Foucault Now

Theory Now

Series Editor: Ryan Bishop

Virilio Now, John Armitage

Baudrillard Now, Ryan Bishop

Rancière Now, Oliver Davis

Sloterdijk Now, Stuart Elden

Foucault Now

Current Perspectives in Foucault Studies


Copyright © James Faubion 2014
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Introduction: The Use of Foucault
James D. Faubion
Part I: Object Lessons
  1  The Undefined Work of Freedom: Foucault’s Genealogy and the Anthropology of Ethics
James Laidlaw
  2  Déraison
Ian Hacking
  3  Foucault’s Evil Genius
Lynne Huffer
  4  Toward an Ethics of Subjectivation: French Resistances to Psychoanalysis in the 1970s
Didier Eribon
  5  Michel Foucault’s Critical Empiricism Today: Concepts and Analytics in the Critique of Biopowerand Infopower
Colin Koopman
  6  Foucault’s Face: The Personal is the Theoretical
John Forrester
Part II: Cases in Point
  7  Biopower, Sexual Democracy, and the Racialization of Sex
Eric Fassin
  8  “A New Schema of Politicization”: Thinking Humans, Animals, and Biopolitics with Foucault
Cary Wolfe
  9  Parrhesia and Therapeusis: Foucault on and in the World of Contemporary Neoliberalism
Laurence McFalls and Mariella Pandolfi
10  Foucault, Marx, Neoliberalism: Unveiling Undercover Boss
Toby Miller
11  Assembling Untimeliness: Permanently and Restively
Paul Rabinow
12  Constantine Cavafy: A Parrhesiast for the Cynic of the Future
James D. Faubion


Ian Hacking’s essay in this volume is reprinted from a 2011 issue of The History of the Human Sciences (24[4]: 13–23) with the kind permission of Sage Publishers.

The excerpt of an interview that Benjamin Hans-Dieter Buchloh conducted with Gerhard Richter, which appears in Paul Rabinow’s essay in this volume, has been reprinted from Richter, G. (1986) Gerhard Richter (October Files), Buchloh, H. (ed.) with the kind permission of MIT Press.

Michael Lucey has translated Didier Eribon’s essay in this volume from the French.


Didier Eribon is professor at the School of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the University of Amiens. He is the author of the first biography of Michel Foucault (1989; third edition, revised and enlarged, 2011) and many other books including Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (2004), Une morale du minoritaire (2001), Retour à Reims (2009) and La société comme verdict (2013).

Eric Fassin is Professor of Sociology in the Political Science Department and the Gender Studies program at Paris 8 University (after 18 years at École normale supérieure and 5 at New York University), also affiliated with research center IRIS (CNRS/ EHESS). His work focuses on contemporary sexual and racial politics in France and the United States, and their intersections (in particular concerning immigration in Europe). He is frequently involved in French public debates on issues his work addresses – from gay marriage and gender parity to the politics of immigration and race. He is the author of Le sexe politique (2009), and co-author (with the collective Cette France-là) of four volumes on French immigration policies (2008–12). He co-edited De la question sociale à la question raciale? (2006). His latest book is Démocratie précaire. Chroniques de la déraison d’État (2012). He is currently working on Actualité d’Aimé Césaire (to be published by La Découverte) and The Empire of Sexual Democracy (to be published by Zone Books).

James D. Faubion is Professor of Anthropology at Rice University. Publications representative of his interests include Modern Greek Lessons: A Primer in Historical Constructivism (1993); (ed.) Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Volume 2: Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology and Volume 3: Power (1998, 2000); The Shadows and Lights of Waco: Millenarianism Today (2001); and An Anthropology of Ethics (2011).

John Forrester is Professor of History and Philosophy of the Sciences at the University of Cambridge, author of Language and the Origins of Psychoanalysis (1980), The Seductions of Psychoanalysis (1990), Freud’s Women (with Lisa Appignanesi, 1992), Dispatches from the Freud Wars (1997), and Truth Games (1997). He is completing (with Laura Cameron) Freud in Cambridge, a study of the reception of psychoanalysis in the 1920s. He has research interests in reasoning in cases in science, medicine, and law and also in the genealogy of the concept of gender, particularly in the work of Robert J. Stoller. He is Editor of Psychoanalysis and History.

Ian Hacking is a Canadian philosopher with many interests. His books include work on experimental physics, philosophy of language, probability, multiple personality, social construction and (forthcoming) the philosophy of mathematics. The Emergence of Probability (1975) was his first major contribution to be influenced by Michel Foucault; see the Introduction to the 2006 edition. Historical Ontology (2002) develops many themes that are derived from Foucault. He is an emeritus professor at the Collège de France and the University of Toronto.

