||An historical reconstruction of the relations between power, knowledge and the human subject that aspires to be an immanent critique of the present. The term derives from German philosophy but is usually associated with the French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-84), who sought to illuminate the contingency of our Ã©vidences (what we take for granted, how we came to recognize ourselves as particular kinds of subjects, and how we came to see some practices and experiences, such as crime, madness and sexuality, as \'problems\': cf. taken-for-granted world) by tracking their haphazard descent from previously unseen historical thresholds. Foucault argued that we have not fully recognized how we became constituted as objects and subjects of \'regimes of power\' that have conditioned how we can act. He documented the birth and spread of an anonymous and functional â€” disciplinary â€” \'technology of power\' which is acutely individualizing, fosters obedience by habituating people to practices of examination and surveillance, and compares and judges behaviour in terms of norms. The individual is not the \'inert material on which power comes to fasten\', Foucault argued (1980a), but \'an effect of powerâ€¦ [and] the element of its articulation\'. Disciplinary power was exercised in institutional spaces such as factories, prisons and schools, and it became the \'blueprint\' of a \'carceral society\' in which our aptitudes and aspirations are subjected to the \'universal reign of the normative\' (Foucault, 1977). In Foucault\'s account, these practices of \'normalization\', which proliferated during the nineteenth century, shaped what we came to \'count as being self-evident, universal, and necessary\' about history, society and ourselves (e.g. that history is progressive, that criminals should be locked up and reformed, and that we can discover the truth of our being by seeing ourselves as desiring subjects): they \'announce\' our present, differentiate it from other epochs, and condition our ability to fashion other ways of living and expressing ourselves (Foucault, 1991a). Foucault\'s histories of the asylum, the clinic, the prison and sexuality describe how general formulas of domination and discourses on the \'dangers\' of madness, sexuality, and so on, emerged from discrete practices and seemingly mundane events.
Critics have complained that Foucault\'s \'history of the present\' is grim and paralysing, and that he draws too many broad and unsubstantiated (epochal) conclusions about the nature of modernity from his local, historical (genealogical) studies (see e.g. Donnelly, 1992). But Foucault stressed that the focus on the individual in modern societies is not completely stifling, and commentators suggest that he magnifies one set of practices â€” the proliferation of disciplinary power â€” \'as a [rhetorical] means of moving an audience to vigilance\' (Rabinow, 1994). Foucault insisted that the disciplinary make-up of \'our\' society rests on a \'hazardous play of dominations\' â€” on minor, accidental and often fragile processes and struggles \'of different origin and scattered location\' (Foucault, 1986).
Foucault\'s genealogies are based on the claim that power is not necessarily concentrated in the hands of a monarch, the state, or a particular class, and is not simply imposed on people from on high â€” this being a premodern, sovereign model of power. He conceptualized power as an incessant, decentred and malleable \'force field\' of strategic relations among individuals, groups and institutions that works \'within the social body\' and facilitates (rather than reflects) the development of capitalism and the nation-state. Foucault argued that power \'comes from everywhere\', has \'a capillary form of existence\', and is simultaneously constraining and enabling. As such, freedom should not be conceived as a great escape from power or the search for an essential self beyond power. Nor does history have a single objective or potential which we might one day realize. Genealogy, Foucault explained, is \'a form of history which can account for the constitution of knowledges, discourses, domains of objects, etc., without having to make reference to a subject which is either transcendental in relation to the field of events or runs in its empty sameness throughout the course of history\' (Foucault, 1980b; cf. anti-humanism; bio-power; governmentality). He saw freedom as a practical and intrinsic â€” or strategic â€” process of \'insubordination\' to the ways in which we are positioned, ongoingly, in relations of domination (see Foucault, 1978, 1982).
Foucault charted the historical lineage and most acute manifestations of what we came to count as normal and abnormal, legitimate and illegitimate, in order to expose the arbitrariness of contemporary practices and hint at how they might be surpassed. The genealogist tracks family associations between knowledge, power and the self that have an extenuated life in the present, and tries to put the present in an \'agonistic\' light rather than offer universal or utopian alternatives to it. Foucault tracked European processes of assujetissement â€” disciplinary procedures that have simultaneously turned us into subjects and subjected us to \'a synaptic regime of power\' â€” yet his work is not quintessentially Eurocentric. His deep scepticism towards global narratives of progress, and his meticulous account of the physicality and spatiality of power, informs a range of work on imperialism and colonialism (see e.g. Arnold, 1994).
