Foucault’s Lectures on the Punitive Society XII (should be XI)

Lecture of March 14th 1973

In my last post on Foucault I referred to my mistake in dates and orders of the lectures I am summarising. I have had to correct my own correction and have finally worked out the problem. I wrote notes for today’s post a few days ago but forget them when posting again and put later notes in there. Everything is now corrected in previous notes, so just remember that this should been XI in this series, and XI should be XII. That is swap this post with the last post in your imagination, and remember that references to the previous lecture, refer to material I covered in post X .

Foucault begins by saying that when he referred in the previous lecture to accumulated wealth, he was misleading in suggesting that that the wealth was in the form of goods ready to consume, or elements of wealth in circulation which could be used by the worker or redistributed. The correct thing to say is that the wealth was in the form of an apparatus of production, in relation to which the body of the wirier is not just a body that desires, but a force of work, which must become productive force.

There is a new illegality in the relation between bodily force and a force of work in a system of production, which integrates the force of work into a productive force. The illegality is in the refusal of the worker to apply the force of the body to the apparatus.

There are 4 aspects to this: the worker refuses to sell labour to an employer; the workers only works at times decide by the worker; the worker dissipate energies in holidays and celebrations; the refusal of the family to regulate itself in such a way as to promote work and bring up children who work. These aspects are denounced by authors who moralise the working class. Such literature is presented as helping the working class to escape poverty, but is also explicitly in the interests of the employer who wants workers who apply themselves tı the apparatus of production. The morally bad habits of the working class in this kind of literature include: intemperance, early marriage, anarchic passions, lack of economy, refusal to become educated and perfect force of work, lac of hygiene, bad use of leisure.

The illegality now is of dissipation rather than depredation. It is contested through the emergence of disciplinary and surveillance. They are formed by the universalisation of some judicial methods and laws, which reach into the non-judicial sphere so that there a power going beyond pure legality, though using it. The implication in Foucault is that the state itself promotes a kind of illegality, which contests attitudes and actions of works themselves in this ambiguous area. The ambiguity extends to the ways in which surveillance tends to reinforce some forms of worker ‘illegality’. Attempts to reinforce surveillance can encourage worker ‘mobility’ in the sense of a kind of ‘nomadism’, which evades the labour market. Laziness, nomadism, lateness, absenteeism, debauchery, holidays all become moralised as and an therefore as ‘illegality’.

In nineteenth century France, the general ‘illegality’ is made more strictly illegal by a system ıf identity papers in which workers have to show am employer in order to avoid punishment for vagabondage. This system of papers confirming official status also encourage loads to workers from employers, which has the effect of making workers permanently indebted to employers, so unable to leave employment without the risk of arrest for bad debts as well as not having a recognised employer. Foucault describes this as the penalisation of existence, since just to live can be crime is not ‘excused’ by documents to confirm employment.

Deliberately, or not, this seems to allude to nihilistic philosophy, such as that of Schopenhauer, focused on the idea of the excess and superfluity of existence. It’s a big jump from the surveillance of workers to the philosophical work of a philosopher living from inherited wealth, but the sense that the state defines some lives as illegitimate could be seen as part of the context for Schopenhauer’s thought. Such a ‘genealogy’ or ‘archeology’ of Schopenhauer’s philosophy seems in the spirit of Foucault.

The penalisation of existence in Foucault’s account of surveillance includes punishments for drunkenness in which a worker şis kept away from the workshop. Foucault links the growth of surveillance with the early nineteenth century institution of ‘conseils de prud’hommes’. This is a French institution, which still exists. The name defies direct transition and the institution does not have any direct equivalent in British law of which I am aware. It is body with some kind of administrative law function with regard to employment contracts. Currently they include elected union representatives, but I don’t think that is the case for their origin, which I have not been able to research, but I presume that in the beginning they were composed of state approved notables.

This brings up another theme, which is that on this issue, and others, such as the status of corporatism, Foucault hints that welfarist measures end institutions that include employee representatives, are part of surveillance and disciplinarity, the moral regulation the working class, elements which find a limit expression in Fascism, which combines corporatism, so maybe the other regulatory elements, with military force to use them in a nakedly violent repressive apparatus.

In the political context, it should also be noted that Foucault has very little to say in this lecture , and others, about the political changes in France, though he does sometimes deal with them. The period he is covering goes from weakening Bourbon absolutism, through the French Revolution, a constitutional monarchy in the revolutionary period, followed by an increasingly radical republic, which then becomes an increasing oligarchic conservative republic, then taken over by Napoleon Bonaparte who becomes Emperor. The First Empire is followed by a restored Bourbon monarchy with a very conservative constitution. A revolution in 1830 leads to the relatively liberal, but still oligarchic July or Orleanist monarchy. Another revolution in 1848 leads to a second republic, which experiences an attempt at socialist revolution, followed by the rise of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, who becomes President and them establishes a Second Empire. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 leads to the formation of the Third Republic, which put down an attempted revolution in Paris, the Paris Commune. Foucault does not go beyond the mid years of the nineteenth century, but it is important to note that he does not see a break in the phenomena he describes around the political change of the fall of Napoleon III.

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