Lynne Huffer is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She is the author of Mad for Foucault: Rethinking the Foundations of Queer Theory (2010); Maternal Pasts, Feminist Futures: Nostalgia and the Question of Difference (1998); Another Colette: The Question of Gendered Writing (1992); and numerous articles on Foucault, feminist philosophy, queer theory, post-structuralism, and French and Francophone literature and film. Her newest book, Are the Lips a Grave? A Queer Feminist on the Ethics of Sex (2013), explores the ethical stakes of queer versus feminist politics, practices, and thinking about sex.

Colin Koopman is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oregon. He has published two monographs, one on genealogy: Pragmatism as Transition (2009); and Genealogy as Critique (2013). His published scholarship on genealogical thinkers has appeared in Philosophy & Social Criticism, Foucault Studies, The Review of Metaphysics, Journal of the Philosophy of History, Critical Inquiry and Constellations, and Wiley-Blackwell’s Companion to Foucault. His current work involves issues of philosophical methodology beyond metaphysical philosophy, and the status of emerging norms and forms of power.

James Laidlaw is currently Head of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King’s College. His regional interests cover South and East Asia (India, Bhutan, Inner Mongolia, and Taiwan). His books include The Archetypal Actions of Ritual (1994), Riches and Renunciation: Religion, Economy, and Society among the Jains (1995), The Essential Edmund Leach (in two volumes, 2000) and two edited volumes of essays on the anthropology of religion: Ritual and Memory (2004); and Religion, Anthropology, and Cognitive Science (2007). His latest book is The Subject of Virtue, An Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom (2013).

Laurence McFalls is Professor of Political Science at L’Université de Montréal, where he is co-director, together with Mariella Pandolfi, of the Groupe de recherche sur les interventions militaires et humanitaires and where he is Montréal director of the International Research Training Group “Diversity: Mediating Difference in Transcultural Spaces.” His recent research and publications have elaborated the concept of “therapeutic domination,” based on a cross-reading of Foucault and Max Weber. In addition to his critical work on humanitarian interventions in collaboration with Pandolfi, he has worked on Weber’s epistemology and social theory, on the cultural aftermath of communism in eastern Germany, of France. He was co-founder and longtime director of the Centre canadien d’études allemandes et européennes.

Toby Miller is the author and editor of over thirty books and 150 essays. His latest books are Greening the Media (with Richard Maxwell, 2012) and Blow Up the Humanities (2012). You can follow his adventures at

Mariella Pandolfi is Professor of Anthropology at L’Université de Montréal and co-director of the Groupe de réflexion sur l’image dans le monde hispanique. Her previous research on the anthropology of the body developed through a dialogue between psychoanalytic and phenomenological approaches to ethnopsychiatry. In the last decade, through her work in the post-communist Balkan territories (Bosnia, Albania, and Kosovo), she has delved into a complex terrain marked by the breakdown of communist regimes and the explosion of violence and armed ethnic conflicts, exploring the moral and political boundaries of humanitarian aid. Her theoretical tools revisit the concept of biopolitics and elaborate new critical perspectives on neoliberalism and crisis. Having served as consultant for the United Nations to Vienna and for the International Organization of Migration in Kosovo, she has stimulated critical debate in the international community and the media. In 2004 she received the “Woman of Distinction Award” from the Women’s Foundation of Montréal and in 2012 The Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Paul Rabinow is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Of his many publications, the most recent include Designing Human Practices: An Experiment with Synthetic Biology (with Gaymon Bennett, 2012), and Demands of the Day: On the Logic of Anthropological Enquiry (with Anthony Stavrianakis, 2013). A more complete list of his work can be found via

Cary Wolfe is Bruce and Elizabeth Dunlevie Professor of English at Rice University, where he is also founding director of 3CT: The Center for Critical and Cultural Theory. His books include Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory (2003), What Is Posthumanism? (2010), and Before the Law: Humans and Other Animals in a Biopolitical Frame (2012). He has also participated in multi-author projects involving J.M. Coetzee, Cora Diamond, Stanley Cavell, Paola Cavalieri, and others. He is founding editor of the series Posthumanities at the University of Minnesota Press.


