Prior to undertaking a systematic comparison, I propose to explore some analogies and discrepancies between the respective universes of Marx and Foucault, which appear through a reading of the lectures given at the Collège de France throughout the 1970s: that is, on the one hand, Discipline and Punish, and, on the other, Security, Territory, Population, and The Birth of Biopolitics. In the lectures from 1972 to 1974, on which Discipline and Punish draws, Foucault rather explicitly sets things in the context of a ‘class’ society, into which, however, he introduces a new paradigm, the ‘disciplinary order’. In the lectures from 1977 to 1979, to which the latter two titles correspond, he situates himself in the field of theories and technologies of power: his approach no longer develops in terms of ‘class relationships’, but instead of ‘relationships of government’.
1. Foucault’s discovery of a new social order
Discipline and Punish explores the new penal and disciplinary order that appears in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. In the case of France, the justice system of the Ancien Régime has been done away with, including its secret procedures and its art of extracting proofs of confession, all crowned with a spectacle of torture in which royal power is restored through terror.
The new system is grounded in public debate under the authority of a judge who is supposedly there to prevent and correct. Execution is handed to a separate administration. Corporeal punishment is equal for all. Inflicted on a juridical subject, it consists in taking away the ultimate freedom of one’s life, simply by using the horological mechanism of the guillotine. To this abstract universe of sanction corresponds a concrete individualisation of the sanctioned person. Now one no longer judges the crime but rather the criminal individual, deemed such at the outcome of a ‘scientific’ procedure into which the psychiatrist, as the judge of the subject’s normality and of possible attenuating circumstances, would soon be introduced.
The ordeal of the prison becomes the standard form of punishment. Foucault recasts it within a broader logic, which is referred to as that of ‘discipline’ and is deemed to be common to barracks, factories, hospitals and schools. Military discipline, which produces a man-machine subject to a strict hierarchy, merely figures as the distillate of a phenomenon affecting all social institutions. We have here the invention of an abstract space stamped by the closure of the whole and its sub-sections, with functional quartering, the marking out of places to fix the respective terrains for each component of the group, and their comings and goings. A collective temporal rhythm is imposed on everyone, with employment and the exhaustive utilisation of time divided into standardised acts and exercises. There is a dividing up of tasks, of stages. This is not the abstraction of the market: it is, such is at least the argument I’m putting forward, ‘another abstraction’, namely organisation.
The ‘panoptic’ apparatus, utopia realised, enables the total control and monitoring of the individuals concerned. It configures the site of the normalised test, of the individual examination, medical or school, producing objective and archivable data to situate each person in his or her case or rank. It calls for an appropriate architecture, one that would come to be common to workshops, hospitals, barracks and prisons. What develops in this closed universe, away from the juridical order, is a second penal context, constituted by norms enacted from the inside, an ‘infra-justice’ outside of common law including corrective penalties, sanctions, punishments and rewards, distributions according to classification systems defined in accordance with the specific institution. This constitutes the instrumentalisation of the organised order by its immediate agents.
Foucault does not fail, all throughout these pages, to refer to Marx’s analyses and concepts. It is clear, in his view, that such institutions are geared to the context of modern class domination – founded on economic relationships – under the aegis of the bourgeoisie. Significantly, he refers to the description of manufacturing and the factory system presented in Book 1 of Capital. His contemporary interventions and interviews are also strewn with references to Marx. For his part, however, Foucault forged an original body of work. In this text he elaborates the elements of a theorisation that has shown itself powerful enough to become the ‘common sense’ of contemporary critical thought. And this has occurred to such an extent that the Marxist tradition has, for some time already, been striving to appropriate him for itself. It remains to find out, however, under which conditions this ‘assimilation’ could be given any plausibility or coherence. Foucault, of course, presupposes a ‘classist’ connection between economic exploitation and political domination. But he maintains quite some distance from the properly Marxian concepts of class and state. He also marks a distinct indifference toward Marx’s economic analysis and a frank hostility toward political outlooks of a Marxist type.
Marx does not have in mind the class relationship and its reproduction, but instead the exercise of ‘class’ (he adopts this term) power by some individuals over others and notably over those that institutions – private or public – have the task of controlling and setting to work. He maintains that, despite their functions of subjectivation and their repressive dimensions, the nature of these institutions is to be able to institute rational apparatuses that promote a population to higher forms of culture and power. Such is, for an essential part, the original wellspring of the social sciences. In fact in all cases, including that of prison, discipline has as its counterpart the implementation of a form of knowledge in correlation with one of power: a knowledge-power. That is, a new order of reason, which is also a new order of domination. All told, and notably as regards this ambivalence, Foucault’s ambition displays something like a family resemblance to Marx’s, who also sought to render capitalism its due both as force of oppression and as a factor of intellect.
