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Rationalising the management of individuals : theory, power and subjects in the thought of Michel Foucault.

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This thesis explores the implications of the work of Michel Foucault for the Enlightenment project. Specifically, it asks whether and how the modern drive to explain the world so as to guide political action and promote progressive change, can be defended in the light of Foucault's critique of Western philosophy, his reconceptualisation of power relations and his account of the subject. Firstly, it is shown how Foucault's genealogy, a hybrid and polemical approach, aims to call into question the theories and practices which underpin the present. Genealogy problematizes what we have come to take for granted, and in so doing it requires that we rethink not only the nature and history of Western philosophical thought but also the role of intellectuals. To attempt to write a history of truth is to ask what one can know of a concept which structures the very limits of our knowledge. It is to become aware of the forces and constraints involved in our production of truth, and thus to bring to light the complex relationship between knowledge and power. Secondly, Foucault argued that, since ancient times, forms of knowledge and relations of power, characterised by individualising and totalising tendencies, have steadily but discontinuously integrated into disciplinary technologies which have been instrumental in constituting the sovereign human individuals which philosophy assumes as given. Following Foucault's lead in focusing not on what power is, but on how it operates historically and in concrete ways, it is shown how Foucault reconceptualised relations of power as strategies of governance which depend on the existence of free subjects capable of resistance. Thirdly, the spotlight falls on the role of relations of power and knowledge, especially the human sciences, in manufacturing subjectivity (from souls and bodies to individual actors), which is in turn related to Foucault's call to irreverently question the limits of philosophy and to engage in aesthetic stylistic experimentation upon ourselves within and against the bounds imposed on us by our present. The thesis concludes by arguing that Foucault's iconoclastic genealogy of our limits and our possibilities leaves us with a rich set of analyses and strategies with which we might render modernity unfamiliar and available for refabrication.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, 1997.


Foucault, Michel., Subject (Philosophy), Power (Social sciences), Theory (Philosophy), Enlightenment., Theses--Political science.