References to many of Foucault’s works are identified in abbreviated form, as follows:

Abnormal : A

Archaeology of Knowledge: AK

The Birth of Biopolitics: BB

The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception : BC

The Courage of Truth: CT

Critique and Power: CP

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison : DP

Dits et écrits 1994. In 4 volumes: DE (1–4)

Dits et écrits 2001. In 2 volumes: DEii (1–2)

Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Vol. 1: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth: EW1

Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Vol. 2: Aesthetics, Method, Epistemology: EW2

Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Vol. 3: Power: EW3

Folie et déraison: FD

The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: FE

Foucault Live: FL

Le gouvernement de soi et des autres: GSA1

Le gouvernement de soi et des autres II: le courage de la vérité: GSA2 The Government of Self and Others: GSO

Herculine Barbin: HB

The Hermeneutics of the Subject: HS

History of Madness: HM

The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction. The Will to Know: HS1

The History of Sexuality, Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure: HS2

The History of Sexuality, Volume 3: The Care of the Self: HS3

Histoire de la folie à l’age classique: HFAC

Il faut défendre la société: IFDS

Naissance de la biopolitique: NB

Naissance de la clinique: NC

Madness and Civilization: MC

The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences: OT Politics, Philosophy, Culture: PPC

Power/Knowledge: PK

Psychiatric Power: PP

Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori: RM

Sécurité, territoire, population: STP

Security, Territory, Population: STP(E)

Society Must Be Defended: SMBD

Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault: TS

La volonté de savoir: VS

Complete references of these works appear in the bibliography. Several of the contributors to the volumes have provided their own translations of Foucault’s texts. In such cases, citations of the corresponding pages of published English translations, in brackets, follow the citations of the French originals.

Introduction: The Use of Foucault

James D. Faubion

In the aftermath of the publication of the last of Foucault’s works ever likely to see the light of day, this volume has its chief ambition in coming to fresh terms and making fresh work with the conceptual details and the broader scope of the programmatic dimensions of Michel Foucault’s thought. A topical compendium, per impossibile, it is not. But nor is it a mere sampler. Instead, it offers an analytical clarification and several practical illustrations of the promise and the productivity of a methodological and critical project that, for all its twists and turns, aimed squarely at revealing the contingency of what conventional wisdom would construe as necessary, essential, forever written in stone. The project had its limits; no mere mortal can do everything, after all. It also had an enduring focus. Above all, it was aimed at revealing the historical and sociocultural contingencies of conceptions of the human – however necessary, essential and written in stone they might seem to be to those who have embraced them (or continue to embrace them). In “What is Enlightenment?” (EW1, 303–19) – which reads pointedly as a retrospective self-formulation of what had always been at the heart of his labors – Foucault deemed his project a critically oriented “historical ontology of ourselves.” This volume seeks to elaborate on and add to that historical and historicizing ontology. This is its specific difference from all the other collections on Foucault – and there are a great many – that one might encounter.

Foucault has been cast as “anti-humanist,” occasionally as “post-humanist” – but these are hazy and often polemical epithets. Whatever else, Foucault was dubious in principle of doctrines presuming or purporting to reveal that human history was not merely a matter of contingencies but also an expression of the human as such – pan-historical, supra-historical or the effective telos of the historical process as the case may be. Such doctrines are legion. In the France of Foucault’s formative years, psychoanalysis, Marxism, phenomenology and Jean-Paul Sartre’s (psychoanalytical, Marxist and phenomenological) existentialism were their leading academic representatives. Foucault joined many other thinkers of his generation in being dubious of them. His cultivation of his doubts nevertheless remains unique – terminologically, conceptually, and methodologically. It was a restless process. It was sometimes self-revisionary. Its valences could be positive as well as negative. It was by no means a merely academic exercise. Throughout his career, Foucault was at pains to demonstrate the close connection between essentialist construals of the human and their practical consequences – some of those consequences quite invidious. The topics he pursued have broad collective import. They were also close to his own heart.

(Paul) Michel Foucault: Notes on a Life’s Work

Foucault was born in Poitiers, France, in 1926. At the age of 20, he was admitted to the École Normale Supérieure – one of the great training grounds of the French academic and intellectual elite. He studied psychology and philosophy. He completed his doctoral thesis in 1960. Entitled Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (Madness and unreason: History of madness in the classical age), its prevailing argument – now famous – is that an abrupt shift occurs in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century in the conceptualization and treatment of the mad, of “fools.” Previously regarded with some mixture of amusement and awe, odd and wise and perhaps even divinely touched, they came rapidly to be recast as a sort of breed apart, spouters of nonsense, dangerous to themselves and to others and in need of special confinement. The “asylum” is thus born. In this volume, Ian Hacking reviews the strange fortunes of the various editions and titles of HM ; Lynne Huffer revisits and takes a clear stand on the controversy that it ultimately provoked.

