques. For instance in the monastic institutions during the middle ages and particularly in the Benedictine institutions you find very interesting relations betwen the care of the self and discipline. As you know Benedictine institutions derive directly from the Roman army and they were an organisation that took Roman legions as a model. They have tried to use both this disciplinary model and the techniques of the self which had developed in the oriental asceticism of Evagrios and a spirituality which has nothing to do with the army. But you have this instance. You could see also in the C19th - or in some Jesuit pedagogical insitutions in the C18th - a relationship between the care of the self and disciplinary techniques. The great college - public institutions for boys in the C18th - also have links between the two.

You say power is everywhere...

No, power relations are everywhere!

One of the consequences..hope...main source of resistance is the pursuit of bodily pleasure

The reason behind resistance is the pursuit of bodily pleasure?

Not scientifically categorised . ..


Well, I'm not sure that I can answer this question. One thing that struck me when I was reading books (many years ago) about sexuality or psychoanalytic books, is the fact that people seem to be so uncomfortable when speaking about pleasure. The literature about desire is incredible: thousands of books have been devoted to the theory of desire, the repression of desire ... (laughs) but when people have to speak about pleasure (laughs) they seem to become mute! When you compare that to what was the Greco- roman literature about the same problems - sex, ethics etc. - you see that they really made no difference between epitamaleus and hedone. It is always the same formula that recurs in these texts, to be slave or free from desire/pleasure. Desire and pleasure is like an entity that cannot be disassociated. But you see in psychoanalysis for instance, to speak about pleasure is something rather vulgar, but if you want to be a real sophisticated psychoanalyst you have to speak about desire, there is an underestimation of pleasure which is very striking in this kind of literature. Anyway, one of my targets in studying the care of the self is to see how and why the problem of desire became so important whilst the problem of desire and pleasure was so important in Greco-roman. For them the question was what to do with our pleasure. How to have our pleasure, to what extent, within what limits. The problem was the use of pleasure. If you read books about the Chinese erotic art (Vangelique is very interesting) you see their problem was not at all that of desire. The problem of Chinese erotic art was that of pleasure. How to take pleasure, how to use, to which intensity etc. I think that we are a civilisation, maybe *the* civilisation where the problem of desire became much more important than the probolem of pleasure. What's the reason? Why do we recognise ourselves as subjects of desire and not as agents of pleasure? Why do our theories of sex, sexuality, existence, theories of human being, philosophical anthropology deal with problems of desire (the nature of male and female desire etc.) whilst the problem of pleasure has the smallest part in our theorisation and ethics? It's that problem I wanted to analyse and I think that the slow move from the concept of mastership, that you can find in the C4th as the main problem of ethics, to the deciphering of the self in early Christianity is the move through which the problem of desire becomes prevalent. Because in the deciphering of the self the problem is what is my desire, do I have desire, which is the orientation of desire? The rise of the hermeneutics of the self and prevalence of desire as the main feature of human sexuality and not only, also of human being and existence, which is something that is really important. Whereas for the Greeks of C4th the problem was the mastery of oneself and the limitation of pleasure. These are two different kinds of theories of desire but also two different kinds of relationships to oneself.

Confessions becoming material for social theory or psychological theory which in turn can determine how to govern people better. Doesn't the culture of the self emerge because we want to comply, enhance the possibility of rationality of discipline in our society?

You ask me if the development of techniques of the self is not a kind of improvement and reinforcement on disciplines?

Whether culture of self, where we are very interested in finding ways to know ourselves, doesn't it give a place for disciplinary techniques?

Sure but it depends on the way you do this deciphering of the self, for example when it takes the shape of Catholic demands of course the disciplinary effects are very explicit and strong. With the psychoanalytical practice and techniques, I think the disciplinary effects ... I would like to be prudent ... are not so evident, I don't say that they do not exist, but they are not so evident. I don't know if it answers your question. Maybe I have become a little tired.

How much your work on sexuality will illuminate different geneaologies for men and women. To what degree can the distinction you draw today be used in the study of the past for women in Greek art, how just speculative is this history?

The question is very important: first of all you are quite right, the Greek period was not at all a golden age for sex life even for gay people (if you could use this category for Greek society which I doubt a lot), in a way it was hard for everybody. The second point I want to underline is: what I want to do in this study about the history of sexuality is not the history of the behaviour, or the pattern of behaviour, or the rules of behaviour. It is not the social history of sexual behaviours. It is the way by which our civilisation has integrated the problem of sex into the problem of truth, of which way the problem of truth and the problem of sex have been linked together. This leads of course to psychoanalysis but also to Christianity when they see the sin of the flesh as the main sin you could do, and how the real purity of the soul is linked to the obscure sexual desires. So that's my problem, it's not a problem of social history, it is a problem of thought, thought in its relation to truth, to individual truth. And in this story it is a fact that the main role has been run by males and only by males. Since the theory of sex, the rules for the techniques of the self, have been imposed by male society and by male civilisation, I think this history of the linkage of truth and sex has to be done from the male point of view. Of course it can also be done to see the effect of that sexual experience on women but that would be something else. And of course that's quite different.

Given the fact that you don't try and refute theories, you claim not to be a structuralist nor you believe in a totality, why should we believe you?

There is no reason.


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