TSElosophers meeting 26.3.2019 Elina Järvinen, Kari Lukka, Morgan Shaw, Ekaterina Panina, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén
Darier, E. (1999). Foucault and the environment: An introduction. Discourses of the Environment, 1-33. Of which ”The Three Foucaults” pages 8-27.
In the piece of text we chose this time, Eric Darier, a Canadian political scientist having a deep interest in environmental issues, is looking at intellectual contributions of Foucault’s life dividing them into three periods: 1) an archaeological approach to scientific discourse and knowledge, 2) a genealogical approach to analysing social practices, and 3) ethical considerations of the possible conditions for the creation of self by itself. In addition to examining the influential ideas of these periods, Darier masterfully follows the development of Foucault’s thinking by linking the ideas and themes arising in Foucault’s earlier works to his later writings and vice versa. Furthermore, following the theme of the book, Foucault’s ideas are examined for their possible applicability to environmental issues.
• In Foucault’s archaeological approach, knowledge is relative to the historical context from which it emerges. Focus is on the emic statements of ‘objective reality’, scientific discourses, and how objects of scientific investigation emerge. Historicity of all of knowledge is emphasised. Foucault’s archaeology has been critiqued e.g. for being actually quite structural in approach despite his own criticism of structuralism; and for focusing on ideal knowledge categories and ignoring social and power relations.
• Genealogical period is partly Foucault’s attempt to respond to prior criticisms. Foucault’s genealogy tries to spot different roles the ideas take, fragment and deconstruct something that is considered stable. This adds on archaeological approach by introducing a broader context of social practices and the concept of power. Foucault here defines power partly through negation; power being relational, diffused, and having normalising effects; power being both positive and repressing, constitutive and enabling. Foucault is suspicious of what he calls ‘teleological projects’ and warns against ignoring the dark side of any projects propagated as ‘liberation’.
• The final Foucault focused on Greek ethics and explores, in particular, how individuals can sometimes, after all, construct themselves and their conduct in the world through ‘practices of liberation’ in relative autonomy from normalisation process.
• For the environmental discussion, an archaeological approach can help us see and reflect how environmental claims are made, or risks constructed, and by doing so resist the ‘fundamentalist temptation’ and reductionism. Genealogical period, in turn, introduces concepts that are very useful for environmental discussion: governmentality, biopolitics and space. Governmentality deals with issues of security, techniques to control the population and new forms of knowledge. Biopolitics concerns with power relations in governing life: population’s health, hygiene, natality, longevity etc. Space refers to government’s control over population living in the territory rather than a territory itself. Finally, Foucault’s last period is important for environmental ethics, where the idea of relatively independent self-constitution means that humans have the potential to continuously rework their relationship with themselves and their environment.
The discussion started with the question on the differences between archaeological and genealogical approach, or, more precisely, on the differences between the two analogies. How archaeological analogy differs from genealogical, if both are still emphasising the historicity of knowledge, among other things? We discussed that these two periods probably have the same goal, but present a shift in approach as well as response to several critiques as Foucault’s thinking developed. While archaeological approach can be compared to digging down through historical levels to uncover the roots of knowledge and scientific discourse in relation to historical contexts, genealogical approach looks at the ancestry of ideas, the situational connections between concepts as part of human practices. Though also partly historical, genealogical approach focuses more on fragmenting or unstabilizing the concepts that are considered historically stable, looking at how and through what power relations different elements of the concepts have been normalised.
The discussion then touched Foucault personally and his constant struggle against normalisation. An observation was expressed that his writings might actually reflect a certain kind of process of ‘autopsychoanalysis’. Through Foucault’s works, one can imagine him processing, for instance, his own sexuality (he was at least after some point of time openly homosexual) in his continuous fighting back established power relations, pressures for normalisation, and, especially in his later writings, pondering the development of the self in the context of these relations.