Through the mid-1970s, Foucault also writes a number of essays on literature and painting. Following more closely in the footsteps of HM, however, is Naissance de la clinique: Une archéologie de regard médical (The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception ), also published in 1963. Grounded in the same historical periodization that informs its predecessor, it focuses on the transformation of the theorization of disease. What was formerly understood as a condition tied to the particularities of the environment in which it emerged, disease – once again rather abruptly – came instead to be conceived as a condition of the body, a “case.” It rapidly came to have another institution of confinement – the clinic – as its putatively proper home. Its successor, Les Mots et les Choses: une archéologie des sciences humaines (titled in its English translation The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences [OT]), made Foucault famous. “Archaeology” in the subtitle again. Imagine a khaki-clad explorer treading through what looks to begin with like a perfectly natural landscape. Then, all of a sudden, indications of organized life begin to appear – traces of the foundations of edifices built and razed, pottery intact and in shards. In short, the explorer discovers a field site. It’s a site on the surface, but it promises other sites, a stratigraphy of previous settlements, below. Replace “the foundations of edifices” with the “rules of formation” of those “discourses” (medical, economic, biological, linguistic, and so on) that are in part or whole about the human, the human as such. Replace “pottery” with “inscribed pronouncements” (énoncés ). Replace the explorer’s digging down into the earth to discover the layering of distinct settlements of times past with Foucault’s digging back into the archives to unearth distinct settlements of conventional wisdom past (and perhaps still lingering in the present). Then you’ll begin to have an idea of the mission of Foucauldean archaeology. For a more complete idea, see his Archaeology of Knowledge (AK) – the first of many subsequent reprises of work already accomplished.

In 1970, Foucault was granted a chair in “the history of systems of thought” at the Collège de France. In 1975 and 1976, he published two books that remain his most broadly referenced: the first published in English under the title Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison [DP]; the second under the title The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: The Will to Know [HS1]. These latter works are sometimes regarded as the inauguration and maturation of Foucault the “genealogist.” Inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals (originally published in 1887), Foucault the genealogist looks to have shifted his attention to the continuities between the relationships of ancestors – theoretical and practical – to descendants in roughly the same domains at least as much as to the differences between them. There’s much to be said about whether this shift is fundamental, or simply a shift in emphasis. At this point, it is enough to note that with “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” Foucault makes explicit a critical enterprise that was previously left for his readers to infer (or distort). He is conducting a “history of the present.”

The turning of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century is once again the stage setting for DP and HS1 alike. The former traces the discursive and practical shift, or relative co-adjustment, between two modes of the exercise of power. “Sovereign power” was still the dominant mode in the eighteenth century. The monarch – a figure of law incarnate – was its typical point of reference. It was a messy business that in the course of a few decades gave way to “disciplinary” power and yet another distinctive institution of confinement – the prison as we now know it. Protestants led the way, with the Dutch Calvinists and the Philadelphia Quakers at the forefront. They decried the brutality of the sovereign’s gallows. They abhorred the sovereign’s public spectacle of taking vengeance on the perpetrator of criminal acts. They were reformists, and what they sought to reform was a relatively novel presence in the penal arena – the souls of what physical anthropologists and criminologists soon began to characterize and classify as “criminal types.” They forged a “gentle way of punishment,” removed from the public gaze and devoted to guiding the offender to make penitence for his or her delicts (hence the prison as “penitentiary”).

The trouble was that the prison didn’t work very well. Only a bit more than a decade after the first of them was erected, reformists widely recognized they were leading to ends absolutely contrary to the ends they were supposed to serve. Putting criminals together in penitentiaries was turning out to produce more clever and skilled criminals, not saved souls. Then why had they endured so long? Why had they come to seem so natural and inescapable a part of the social landscape? Why, for that matter, did such human sciences as physical anthropology and criminology endure along with them, in spite of what Foucault had argued in OT : that they were not merely unreliable but also grounded in paradox? Foucault’s answer was “power/knowledge” – the entanglement of moral-juridical judgment with fact, of “ought” with “is,” of strategic intervention with epistemological authority.

Power/knowledge is also central to the analysis of HS1. The human scientists who deemed themselves sexologists are its fulcrum. The emergence of the concept of sexuality as most of us still know and use it is a leitmotif. HS1 is also the locus of Foucault’s introduction of a third modality of power, “bio-technical” power or “biopower” for short. It stands in contrast to its sovereign counterpart, definitionally if not as a matter of historical fact. The signature of the latter is the right or privilege of “letting live or making die.” The signature of biopower is the right or privilege of “making live or letting die.” The bedrock of its legitimacy rests on linking together security, well-being and health; its historically most complete realizations are European welfare states.

