Moralities of Self-Renunciation and Obedience: The Later Foucault and Disciplinary Power Relations

Philosophy Today 55 (1):37-49 (2011)
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This essay develops a new account of the work the self must perform on itself in disciplinary relations through the cultivation of resources from Foucault’s later work. By tracing the ethical self-relation from Greco-Roman antiquity to the Benedictine monastery, I am able to provide insight into the relationship of self-renunciation that underlies disciplinary docility and obedience. This self-renunciation undermines individuals’ ability to lead themselves and makes them reliant on another who has mastery of the truth through which the subject must be constituted. Disciplinary relations were thus seen to be doubly efficacious in producing relations of domination: they attempt to eliminate the self- leadership of the individual which not only un- dermines the individual’s potential to resist; it leaves them in need of the dominating training that disciplinary relations institute. This insight into the activity of the individual in the produc- tion of their own docility was then used to clarify and develop aspects of two perennially enigmatic but powerful areas of Foucault’s work, his focus on “bodies and pleasures” and his turn to the “aesthetics of existence.”
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