2. Disciplines and class relations
My aim is to reprise these diverse points by interpreting a beautiful synoptic passage that forms the conclusion to the third part of Discipline and Punish. It is titled ‘Discipline’ (pp. 221–3) and enables us to glimpse in all its complexity the problematic relation that ties Foucault to Marx.
I begin with a line-by-line commentary on these few pages. I then compile this information into a table of observable analogies between the Foucauldian construction of ‘disciplinary society’ and the Marxian schema of ‘capitalist society’. The hurried reader will be tempted to skip these few pages of textual analysis and go straight to the result given at §1.1.3. But it should not be forgotten that the analogies observed here do not have the value of homologies: they are only indications of problems to be identified.
Here then, in a still-disordered sequence relative to the table to be generated, the main statements from this text and my commentaries. I emphasise the most pertinent terms in Foucault’s text for this analysis.
The panoptic modality of power – at the elementary, technical, merely physical level at which it is situated – is not under the immediate dependence or a direct extension of the great juridico-political structures of a society; it is nonetheless not absolutely independent. (pp. 221–2)
The analogy is expressed in the opposition forged between a (higher) order of ‘juridico-political structures’ and a ‘technical-physical’ modality of power, which is distinguished from it. With Marx, there is a power of exploitation; with Foucault, here, a power of control.
Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became in the course of the eighteenth century the politically dominant class is masked by the establishment of an explicit, coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made possible by the organisation of a parliamentary, representative regime. (p. 222)
At issue, then, is a class society in which a ‘bourgeoisie’ dominates politically, its power ‘masked’ by a ‘formally egalitarian’ and ‘representative’ juridical framework. This is a point of total proximity with Marx’s perspective. It remains for us to find out, however, how the ‘bourgeoisie’ is distinguished from the class that Marx designates as that of ‘capitalists’.
But the development and generalisation of disciplinary mechanisms [dispositifs] constituted the other, dark side of these processes. (p. 222)
With Marx, ‘the other side’ of market equality, being that which makes it possible, is the mechanism of exploitation as defined in chapter 7 of Capital. Here we see that for Foucault it is the disciplinary apparatus that forms the other side of juridical freedom.
The general juridical form that guaranteed a system of rights that were egalitarian in principle was subtended by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially inegalitarian and dissymmetrical that we call the disciplines. (p. 223; tm)
In the Marxian schema, the juridical superstructure of egalitarian law is thus ‘subtended’ by a base of dissymmetrical material mechanisms of exploitation. From this perspective Foucault tackles an order of discipline the effect of which is ‘essentially inegalitarian’, just as the economic base is in Marx’s work.
And although, in a formal way, the representative regime makes it possible, directly or indirectly, with or without relays, for the will of all to form the fundamental authority [instance] of sovereignty, the disciplines provide, at the base, a guarantee of the submission of forces and bodies. (p. 222)
The ‘will of all’ certainly constitutes a ‘foundation’ but only ‘in a formal way’. This is because ‘the base’ is made up of disciplines that subjugate bodies. Similarly, the wage relation (the Marxian ‘base’) guarantees the exploitation of labour power by the capitalist who has them at his ‘command’ – in an order of formal liberty ensured by a parliamentary system.
The real, corporal disciplines constituted the foundation of the formal, juridical liberties. (p. 222)
The operative opposition continues to be between the ‘formal’ and the ‘real’, also referred to as the juridical and the corporal, which relates to the disciplinary ‘foundation’. Foucault seems to exaggerate things as compared with Marx. Of course the reality was that neither thinker would make this play of metaphors, the disjunctions of the formal/real and superstructure/base, as their last word.
The contract may have been regarded as the ideal foundation of law and political power; panopticism constituted the technique, universally spread, of coercion. It continued to work in depth on the juridical structures of society, in order to make the effective mechanisms of power function in opposition to the formal frameworks that it had acquired (s’était donnée). (p. 222)
Similar to Marx, the contract continues to be presupposed. This occurs within the oppositions of ‘ideal foundation’/‘technique’ and ‘freedom’/‘coercion’. The contract pertains to the ‘formal,’ and discipline to the ‘effective’. The contractual framework that class power posits (‘gives itself’) only exists in the conditions of ‘panopticism’, which ‘works’ it. Power’s ‘effectiveness’ resides in this interrelation between the ‘ideal’ and the ‘real’, the nature of which remains conceptually indeterminate. It remains for us to find out if things proceed otherwise with Marx.
The ‘Enlightenment’, which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines. (p. 222)
This statement confirms the preceding one: the simultaneous ‘discovery’ of the ‘formal’ and the ‘real’, of the ‘ideal’ and the ‘techniques’, appears not to receive a conceptual formulation in the Foucauldian framework. The relationship between the elements of this dualism is raised only in the vaguely additional terms of ‘also’, which is frequently used by this author. Nonetheless, it is this relationship that ought to concern us, as it forms the core of any future theory.
