A new piece by Chris Philo on Foucault has just been released by Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (sub req’d).
This paper argues that we may now speak of a ‘new Foucault’ with more to say to contemporary human geography than might at first be suspected. A number of recent publications – notably the collected and translated Collège de France lecture series – paint a picture of Foucault that arguably departs from presumptions of him as the chronicler-theorist of discursively constituted, totalising power. The paper has two objectives: first, to offer a synoptic introduction to the lecture series, spotlighting the geographical resonances; and secondly, to thread an interpretative line through these materials demonstrating Foucault’s concern for the vital problematics of lively bodies and unpredictable populations, always threatening to over-spill different forms of power (sovereign, disciplinary, biopolitical, governmental, pastoral, psychiatric). An attempt is made to address Nigel Thrift’s non-representationalist critique of Foucault, and to propose that the gulf between Thrift and Foucault is not as great as the former may imply – a finding of value when identifying future possibilities for critical-geographical inquiry.
h/t Stuart Elden who was one of the referees. (This fact is revealed by Philo himself, interestingly enough. That’s not something you usually see in print, although Acme usually asks referees to allow their identities to be disclosed to authors.)
The article generously and usefully summarizes the Collège de France lecture courses and their relevance to human geography. For this reason alone the article will be very useful as a succinct or at least “all in one” reading in class. Philo also feels bound to flesh out some objections to Nigel Thrift’s take on Foucault, especially in the piece he had in the Space, Knowledge and Power book. (I found this part less useful; though interestingly Thrift was also a referee.)
Philo is good at drawing out Foucault’s relevance to geography and recovers some useful emphasis on lesser known treatments of for example “milieu” in Foucault. He makes the usual downplay of the panopticon (heterotopia is not even mentioned). The best parts for me though are where he explains how Foucault’s work of governmentality, territory and population are as important in any assessment of Foucault as the more common work on individuals, discipline and the psy disciplines. Part of my reason for valuing Foucault is this aspect, because it fits well with mapping as a technology of the state, dealing with populations rather than individuals as it does. So I’m able to appropriate this (where necessary of course, and increasingly in the background) for genealogies of mapping.
Incidentally, Philo also uses one of my fave Britishisms: “it does what it says on the tin.” I came across this a couple of years ago and sneaked it into my 2010 book! I’ve heard that this is based on a popular advert for paint a few years ago. It’s funny sometimes to see cultural developments in your country of origin and have little or no idea where they came from.