Foucault's Overlooked Organisation - Revisiting his Critical Works

Culture Theory and Critique:1-23 (2015)
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In this essay I propose a new reading of Michel Foucault’s main thesis about biopower and biopolitics. I argue that organisation represents the neglected key to Foucault’s new conceptualisation of power as something that is less political and more organisational. This unique contribution was lost even on his closest interlocutors. Foucault’s work on power had a strong influence on organisation and management theory but interestingly not for the reasons I am proposing. In fact, although theorists in management and organisation studies have emphasised power in relation to discipline, control and subjectivity they have overlooked the transformative meaning of Foucault’s organisation. His work on biopolitics has attracted opposition, too, as evidenced by the controversy sparked by Giorgio Agamben about Foucault’s biopolitics. From Agamben’s critique, it appears that Foucault’s notions of politics and power do not allow a deconstruction of the violence of the concentration camp. However, a critical reading of Primo Levi’s biographical narratives reveals the camp as a place where the prisoners’ability to organise their daily lives secured survival. To make sense of Levi’s revelation, I use John Dewey’s notion of habits as forms of organisation and reconnect it to Foucault’s organisation. A shared understanding of the objective conditions of human activity and experience highlights the similarities between Dewey’s pragmatism and Foucault’s pragmatic metaphysics. In the end, however, Foucault’s metaphysical background has caught up with him, pushing him away from his own most radical proposal that organisation was the new form of power and the new substance of politics.

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Michela Betta
Goethe University Frankfurt


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