Foucault initially intended HS1 to be the first installment of several subsequent volumes, all focused on the nineteenth century. Things didn’t turn out that way, for many and complex reasons (a more complete account can be found in Eribon 1992). First is Foucault’s gradual development of the concept of governmentality, which in its later articulations serves as a common umbrella for two distinct aspects of what Foucault came to conceive as governance in general: the conduct of conduct. On the one side, we have political domination, economic exploitation, and characterological (e.g., racist) subjugation. All are direct modes of governance. All are coercive. In the absolute, they are incompatible with anything that might be conceived of as freedom. On the other side, however, are “arts of government.” They function as incentives, tips, guidelines, and rules as thumb, not merely for adjusting to being governed but also for developing ways and means of governing oneself. They leave room for the exercise of freedom, which Foucault comes to render straightforwardly as the capacity to pursue behavioral and conceptual and emotional alternatives in any given situation. Freedom for Foucault is very much a thing of this world and it is never absolute. Even in situations in which we are objectively capable of pursuing options, we always also find ourselves enmeshed in “power relations.” In such relations, one party typically (though not always) has more of a capacity to act on another’s action than the other party does. Even so, power relations are not relations of coercion. They constrain. They also leave open possibilities. They are not in a mutually exclusive relationship to freedom. They condition our freedom. They are also liable to being conditioned and reconditioned by it.

The domain of power relations is the domain in which Foucault locates ethics. He characterizes ethics in such locutions as “the reflexive practice of freedom.” It won’t do as a definition (a serial killer, for example, is capable of exercising the reflexive practice of freedom), but it does provide Foucault with an analytical orientation, in what finally turn out to be the second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality, to the ancient Greek and later Hellenistic and Roman philosophers. Why go back to the ancients? Once again, the reasons are complex, but the response that Foucault himself offers in the opening sentences of HS2 will do in summary: unlike the Christians who followed them and so unlike a tradition that is still very relevant to any history of the present, the ancients did not have any conception of “the flesh” as the substance of inherent evil, to be addressed only to be neutralized, even negated, in the interest of the purification of the soul. A fourth volume of the History of Sexuality, on early Christian monasticism, is available in snippets in Foucault’s last publications, but was never finished. In early 1984, the complications of having contracted the AIDS virus sapped Foucault of his resources. He died in June of the same year.

Receptions and Applications

I don’t … consider these Wednesday reunions as teaching activities, but rather as sorts of public accounts rendered of a work that I am left to do more or less as I want. In that respect, I consider myself absolutely obliged, in effect, to tell you more or less what I am doing, where I’m coming from, in what direction the work is going; and in that respect, just as much, I consider you entirely at liberty to do what you want with what I say. These are tracks of research, ideas, schemas, stipples, instruments: do with them what you want.

– Michel Foucault, IFDS, 3–4 [SMBD, 1–2]

So Foucault introduces the lectures he gave at the Collège de France in 1975 and 1976. If the introduction invites the impression Foucault’s lectures are more disorganized than they really are, it’s still a fair enough self-assessment. The 1975–6 lectures and many of his other lectures at the Collège are exploratory, often a sort of testing ground for and complement to the monographs he was writing in tandem with them – all of which were revised and revised again before appearing in print. It’s a fair enough assessment as well of the vast majority of engagements with Foucault’s work, which are now too numerous to count and, if anything, are appearing with increasing pace and in increasing numbers. The tenor of the more recent installments might be critical, though rarely as vituperative as the tenor of many of those of his earlier readers, who were certain that they were in the face of an unrepentant bourgeois, a moral decisionist, a neo-conservative, an anti-modern, a malcontent without any grounds for his acidic remonstrations other than his own petulance (and so on). Their arguments and the disciplines from which they proceed are increasingly wide-ranging. (For a survey, see the Postscript to this introduction.) This alone might justify yet another volume on Foucault. He remains very much alive and well. His vitality shows no signs of abating. His accounts rendered are still very much being taken into account – and not merely, it would seem, because his literary executors have been careful to release his corpus only gradually instead of at one fell swoop.

As previously indicated, however, this volume claims its justification, distinction and point of departure in underscoring that Foucault was not merely a provisioner of tracks of research, ideas, schemas, stipples and instruments, however fruitful all of these might and surely will yet be. To borrow one of his own favorite turns of phrase, there is more. Nor is there much need for interpretation here: the multifariousness of his tracks of research, ideas, schemas, stipples and instruments, aside, Foucault’s enterprise is more than a piecemeal enterprise by Foucault’s own reckoning. He was in fact regularly inclined to give retrospective diagnoses of what he’d actually been doing of a distinctively systematic sort. As already noted, AK is the earliest (and also the most lengthy) of these. Many other reckonings unfold in assorted (and carefully edited) interviews.