In appearance, the disciplines constitute nothing more than an infra-law. They seem to extend the general forms defined by law to the infinitesimal level of singular existences; or they appear as methods of training that enable individuals to become integrated into these general demands. They seem to constitute the same type of law on a different scale, thereby making it meticulous and probably more lenient. (p. 222; tm)
‘In appearance’, says Foucault, the disciplines make one with the law, whose ‘extension’ they are stated to be: laws, decrees, regulations, sanctions. In Marx, things transpire in an analogical way. The contract-wage relationship appears as only one particular application of the market-contract between equals who freely exchange their products through money. In actual fact, as we see in the description of manufacturing and the factory, it determines an entire process of mechanical ‘learning’ that makes it possible to harness time down to its ‘infinitesimal level’, with far greater reach than any law is able to prescribe.
A counter-law: they perform a reversal, a negation of legal relations. Put in Marxian terms: the wage relation performs a reversal of equality into inequality, establishing an asymmetry. The hiving off of ‘surplus value’ is both formally consistent with law and at the same time a reversal of law into an ‘asymmetrical’ disposition.
First, because discipline creates a ‘private’ link between individuals, which is a relation of constraints entirely different from contractual obligation […]. (p. 222)
Marx maintains that the wage relationship, as a class relationship, is impersonal. But he does not forget that it exists only by means of inter-individual relations established through contracts, as we are reminded in chapter 10 of Capital, ‘The Working Day’, by the ‘voice of the worker’ who stands up to have himself counted, saying, ‘That is against our contract.’ (p. 343)
[…] the acceptance of a discipline may be underwritten by contract; the way in which it is imposed, the mechanisms it brings into play, the non-reversible subordination of one group of people by another, the ‘surplus’ power that is always fixed on the same side, the inequality of position of the different ‘partners’ in relation to the common regulation, all these distinguish the disciplinary link from the contractual link, and make it possible to distort the contractual link systematically from the moment it has as its content a mechanism of discipline. (pp. 222–3)
Again, we have both registers here: discipline is at once ‘accepted’ and ‘imposed’, and thereby is the contractual link ‘distorted’ (we rediscover a word of Marx’s: the wage contract is always ‘altered’).5 The ontological status of the contract is thus to be regarded as fully pertaining to a certain social factuality: in order for it to be ‘distorted’ it must exist in the first place. It is not a simple appearance (printed on a form) or an illusory play of language. It arises (or is posited), however, only in a structural relation that reproduces inequality. Non-reversible ‘subordination’ is the analogue of (structurally) reproducible exploitation: it reproduces its conditions, it recreates a distance from itself. A ‘mechanism’ that reproduces itself: such is the ‘structure’, in which the contractual metastructure happens to be ‘given’.
We know, for example, how many real procedures undermine the legal fiction of the work contract: workshop discipline is not the least important. (p. 223)
So again we have the opposition between the ‘real’ and ‘fiction’ – here with reference to the (Marxian) factory – fiction nonetheless being very real in its way, since it is only ‘undermined’. With both Foucault and Marx, the difficulty is to produce the concept of the relationship between both registers of social being – reality and fiction – involved in the ‘apparatus’. What, then, is the reality of this fiction? Such is the difficulty we have to tackle.
Moreover, whereas the juridical systems define juridical subjects according to universal norms, the disciplines characterise, classify, specialise; they distribute along a scale, around a norm, hierarchise individuals in relation to one another, and, if necessary, disqualify and invalidate. (p. 223)
In the analysis of Marx, who relies on the ‘critical economists’ that preceded him and on work inspectors, hierarchy within the enterprise is strongly stressed. Yet it remains secondary as regards the essential: the division of wage earners/capitalists, that is, the class relationship that defines his theory of exploitation and accumulation. Hierarchy appears as a corollary to the capitalist system. Foucault turns it into a theoretical object that is to be considered for itself. In it, he discerns a new order of power, one of ‘knowledge-power’, as distinct from proprietor-power.
He thus opens up a new conceptual register, as averred by the fact that his account applies to all social institutions. The capitalist enterprise, in which managers cease to be the mere representatives of the power of the proprietor and exercise a specific power, is only a particular case. What, on the other hand, brings both accounts closer is the discovery of a mechanism of invalidation and exclusion of a structural nature. The mechanism of the capitalist market, analysed by Marx, excludes its ‘reserve army’; it ‘invalidates’ labour power not suited to making profit. Similarly, according to Foucault, the hierarchical apparatus of organisation, regardless of the institution considered, ‘disqualifies’, ‘invalidates’; it produces those it excludes.
