‘Foucault and the political’. A political militant within the reach of all

By Ruben Crespo


Review of:

José Luis Moreno Tab

Madrid, Tierradenadie editions, 2011

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Foucault and the political is the Spanish version of the text more brief: Foucault, la gauche et la politique[1], published a few months before in France and that has generated debate controversial around the figure of Foucault. Both in Spain and in France, José Luis Moreno Tab (professor of Philosophy at the University of Cádiz has been known for its extensive knowledge in the work of Michel Foucault. Not only Eddy, but also in other great authors of contemporary thought in French as Pierre Bourdieu[2] and Jean-Claude Passeron.[3]

Moreno Tab (hereinafter MP) performed his master’s thesis on Foucault.[4] After studying the work of Pierre Bourdie and connect with different members at the Centre de Sociologie Européenne, belonging to the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, he returned to rewrite your thesis. This time, with the help of the methodology of ethnographic Bourdieu and in the framework of the sociology of knowledge, he joined the ‘sociogéneis’ of Foucault in their work, which allowed for a greater approach and a better understanding of the complexity of his thought. The result was Becoming to Foucault. Sociogenesis of a philosopher,[5], a book published in 2006 that far from the mitificaciones and renaissance of the great thinkers, shows an Eddy is more human, and incorporates its personal context, and intellectual family, which “allows us to relate what lives and what you do with what you think and what you say.”[6]

We could say, with the metaphor: once an MP has become in Foucault, after tracking closely in his footsteps, and explore thoroughly the environment of the soil she landed on, after to ask how was your training period, your family history, the stigma of his homosexuality, his fears, his failures… in short, after introducing the reader to an Eddy to the ground away from myths and veneraciones, now, with Foucault and the political, MP clears the thought of Foucault of any type of scholastic and presents his work by integrating three levels of analysis: “his social experience, his academic background and intellectual and political commitments” (p. 8); an interpretive framework relevant to understand what is interesting to the thinking of Foucault to the analysis of politics.

The fundamental objective of the book is to give answer to the question how helpful are the ideas of Foucault to transform the capitalist system and bring it to abide by a social agreement more equitable? Without a doubt, the MP has interpreted wisely the ‘box of tools’ to which Foucault referred to as the intended result of his work[7], and has managed to answer this question, bringing to surface the potential of the political thought of Foucault to expand our knowledge of how power works and to address the complexity of socio-political conflict current as, for example, the social unrest and the phenomenon of outrage from the 15M.

MP, from the sociology of philosophy, his area of research more prolific, analyzes, chronologically, the work of Foucault by linking it to your social trajectory, their production is philosophical and the political positions gained throughout his life. To do this, the first thing is to avoid ‘the danger scholastic’. If it is intended to analyze the political discourse abstrayéndolo of its context, runs the risk of providing the analysis to the conflicting uses and unforeseen effects. To that end, Moreno Tab makes use of the teachings of Ortega y Gasset, for which the scholastic “is any exposure of the philosophy that is received without understanding the cultural sphere, the social space or historical time in which it occurred” (p. 9). Examples of approach scholastic Foucault would be: relate to Foucault with other authors without knowing if he read them; the analysis simplifier of his work; or to attribute to its ideas the character of irrefutable axioms.

Foucault, who initially studied Psychology[8] and was professor of this discipline during their first stage of teaching, was above all a philosopher. It is important to note that Foucault did philosophy as a practice ‘open’ (philosophy outside of academic circles), and ‘recurrent’ (historical events interesting to the philosophy can be studied at any time with the same validity as when they were produced). With this approach it is possible for a connection more optimally between philosophy and politics. In this way, Foucault continues to face problems of philosophical significance in everyday life and “broad the borders of the political field issues despolitizadas” (p. 24).