One of the most systematic of such reckonings appears very close to the end of Foucault’s career and life. Appearing in the 1984 edition of the Dictionnaire des philosophes (Dictionary of Philosophers), the entry “Michel Foucault” is credited to a certain Maurice Florence – which is a pseudonym for the actual author, Foucault himself. Foucault begins by relegating himself to the “critical tradition of [Immanuel] Kant,” a “critical history of thought” (EW2, 459). In particular, he follows Kant in pursuing the analysis of “the conditions under which certain relations of subject to object are formed or modified, insofar as those relations constitute a possible knowledge [savoir]” (459). In his Three Critiques, Kant sought to establish the formal conditions that made judgment and knowledge possible (in the first Critique, scientific knowledge; in the Second, the exercise of practical reason; in the Third, aesthetic judgment). Foucault is interested instead in the rules and strategies of what he often calls “games of truth” – which can be, and almost always are, played with the utmost seriousness. He is not, however, interested in any and every game of truth that has appeared on the historical radar screen. His focus is restricted instead to those games “in which the subject itself is posited as an object of possible knowledge” (460). An enquiry of three “segments” is the result, though each historically overlaps with the other. We have already met them: one segment concerning the formation of the “human sciences”; another concerning the construction of the criminal “deviant”; and a third concerning the history of “sexuality” (460– 1). In vivid contrast to Kant, Foucault’s research is grounded in “a systematic skepticism toward all anthropological universals” (462). A first methodological imperative thus has its rationale: “insofar as possible, circumvent the anthropological universals (and, of course, those of a humanism that would assert the rights, the privileges, and the nature of a human being as an immediate and timeless truth) in order to examine them as historical constructs” (462). Two other principles accompany it. One of these consists in a reversal of “the philosophical way of proceeding upward to the constituent subject which is asked to account for every possible object of knowledge in general” in favor of “proceeding back down to the study of concrete practices by which the subject is constituted in the immanence of a domain of knowledge” (462). The other consists in addressing “‘practices’ as a domain of analysis,” approaching the study “from the angle of what ‘was done’” (462).

In “What is Enlightenment?” – published in the same year, but posthumously – Foucault (no pseudonym this time) addresses the same effort through a somewhat different lexicon. The title of the essay is a translation of the title that Kant – writing at some remove from the Kant of the Three Critiques – gave to an article published in a journal targeting the lay educated public of Berlin in 1784. Commentators are in near consensus that the essay is Foucault’s self-reflective response to Jürgen Habermas’ accusations that his French contemporary had been plying a critical course in the absence of any discernable critical principles. It’s a response that hinges on the articulation of the principles of a distinctly modern “philosophical ethos,” whose realization and dynamics consist of “a critique of what we are saying, thinking, and doing.” It’s a critique wrought precisely through “a historical ontology of ourselves” (EW1, 315).

It should be noted immediately that most philosophers of the philosophical mainstream would likely find the very idea of “historical ontology” a paradox. In the mainstream, ontology – otherwise known as metaphysics – has nothing to do with history. Or to be more precise, it has nothing to do with history as the contingent, accidental, particular flow of events, the sort of history that Foucault has in mind. But then, Foucault doesn’t belong to the philosophical (or the historical) mainstream. His critique is what Hacking has deemed “another way of doing philosophy” (and it’s another way of doing history as well; see Hacking’s essay in this volume). It is genealogical in its design, and so does not try to “deduce from the form of what we are what it is impossible for us to do and to know.” It rather separates out, “from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being, doing, or thinking as we are, do, or think” (EW1, 315–16). It is archaeological in its method, and so does not “seek to identify universal structures of all knowledge or of all possible moral action,” but instead “to treat the instances of discourse that articulate what we think, say, and do as so many historical events” (EW1, 315; Faubion 2012, 68–9).

Choose one lexicon or choose the other. In Foucault’s oeuvre, the ahistorical and essentializing ontology of the subject dear to philosophers (Western and not so Western) gives way to the design and methodology of a critique that has as its primary object of interrogation just that ahistorical and essentializing ontology – and the compulsion to put it into practical effect (thus power/ knowledge). Such a critique is programmatic, which is to say that it offers a systematic procedure for formulating questions about and pursuing diagnoses of the structure and the consequences of one or another authoritative but historically variable version of what it essentially is to be human. It isn’t, however, a program; it doesn’t restrict the themes and sites of inquiry in advance. It doesn’t demand that we continue to attend only to those segments of the historically variable “truth of our being” to which Foucault himself attended.

All of the authors collected in this volume would likely agree on this much. Gary Gutting has put forward much the same claim in his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Gutting 2005), but his and his contributors’ emphasis on the divigations and heterogeneities of Foucault’s tracks of research, ideas, schemas, stipples and instruments stand – to reiterate what has already been reiterated – in contrast to our emphasis here. That said, the contributions to come do not follow one early commentator in judging either the range or the pretensions of Foucault’s critical history of thought as of the same order as such “grand theorists” of the past as Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Sigmund Freud (Philip 1985). True, Foucault himself once asserted – or at least suggested – certain affinities between their procedures and his own. In particular, he offered a reading of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche as methodologically committed, in principle or in fact, to the undecidability of the phenomena they addressed (EW2, 269–78). It’s a contestable reading in each case – but it does sound a note of epistemological modesty that all of the contributions to come implicitly or explicitly endorse. Whatever else, dogmatism is out of the question.