Foucault was a remarkably visual and spatial thinker. Rajchman (1991) suggests that he had an \'art of seeing\' how \'things were given to be seen\', how bodies were \'â€œshownâ€ to knowledge or to power\' through spectacle and surveillance, and how we made the body amenable to discipline by building \'spaces of constructed visibility\' such as asylums and prisons. Indeed, Foucault once surmised that \'geography must lie at the centre of my concerns\', for he had effectively shown that it is impossible to understand how regimes of power emerge and are deployed without thinking about how they work in and through space (Foucault, 1980c).
Geographers have analysed constellations of disciplinary power and space in a range of European and non-European settings (see Hannah, 1997). They have stressed that genealogy confounds the analytical separation of space and society, and they are now suggesting that Foucault\'s arguments about normalization give us insights into the discursive constitution of nature as well as society (see Gregory, 1998). Foucault\'s ideas also inform recent \'critical histories of geography,\' which seek to question the ways in which some geographical ideas, methods, institutions and texts came to be seen as central to the discipline, and others were marginalized (see Driver et al. 1995; cf. geography, history of).
Genealogy is a sensitizing device, and it encourages a style of geographical work that is attentive to a range of problems: (a) the critical purpose of historical perspectives within geography; (b) that the geographies that geographers produce both shape, and are shaped by, relations of power; (c) that the production and representation of space is directly implicated in the exercise of power and formation of identity; (d) that how we think and write about the past has a central bearing on how we ascertain and disclose what is intolerable about the present; and (e) how we might draw out previously unseen spatial dynamics of domination and subjugation, inclusion and exclusion, without entrenching or proliferating their effects.Â (DC)
References Arnold, D. 1994: The colonial prison: power, knowledge and penology in nineteenth-century India. In D. Arnold, and D. Hardiman, eds, Subaltern studies VIII: essays in honour of Ranajit Guha. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 148-87.Â Donnelly, M. 1992: On Foucault\'s uses of the notion \'biopower\'. In T. Armstrong, ed. and trans., Michel Foucault: philosopher. New York: Routledge, 199-203.Â Driver, F. et al. 1995: Geographical traditions: rethinking the history of geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 403-22.Â Foucault, M. 1977: Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison, trans. A. Sheridan. London: Allen Lane. Orig. pub. Fr. 1975, Surveiller et punir. Foucault M. 1978: The history of sexuality, vol. 1: an introduction, trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House. Orig. pub. Fr. 1976, La volontÃ© de savoir.Â Foucault, M. 1980a-c: Two lectures: Truth and power; Questions of geography. In his Power/knowledge: selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977, ed. C. Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books, 78-133, 63-77.Â Foucault, M. 1982: The subject and power. In H.L. Dreyfus, and P. Rabinow, Michel Foucault: beyond structuralism and hermeneutics. Brighton: The Harvester Press, 208-26.Â Foucault, M. 1986: Nietzsche, genealogy, history. In P. Rabinow, ed., The Foucault reader. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 76-100. Orig. pub. Fr. 1971.Â Foucault, M. 1991a: Questions of method. In G. Burchall, C. Gordon, and Miller, P., eds, The Foucault effect: studies in governmentality. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 73-86. Orig. pub. Fr. 1980.Â Gregory, D. 1998: Explorations in critical human geography. Hettner-Lectures, 1. Heidelberg: Department of Geography, University of Heidelberg.Â Hannah, M. 1997: Space and the structuring of disciplinary power: an interpretive review. Geografisker Annaler 79 B: 171-80.Â Rabinow, P. 1994: Modern and counter-modern: Ethos and epoch in Heidegger and Foucault. In G. Gutting, ed., The Cambridge companion to Foucault. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 197-214.Â Rajchman, J. 1991: Foucault\'s art of seeing. In his Philosophical events: essays of the \'80s. New York: Columbia University Press, 68-102.
Suggested Reading Foucault (1977), (1980).