Foucault’s moves between the limits of “philosophy and non-fiolosofía” was seen in his time with suspicion by a good part of the academic world become institutionalized in the discipline. However, this leads him to connect with professionals from diverse disciplines and with a public more hybrid and extensive. For this reason, Foucault will have some difficulties to define themselves in what they do: “To tell you the truth, I am not a philosopher. I don’t do philosophy in what I do, and if I had to denominarme, give me a title to say that I am, I confess that I would be in a terrible predicament”.[9]

After reading the first few chapters, in which are analyzed some of his works as mental Illness and psychologie (1954; reed. in 1962)[10], History of madness (1972)[11], Birth of the clinic (1963)[12], words and things (1966)[13], it is easy for the reader to ask what meaning policies have on these works. In and of themselves, few, and when they have them, are not well defined and, above all, difficult to combine with currents from the left and acknowledge the same Brown Tab, for example, about words and things (p. 52). However, the social trajectory and the philosophical treatises of this period ―hence the importance of its ‘sociogenesis’ that is developed throughout his work― not exempt from contradictions, will be crucial to understand later their analysis on the power from the dimensions philosophical and political.

In History of madness , we can find three skills in Foucault that hardly changed throughout his work. The first is a profound critique of the human sciences (or social). Foucault had a concept of science is very demanding, and for him, the psychology or psychiatry, could not be considered science by the great difficulties in defining variables comparable and do not have a precise language, and only that he had enough correspondence with reality to consider. The second skill is an awareness antidialéctica. “The reason why dialectic is characterized by assuming that the negative moment is a positive one and that, thanks to the contradictions, the story progresses” (p. 30). But Foucault sees in the dialectic a mechanism to justify the injustices[14]. The third aptitude is an obstinate resistance to the domestication of modern. Thus, in the case of insanity, although the dominant discourse is that the modern era is better madness than the classical period, Foucault is opposed, with a discourse of resistance showing that the madness has been reduced to the category of disease, it ceases to be seen as a human experience (the abandonment to the passions) and happens to be a simple deviation from the norm (the normalization that psychology or psychiatry are in charge of defining and imposing).

In words and things, Foucault continues with the critique of the social sciences, this time, assuming epistemological basis more defined (the epistemes) that in the previous one. In addition, in this work, includes in his criticism of the manifest form to the sociology (a field in which I had some fellow with a certain affinity as Passeron) along with psychology and psychiatry as a non-science that they take advantage of others which themselves are like mathematics. The social sciences ―say― relativized concepts of other sciences and of philosophy, and they always operate in a framework of dialectical. Interestingly, he makes some reservations, to other disciplines, such as psychoanalysis or ethnology, considering them to be reflective and able to understand their social conditions of possibility. MP question ―and I also― what was Foucault to think that there could be equally sociology, or psychology.

What was wrong Foucault in his insistent smear towards the social sciences? We must not forget the subjective effects of its ‘sociogenesis’ that are implicit in the analysis that MARKER in a continuous manner throughout the book. Perhaps, Foucault did not consider that at the end of the ‘box of tools’ legacy would have as much, or more influence in the social sciences than in other disciplines to which he was in better estimates[15]. At least you can get two readings of this attitude, one that despite the fact that Foucault investigated along the borders of philosophy, it was never their intention to abandon it. A philosophy as a practice open to the outside, yes, but also an exercise from the outside to the inside, pick up from the outside to enrich the interior. And this exercise is the basis of the task of philosophical Foucault defined it in his last course at the College de France and MP reminds us of its great importance: “the philosophy serves to remind us that any truth requires political conditions and produces a type of subject; that any relationship can claim types of truth and knowledge and ways of being particular; all habitus[16] requires supports cognitive what to defend, and political relations that permit” (p. 58). And this is, básicammente, the philosophical dimension that Foucault incorporates the analysis of power, a philosophy (or not philosophers by profession) that helps us to discover the mutual relations of truth, ethics, and policy. The other reading ―that is a personal interpretation of mine― is that to the social sciences (especially sociology, that is the part that I played) the best thing that can happen is to have critics like Foucault, then, to incorporate them into your self-criticism, to assess their errors and to propose re-orientations, the social sciences are more likely to move towards an ethos more legitimate, not only to a mere professionalism that is only justified by a dominant sector that ensures their skills.