Our contributors are in accord on four further fronts. They agree that more use can be made of Foucault than has yet been done – and many of them offer exercises in and avenues on which to pursue some of what they have in mind. They agree that some of the use to which Foucault has so far been put runs the risk of and occasionally amounts to misuse – not the appropriation that Foucault invited but instead a misappropriation of the sort that he would likely have rejected. (Granted, it’s a bit over-reaching to anticipate Foucault’s reactions, even with the wisdom of hindsight.) They agree that readers should engage Foucault’s full corpus (which by some reckonings of the notion of what constitutes a corpus we will never have) before daring to venture altogether confident pronouncements on what Foucault meant at any particular moment in his career, on what he embraced or didn’t embrace, on whom he admired or didn’t admire, on what if anything he definitively stood for, on who or what, in short, he was. Not at all least, they agree that every further encounter with Foucault’s corpus – whether in reading what had not previously been available or in rereading what has already been published – is more likely than not to provoke and even demand a revisiting of interpretations already formulated, conclusions already drawn, uses already devised.

It’s worth dwelling a bit on the second of these points of accord. That Foucault has occasionally been misused and misappropriated is not always a matter of the cruel slings and arrows of bitter fortune, to be sure; not all the slings and arrows of fortune are infelicitous. Then again, some are. Take “sexuality” – and all the more so because it is a topic that a number of the authors in this volume visit, though only a few (Eribon in particular, though see also Fassin) visit as a central thematic. In its translation from French into English, sexuality has tended to lose the contextual specificity of Foucault’s conceptualization of it and drift instead toward decontextualization and recontextualization, with three results. The most unfortunate of these is imputing to Foucault oversights and falsehoods of which he was not in fact guilty (a phenomenon of course hardly unique to Foucault). Almost as unfortunate is the loss – sometimes severe – of analytical precision and substantive content. More constructive is the adjustment of a concept’s scope to suit investigative and analytical projects of greater reach than Foucault’s own. The latter often amounts to what I might self-indulgently call the “anthropologization” of Foucault. Paul Rabinow’s work offers the most sustained example (Rabinow 1989, 1999, 2003; Rabinow and Bennett 2012; Rabinow and Stavrianakis 2013), though it is not limited to certified anthropologists alone.

Sometimes, indeed, sexuality has come into English with its parameters well intact even as it has been extended to other climes and times. Judith Farquhar’s concise summary of Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis in her China-focused Appetites is illustrative:

The repressive hypothesis was [in fact] the occasion of a huge linguistic effusion … speaking endlessly of sex while adopting a proper sociological code for its various practices. This order of discourse, which placed sex at the center of experience, is constitutive of the discourse of sexology wherever it may appear. Natural sex, made up of needs and drives, influenced by society but subject to self-control, is the object of this science. (2002, 239)

Farquhar appropriately highlights that Foucault’s analysis falls within his broader ambitions as a historian of those nineteenth-century concoctions, the human sciences. Among those sciences, sexology is instrumental in objectifying sex as a natural kind, a kingdom of genera and species, the species of the homosexual among them (HS1, 43). In Foucault’s own words: “As defined by the ancient civil or canonical codes, sodomy was a category of forbidden acts; their perpetrator was nothing more than the juridical subject of them. The 19th century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology” (HS1, 43; my emphasis).

The homosexual of the sexologists is historically novel precisely in its being among the subjects of a (would be) natural science. As Farquhar seems well aware but contrary to what the majority of Anglophone readers have presumed, Foucault is not claiming here and does not claim elsewhere that nothing like the notion of homosexual preference or orientation can be found anywhere in Western history before the nineteenth century. Nor – and again contrary to what a vast number of readers have presumed – is he claiming that what was at issue prior to the nineteenth century were merely homosexual acts and never the subjects of those acts. His claim is quite different: that prior to the sexological nineteenth century, the scrutiny of such ancestral figures of the homosexual as sodomites fell under the purview of the domains of explicitly normative authorities – those of the church, of the law. Within such domains, the sodomite could thus be conceived as someone who was a “habitual sinner” (Foucault’s phrase: HS1, 43) or breaker of the law. Only with the ascendance of sexology, however, could the “homosexual” – whether the sodomite or any other sub-species – also be conceived as having a characteristic anatomy and physiology, a “singular nature,” a biochemical essence that the positing of a “gay gene” is only one among many latter-day attempts to capture.