In any case, in the space and during the time in which they exercise their control and bring into play the asymmetries of their power, they effect a suspension of the law that is never total, but is never annulled either. (p. 223)
The order of law remains firmly in place. But it is placed in parentheses: there are places of right and places of non-right. This distinction between places and times is essential. Just as is the fact that labour power is only sold ‘for a determinate time’, but also in a specific place, that of production, in which extra-juridical relations of force intervene, but which does not encompass the entirety of existence. So, conceiving of two space-times in terms of exteriority, one ruled by law and the other saturated with non-right, is obviously not enough. Both Foucault and Marx work to construct the concept of the relation between both these registers.
Regular and institutional as it may be, the discipline, in its mechanism, is a ‘counter-law’. And, although the universal juridicism of modern society seems to fix limits on the exercise of power, its universally widespread panopticism enables it to operate, on the underside of the law, a machinery that is both immense and minute, which supports, reinforces, multiplies the asymmetry of power and undermines the limits that are traced around the law. (p. 223)
Foucault’s central theme is again reiterated here: disciplinary regulation is not the pursuit of an order of law by other means. Marx also showed that the wage relation is not analysable in the simple terms of a continuation of market law, of a generalised state of right, but that it establishes mechanisms which are by no means juridical, such as, for instance, those designed to intensify work. But Foucault’s field of analysis overruns Marx’s and extends to the entirety of social life.
The minute disciplines, the panopticisms of every day may well be below the level of emergence of the great apparatuses and the great political struggles. But, in the genealogy of modern society, they have been, with the class domination that traverses it, the political counterpart of the juridical norms according to which power was redistributed. (p. 223).
For Foucault, in contrast with Marx, ‘class domination’ (the class structure) does not define ‘modern society’. It nevertheless ‘traverses’ it from end to end. We must learn how to discern these minute and everyday facts, situated ‘below’ (at the base of) great politics, where the ‘great struggles’ (class struggles: such is how Foucault intends it here) revolve around ‘great apparatuses’, which seize hold of the great juridical principles by which power ‘is distributed’. The singular occurs in correlation with the global.
Hence, no doubt, the importance that has been given for so long to the small techniques of discipline, to those apparently insignificant tricks that it has invented, and even to those ‘sciences’ that give it a respectable face; hence the fear of abandoning them if one cannot find any substitute; hence the affirmation that they are at the very foundation of society, and an element in its equilibrium, whereas they are a series of mechanisms for unbalancing power relations definitively and everywhere; hence the persistence [one’s persistence] in regarding them as the humble, but concrete form of every morality, whereas they are a set of physico-political techniques. (p. 223)
This provides a subtle distribution of concepts, set in their respective places and topological relations. Disciplinary mechanisms pertain to a practice (of class, in a sense to be defined), which is ‘cunning’ and has a strategic aim: they are mechanisms ‘for unbalancing’. ‘One’ nevertheless has every reason to fear that they will be ineffective if one fails to mobilise the ‘knowledge’ making it possible to convey them as being ‘at the foundation’ of a rational balance, as administrating an ‘immanent’ morality. Such an (interpellative) claim should be considered in its illocutionary triplicity, as defined by Habermas: it claims to be simultaneously (1) true and (2) just. As to the third term of the illocution, which concerns (3) the authentic identity of the speaker, it is expressed here in terms of ‘one’. It is this discursivity immanent to the class relationship that remains to be explored in both Marx and Foucault.
To return to the problem of legal punishments, the prison with all the corrective technology at its disposal is to be resituated at the point where the codified power to punish turns into a disciplinary power to monitor; at the point where the universal punishments of the law are applied selectively to certain individuals and always the same ones; at the point where the redefinition of the juridical subject by the penalty becomes a useful training of the criminal; at the point where the law is inverted and passes outside itself, and where the counter-law becomes the effective and institutionalised content of the juridical forms. What generalises the power to punish, then, is not the universal consciousness of the law in each juridical subject; it is the regular extension, the infinitely minute web of panoptic techniques. (p. 224)
Here we arrive at a sort of recapitulative conclusion, which is dialectical in consonance. The formal juridical order, in which the ‘universal consciousness of law’ is posited, ‘is inverted’: counter-law becomes its ‘effective’, wirklich, content. Or – another metaphor – it exits itself, just like a Hegelian inside can be only through its ‘outside’. This marks the passage from the ‘universal’ to the particular: from a ‘juridical subject’ identical to all others to the (bad) subject to be forced within the norm. And at issue is a class dialectic that strikes ‘always the same people’ with the aim of producing a ‘useful’ subject (a utility still to be defined). The panopticon, which sums up the whole, metonymically figures the knowledge-power at work here. For this general concept of knowledge-power is precisely the one by which the Foucauldian analysis manages to unify the field it discovers. It is this concept that will bear articulating together with that other power, not that of competence but of property, which the Marxian account identifies.