With regard to the usefulness of the work of Foucault to the identity policy, especially for the renewal of the thinking of the left away from marxism, [17], the key is not in the own biographic experience of Foucault. The political activism of Foucault was highly variable. During his training at the ENS (École Normale Supérieure) was a communist; he was close to the power gaullist in their early university years; from May ‘ 68[18] is converted to the ultra-left that, subsequently, taking the drift towards a left not estatalista with an approach to the dialogue with the neo-liberalism[19]. These political contradictions, which seem to be explained only by fashion of each time, should not be confused with his philosophy of politics and of power. MP offers two explanations of this variability in the definitions of the political in Foucault’s: the first represents him as a rational agent who calculates his interests in his political forays, and are transformed according to the joints that appear in your life story. The second, somewhat more complex, “considers an individual as the result of chains of interaction-matted van anudándose in a mode of being” (p. 37). But the key is that in the individual co-exist different forms of be as a result of the different experiences that are going to collect and in some cases come to be completely opposite. This explains the layers that are accumulated in their behavior, and that allows you to sometimes be plural and adjust to the situation, and the other, a behavior completely contradictory.

Does this mean that there could be a Foucault for any political conception? “No. ―us warns MP― There are positions impossible to find in Foucault: in addition to the aberrations policies (fascism or stalinism), Foucault was not a social democrat statist or liberal-radical” (p. 120).

After the events of May ‘ 68, when Foucault begins to incorporate the philosophical dimension to the field of politics and power, “wide its borders and begins to incorporate areas that once were considered to be fasts of any game of power” (p. 55). From that moment begins to have an audience more politicized. Foucault makes a political philosophy proposing two tracks: a, “back to back and getting a vision of our place in the world as a whole, after having reconstructed the history from which we come” (p. 58), and the other, pursuing the principles intimate that surround our behavior, that is to say, “the practices that we’ve incorporated: “In the body, is the stigma of past events, as well as in it are born the desires, the faintness, and the” mistakes” (p. 59).

Away from the great treatises of political theory, covering, Foucault analyzes power in a field micro (the micro-structures of power), and investigates how power relations shape the everyday experience of the individual. In this sense, Foucault is a debtor of the concept of genealogy in Nietzsche. In the field of ‘truth’ (as it has always a full access to reality and therefore to express the truth it is very difficult; however, Foucault never gave up on the notion of truth in his scientific work) incorporates the genealogy to explain the ontology of the subject, that is to say, what is the genealogy that allows us to become objects of knowledge in each historical moment. In the field of ‘power’, the genealogy serves to explain how we become the subjects of action that influences and dominates the others (the ethnography of power). Thus, Foucault spoke of concepts such as ‘anatomopolítica’ (the insertion of policy in the human anatomy); and the ‘biopolitics’ or ‘biopower’ that tries to control and strengthen the lives of individuals in your set). While biopolitics is responsible for the collective life, the anatomopolítica aims to bodies.

Foucault had a strong critique against socialism estatalista by “lack of method to govern populations” (p. 91). For a party seen in the estatalismo a great tendency to think of the State as a machine of domination, invulnerable, and on the other, believes that the marxist critique (the marxists see the State as a system organized by the interests of the dominant classes). Foucault prefers to speak of the unexpected effects, that is to say: “The State can breed bureaucracy, but also equality” (p. 93).

In regard to the analysis of the ethos , neo-liberal, Foucault is interested in the construction of the individual in the neoliberal system contemporary. The neoliberalism ―tell― it breaks with the classical liberalism and is not based as in the laissez-faire: a free economy and the absence of political interference; on the contrary, neoliberalism has increasingly more in need of being interventionist, pursuing its main objective, that the individuals adapt to the market. It is necessary to the intervention, at least in two area: “on the one hand, the genetic heritage of individuals and, on the other, in their education” (p. 99).

