On the Ways of Writing the History of the State

Foucault Studies 1 (28):71-95 (2020)
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Foucault's governmentality lectures at the Collège de France analyze the history of the state through the lens of governmental reason. However, these lectures largely omit consideration of the relationship between discipline and the state, prioritizing instead raison d'État and liberalism as dominant state technologies. To remedy this omission, I turn to Foucault's early studies of discipline and argue that they provide materials for the reconstruction of a genealogy of the "disciplinary state." In reconstructing this genealogy, I demonstrate that the disciplinary state marks the "dark side" of the liberal state, a dark side which is, moreover, largely obscured in the governmentality lectures. I further construe the difference between this early genealogy of the state and the later governmental studies in methodological terms. At stake in this difference is the historiographic status of capitalism and social conflict. Foucault's governmentality lectures employ what I term an "idealist disavowal," thereby treating capitalism and social conflict as irrelevant to the history of the state. The early disciplinary studies, on the other hand, enact a "materialist avowal," by which these objects are avowed as central to the explanation of how and why the state develops. Finally, I argue that Foucault's governmental genealogy of the liberal state is explanatorily and analytically incomplete, while the genealogy of the disciplinary state contributes to its completion on both fronts.

Author's Profile

Eli B. Lichtenstein
Lewis & Clark College


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