Everybody agreed that Foucault’s profound analysis of power relations is very useful and can be applied to many contexts. It is also in a way an optimistic, or at least less deterministic, approach, as power is seen operating through dispersed networks or dispositifs, which enables the resistance to take place at the multiple points of contact with this power. We also discussed certain pre-arrangements that are required for something or somebody to have power. For example, the tools for measuring the degree of somebody’s healthy lifestyle will govern one’s behaviour only if one sees the value in exercising healthy lifestyle. One of us noted being himself typically very sensitive and critical towards the new and again new teleological projects typical of bureaucracies, for instance, leading us often all too easily to just accept our participation in processes of normalisation; at least today, people have a tendency to switch their mode of self-governance on rather easily, without much reflective critique.
The conversation then turned to the environmental issues and the points Darier makes about applying Foucault’s thinking to the current (at the time) environmental discourse. Darier mentions that Foucault’s ideas of biopolitics and biopower have been extended to cover ecopolitics. While Foucault’s biopolitics is concerned with administration of populations by exerting positive influence on life, current environmental issues put a twist on the idea and make us consider other forms of life than human populations, namely, environment at large. Darier was of the opinion that Foucault would criticise ecocentric (anti-anthropocentric) views for ignoring the fact that they are constructed by humans, which leaves us with a problem of how legitimate is the human voice speaking ‘in the name of nature’. Following up on this thought, even though discussion on anthropocentricism was not really on the agenda of this session of TSElosophers, we wondered whether Foucault’s view might have been too anthropocentric, thereby being as much a ‘child of his time’ as anybody else: During his time, the scenario of the global ecocatastrophe, and the role of humans in getting it happen, looked certainly a significantly more distant and less likely one than how we perceive it now. Another theme, arising mainly from the final Foucault period, is the concerns on how people develop sustainable identities relatively autonomously from normalization processes, for instance, in the context of the (at that time) emerging program of ‘new ecopolitics’ and its new power relations.
The discussion on environment continued taking a bit more extreme turns. While Foucault argued against extremes and for self-reflecting understanding, some of us suggested that we are now living a time where radical extremes might be necessary, not least due to the ever increasing likelihood of global ecocatastrophe. The chapter is written in 1999, and Foucault himself wrote in 1960’s–80’s, which begs the question whether new insights into the very serious environmental issues would require a new, different perspective to the environmental critique? Is it viable to just routinely resist e.g. the normalisation of environmental discourse in case of existential threat at the global level, if the other likely option were a full chaos, even everybody’s war against everybody else? Indeed, appealing to security issues is one of the main components of governmentality, but the typical Foucauldian approach of viewing them always as just another teleological project, on which we should by default fight back, might in such very different conditions – under drastically new global ‘rules of the game’ – could well be viewed as less warranted. We continued discussing individual’s personal choice of something being normalized for the better of the society. The topic flowed into discussion on having to make trade-offs to achieve something collectively, which means taking both the good and the bad that comes with it. The bad would mean giving up some freedom, as the only way to be completely free is to be alone.
The discussion ended with the topic of personal ethics under existential threat, not living up to your ethics, and not being able to act autonomously from normalisation of practices that are against your ethics but beneficial of the survival of oneself or one’s kin.
TSElosophers’ overall impression of the text was positive: for some, Darier’s analysis brought new understanding of Foucault’s works in the context of his life, while for others the main interest lied in the environmental discussion and how ideas presented in 1999 would look today.
In addition, during the discussions there were several recommendations for further reading: Ari Ahonen’s thesis on Foucault (Liikkeenjohdollinen tieto ja disiplinäärinen valta: tutkielma Michel Foucault’n ajattelun relevanssista johtamis-ja organisaatiotutkimuksen kannalta, 1997), Donna Haraway’s Primate visions: Gender, race, and nature in the world of modern science (available in Google Scholar), and research in accounting on governmentality, for instance the article “Accounting and the construction of the governable person” published in Accounting, Organizations and Society in 1987. For additional Sci-fi readings, please contact Milla.