If the neo-liberalism “conceives of the individual as a simple entrepreneur of himself that maximises its resources in function of their projects” (p. 102), Foucault, through an economism of anthropology, will offer an ethics of the subject very different to that proposed by the tradition of individualist homo æconomicus (preferidor rational)[20], and prefer it before that the paradigm of ‘discipline’, whose objective is to regulate the social reality, the paradigm of ‘security’, that allows you to act only in specific levels[21]. For Foucault discipline is utopian, while the security is the one that has allowed the development of capitalism economic, although it was not the initial goal.

At the end of the years 70, the sympathies, or, better said, not antipathies of Foucault to some of the neo-liberal conceptions seem obvious. As much as you even though a good part of the sector intellectual of the left, especially the one that tries to renew itself through the thinking of Foucault, MP, without fail to its commitment to scientific and critical, he makes it clear that this was so and did not rule out the possibility of a neo-liberal right that also draws on Foucault. However, MP leaves some questions about this assessment. Since neoliberalism was not yet very visible, was growing at that time, it is quite possible that Foucault does not appreciate sufficiently this process. MP also makes a timely observation by stating that although the neo-liberal system “was not entirely unfriendly”, Foucault did not ask at any time for the effects this system had on the social inequality. This may be because ―in my opinion― to have underestimated Foucault to social sciences such as sociology, which, from the beginning ―and one of the causes of its birth― made of the social inequality one of its goals for prevalent study (and so remains).

As in the best best-sellers, the best of the book is at the end, in the last chapter: Care of self, care of the other; but this is not a strategy literary deliberate by the MP, it is something that is obvious when it is recognized the size of Eddy. The best philosophers and social thinkers who have passed to the category of classics, or contemporary classics, they tend to shine their best ideas in their more mature stage. In the decade of the 80s, Foucault was entirely devoted to studying the thought greco-roman, and applied it to the two last works of his career: the experience of sexuality and the techniques of work on oneself. Foucault tries to give answers to the question how we behave ourselves considering the effect of our personality that has been emerging through our life experiences? In the ethical greco-roman discovers that “the care of self was linked to the care of the other” (p. 107).

Foucault is the fact that to live means to take risks that may not be protected to the public. For the neoliberals that they were concerned about the excess of government, Foucault offers a new alternative to consider that “the fact of being governed us again in solidarity to human beings” (p. 108). From the re-reading of the thinking of the stoics and the cynics, the political thought of Foucault produces two important ideas. The first, “a reflection on the resources required to be recognized in the daily interaction”[22]. Habits are important to understand, that it is our personality, with the accumulation of the experiences that precede us, which allows us to make decisions about our life that involve social values, and even political commitments. The second idea, influenced by the thought stoic, is “that all human beings ―and not just the ruling elite― have to take care of themselves and do so not only in youth, or when one is forming, but in all the moments of life” (p. 109). It is, therefore, to obtain a habitus that we will need to continue to develop continuously.

When thinking about the production of habits, Foucault analyzed with completeness the concept of parresia in order to solve the problem of ‘how to tell the truth’ and how it links with the policy according to the context sociohistórico: “under what institutional conditions can be said the truth (democracy, monarchy […]) and what are the personal conditions (personal courage, type of habitus and temperament) to utter and to listen to the truth” (p. 111).

Following three speeches of Pericles which Thucydides describes in the History of the Peloponnesian war, Foucault analyzes the parresia and describes three conditions of possibility: the epistemological (the truth), morality (ethics) and politics (power). Through the parresia Foucault theorizes about the democratic assemblies as a rectangular space where so that it is possible to a true word ‘free’ must be met four conditions: the formal, of prestige, of truth and of physical courage. Will be these four angles that enable “the overlap in the experience of the democratic assembly, without being confused, of truth, ethics and power” (p. 113). According to MP, Eddy forgot to make it clear what had to be the social conditions and materials for the access and the practice of the word free.