Even in HS1, Foucault uses the term “homosexuality” to refer to one in the long list of the sorts of sins and offences that canonical and jurisprudential courts were pleased to condemn and punish from the establishment of Catholicism forward (e.g., HS1, 38). He uses it much more freely in HM, though largely in those parts of the book that did not appear in the much abridged version on which Anglophone readers have until recently exclusively had to depend. One of this volume’s contributors, Didier Eribon, has found a “contradiction” between Foucault’s usage in HM and HS1 (Eribon 2004, 9). I do not, but still agree with another of this volume’s contributors, Lynne Huffer, that having the complete version of the former text would much have affected the Anglophone reading of the latter, especially in the United States. Huffer points to both of the presumptions that I have just visited as distinctive of what we might call the Americanization of HS1, and further provides an astute account of their appeal. That account centers on the text’s reception within the stormy horizons of a scene that had no French counterpart at the time that it was written – the scene of gay and lesbian identity politics. Huffer provides a subtle and compelling argument that the scene in question may have affected the very translation of the text (though it might be mentioned that the translator, Robert Hurley, is not gay). I leave Huffer’s full argument aside in favor of one of its central moments. It concerns a passage in the text of which I offered above only an excerpt. In that passage, Huffer notes, Foucault deploys in French the terms individus (in the plural), personnage, and figure in reference to the homosexual. These are the terms that name, as Huffer puts it, “a phenomenon of emergence that Anglo-American readers have interpreted, again and again, as identity,” and identity in its politicized sense as connoting “group belonging or affiliation” (2010, 70). Huffer reminds us of Foucault’s own skepticism of a politicized identity so construed, but follows with a note on the revisiting of Foucault in his native country. She is in accord with yet another of this volume’s contributors, Eric Fassin:

since the 1990s, French philosophers like Alain Finkelkraut and Frédéric Martel have reclaimed, “recycled,” and repatriated Foucault as a “titular figure of French republicanism” and as a philosophical force of “individual” French resistance against what is viewed, sometimes homophobically, as the scourge of American identity politics: the “communitarian wind that blows in the U.S.,” as sociologist Irene Théry so derisively puts it. (Fassin 2005b, 226; quoted in Huffer 2010, 71)

I don’t wish to place my own interpretive allegiances with the communitarian Foucault any more than with the regallicized republican Foucault, but simply to emphasize that his conceptual transatlantic round trip is a cardinal case in point of the decontextualizations and recontextualizations that conceptual apparatuses are fated to suffer – or enjoy – in their travels.

The moral of this very brief and partial cautionary tale (which could be supplemented by a review of the fate of the circulation of Foucault’s conception of discourse) consequently is not that one inevitably misuses Foucault in not following his tracks of research, ideas, schemas, stipples, and instruments to the letter. The moral is rather that, whether agreeing or disagreeing with him, appropriating him or amending him, one is well advised to be as sure as possible of what one is actually doing.

The Order of Things to Come

The scholars collected in this volume do not agree on every point. They have diverse analytical and substantive orientations. They hail from diverse disciplines even as they do not hesitate to cross disciplinary boundaries – with Foucault and by means of him. This said, they devote themselves neither to hagiography nor to mere commentary. Instead, they demonstrate – sometimes more, sometimes less polemically – the many respects in which Foucault’s project of a historical, critical ontology of ourselves, in our presence, remains generative and continues to yield compelling insights. They further demonstrate that such an ontology of the present is restricted to no particular terrain, but instead ranges widely and on paths that frequently intersect.

The six essays that constitute the first part of the volume address the question of the use – and abuse – of Foucault in general terms. James Laidlaw offers a sustained consideration of what Foucault’s thinking through of the co-constitution of freedom, relations of power, and the historical and sociocultural contingency of the subject has to offer to the foundations of an anthropology of ethics – and how additionally it is in danger of being distorted almost beyond recognition. His argument reaches well beyond the domain of the anthropology of ethics alone. In his reflections on the notion of déraison (unreason) in HM, Ian Hacking provides us with a lesson on one way to read – and a few ways not to read – the relations among Foucault’s terminology, analysis and rhetoric, from HM forward. In doing so, he reminds us of one of the most crucial elements of Foucault’s skepticism of anthropological universals – a skepticism toward the unity of reason as such. Lynne Huffer further pursues the historical and conceptual dynamics of the relations among unreason, madness, and reason itself in HM and beyond in her critique of what to her mind is Jacques Derrida’s fundamental misreading of, and indeed failure to notice, the undermining at once of Cartesian and Hegelian rationalism that Foucault undertakes from the very first pages of his first major book through HS1. Through a juxtapositon of Roland Barthes’ Lover’s Discourse and HS1