In sum, Foucault proposes a “political philosophy attached to the earth, militant, sustained on a habitus trained for the misfortune and independent of all power and doctrine” (p. 117). The political thought of Foucault, in this last stage, makes it possible that there is a link between the intimate experience and political expression. A link that is at the heart of social movements and collective actions as the 15M[23]. Hence the usefulness of your ‘box of tools’ which has broadened our horizon in the political issues of today, has shown us how power works with a approach before unknown, and we can help build a more critical look into the state mechanisms of social integration and the guarantee of freedom.

Foucault and politics is a book not only to enthusiasts of the thought of Foucault, or those who seek in the tools to enrich your training policy, it is also a book for those who only know to Foucault by hearsay or by the dating on some of its concepts more familiar than they might have found through other authors or manual studies of various social disciplines. The book is small, but its content is very compact because the writing style of MP do not usually abound in redundancies and recaps. It is easy at times the reader has to go back to reread and fix up with more detail ideas that are weave in later chapters. On the contrary, the density and clarity of the information provided in the pages of the book makes the re-reading is a task comforting because it is always rediscovered in the text of MP new nuances that enhance the understanding of an author as complex as Foucault, especially, if, in addition to understanding their theoretical production, including its social trajectory and their conceptions of politics.

With Foucault and the political, Moreno Tab, making use precisely of one of the tools that the Eddy begat, the archaeology of knowledge, has studied in depth the history of knowledge Foucault, has managed to dive into the thicket of the sky of their influence in the media to cross, layer by layer, all thought that was fitting in with Foucault through their social experiences to come to their own soil. Once he has studied its topology and we plotted a map more detailed and comprehensive picture of his thought. Continuing the metaphor, the myth to the ground, but with all the extraordinary properties that has the myth within the reach of all. A manual of instructions in the ‘toolbox’ of Foucault to understand the current state of things, and if we don’t like, to have the ability to change through a policy of militant stuck to the earth.


Ruben Crespo

Student of Sociology at the UNED
on may 14, 2012

[2] See: Moreno Pestaña, José Luis. 2012. “On the relevance of the Profession of sociologist” in the days the craft of The sociologist. The legacy of Pierre Bourdieu. Circle of Fine Arts in Madrid (http://moreno-pestana.blogspot.com.es/2011/12/sobre-la-actualidad-del-oficio-de.html).

[3] José Luis Moreno Tab has translated The sociological reasoning: the space of comparative historical evidence from Jean-Claude Passeron, Madrid, Siglo XXI, 2011. / See also: Moreno Pestaña, José Luis. 2003. What does it mean to argue in sociology? Spanish journal of Sociology, No. 3, pp. 51-67.

[4] Reviewed in: Campillo Meseguer, Antonio. 2011. “Foucault’s political, Foucault unknown” in the Web of Antonio Campillo in the University of Murcia. (http://bit.ly/IT25qg).

[5] Moreno Pestaña, José Luis. 2006. Becoming in Foucault: the sociogenesis of a philosopher. Issues of Cultural Intervention, SL / See also: Fernández-Zubieta, Ana. 2006. Review of Becoming Eddy. Spanish journal of Sociology, No. 6, pp. 131-134.

[6] Roca Jusmet, Luis. 2012. Review of Foucault and the political in: hexis. philosophy and sociology (http://moreno-pestana.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/resena-de-luis-roca-en-el-viejo-topo.html).

[7] Foucault, Michel. 1974. “Prisons et asiles dans le mécanisme du pouvoir ‘ in Dits et Ecrits, t. II. Paris: Gallimard, 1994, pp. 523-524.

[8] Foucault suffered from depression, even attempting suicide, by the anguish which led him to his homosexuality. Because of these episodes, he was in psychiatric treatment, at which time he became interested in psychology. Thus, Foucault graduated first in Psychology, but then, years later, he also has a degree in Philosophy in 1952. Foucault gave classes of Psychology in Clermont-Ferrand, but in the end he started to like some of this work by the aversion that he was taking to this discipline.

[9] Philippe Calderon. 2003. Michel Foucault par lui-meme. ARTE France / BFC Productions.

[10] Foucault, Michel. 1962. Maladie mentale et psychologie. Paris, PUF.

[11] Foucault, Michel. 1972. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Paris, Gallimard.

[12] Foucault, Michel. 1963. Naissance de la Clinique. Une’archéologie du regerd médical. Paris, PUF.

[13] Foucault, Michel. 1966. Les mots et les choses. Une’archéologie des sciences humaines, Paris, Gallimard.

[14] The notion that Foucault has of the dialectic has nothing to do with the Ortega and Gasset: a dialectic as a synthesis of specialised knowledge with practical purpose. Moreno Tab is supported with frequency in Ortega y Gasset to explain or put in contradiction to the ideas of Foucault.

[15] For example, a good part of the work of Jean-Claude Passeron, is a dialogue with the criticisms of Foucault and the social sciences.

[16] Habitus: essential concept in the thinking of Bourdieu to explain the socialization and the practical sense. The habitus or the habitus are, according to the definition of Bourdieu: systems of “provisions” durable and transferable, the structures in structured predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, principles such as generators and organizers of practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their end, without involving the conscious pursuit of goals and the domain express the operations necessary to achieve them, are objectively “regulated” and “regular” without being the product of obedience to rules and, at the same time that all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the action organizing a conductor of an orchestra. (Castro Nogueira,, Luis,, Miguel Ángel Castro Nogueira, and Julian Morales Navarro. 2008. Methodology of the social sciences: an introduction critical. Tecnos. p. 827).

[17] Foucault stopped believing in the capitalist revolution, proposed the desmarxitización of the left, and criticized the conception of the economy of Marx because it was not as innovative as other later authors wrote; however, where it was considered innovative was in its historical conception.

[18] When the conflict breaks out in May ‘ 68, Foucault is located in Tunisia, and was his partner Daniel Defert, who kept him for the day.

[19] This variety of policy positions in the biographical trajectory of Foucault, Moreno Tab has dared to incorporate with pure critical sense, is that which has caused controversial discussions to which I referred at the beginning of this text. Despite the fact that Moreno Tab insists on avoid falling into the oversimplification of attributing to Foucault a, or other attachment supported by the fact that Moreno Tab attributes and the closeness of Foucault’s gaullismo in the 60’s and his sympathy with some approaches of neoliberalism, some commentators of the French edition have been misunderstood and have seen it as a personal attack towards Foucault.

[20] Homo æconomicus: “idealization developed within the neoclassical economic theory. Represents an individual/consumer is rational and selfish, with consistent systems of preferences [preferidor rational] beliefs and acting in accordance with the principle of maximization of profit or welfare, and minimisation of cost. (Castro Nogueira,, Luis,, Miguel Ángel Castro Nogueira, and Julian Morales Navarro. 2008. Methodology of the social sciences: an introduction critical. Tecnos. p. 828).

[21] Since Foucault had already considered the power as a relation and not as a property, the rejection of discipline and the tolerance of the security is due to and accepts the relationships of power as long as they are reversible and do not involve a domain structure, that is to say, “yes to the relations of power are not hierarchical”. (Roca Jusmet, Luis. 2012. Review of Foucault and the political in: hexis. philosophy and sociology (http://moreno-pestana.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/resena-de-luis-roca-en-el-viejo-topo.html).

[22] In the terminology of Bourdieu, this is because of the different capitals and their value in relation to the social contexts.

[23] See the conference that Moreno Tab offered the June 3, 2011 in the framework of a series of reflections on the 15-M, organized by the working group, ‘theoretical Discussion’ of the Plaza del Carmen in Granada. in: Moreno Pestaña, José Luis. 2012. “Think of the democratic habits with Michel Foucault”. Cisolog. Science Sociological. Retrieved (http://cisolog.com/sociologia/pensar-los-habitos-democraticos-con-michel-foucault/)

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