I Governing Thought

2 Global governmentality and Foucault’s toolbox

Global Governmentality and Foucault’s Toolbox: Reflections On International Politics As a Social System and Field of Power Relations

Stephan Stetter


International Relations (IR) can learn from Michel Foucault to be skeptical about a specific type of theorizing. Namely one that narrows down the complexities of society as a whole, or the realm of international politics, in specific, to a few “explaining” variables - such as anarchy, Western hegemony, neoliberalism, contestations or postcolonial inequalities. Foucault-inspired scholarship in IR can be conceived of as an alternative approach, namely one that does, as Doerthe Rosenow (2008: 497) forcefully states, not follow the “tendency to solidify and take for granted certain paradigms of global political rule, which lead to the problematic impression that ‘the international’ is determined by a single overarching project.” In that context, it is paramount to bear in mind that Foucault famously rejected notions about his oeuvre being a holistic theory (see Section 3 below). Although it might precisely be just that, paradoxically, because Foucault builds his way of theorizing on a certain fuzziness of concepts - a fuzziness that arguably matches quite well with the heterogeneity and poly-contextuality of modern society.1 With a view to this theoretical ambivalence and its relevance for IR, Andrew Neal (2009: 542) thus rightly observes that “Foucault does not allow us to give ontological or epistemological priority to any object, concept or category, including ‘the international’ and ‘capitalism.’” Following this line of reasoning, I will resort in this chapter to a key concept from Foucault, namely the concept of governmentality, as a devise from a much broader Foucauldian conceptual toolbox. These tools can be deployed in a flexible manner, depending on the issue addressed. Thus, not all Foucauldian concepts have to be used simultaneously. For some research questions devoted to the study of modern society, in general, and IR-related topics, in specific “biopolitics” is your hammer, for others “genealogy” is the right screwdriver, while for a different set of questions “governmentality” plumbs well - and, to further complicate things, it has to be highlighted from the outset that Foucault refrained from offering specific definitions for these concepts, including governmentality. But what is even more important: not everything you need for the study of modern society might necessarily be in Foucault’s toolbox - including the realm of international politics as an element of modern society, a system and field as explained below. Thus, the box can, and in many cases should be, filled up with tools purchased at your local Social Sciences DIY-store. And at this store -the “Theories-of-Modem-Society-Store,” if you will - one shelf is reserved for Foucauldian tools, the other sells Luhmannian appliances, other aisles offers Bourdieusian kits or drilling machines by John W. Meyer, while - although not withdrawn from their shelves for the purpose of this chapter —Marxian, Durkheimiam, Habermasian and Simmelian items are stored there too.

Based on this kind of reasoning, I explore in this chapter the evolution of international politics from the vantage point of theories of modern society, focusing on governmentality understood as a pervasive form of power that hinges on technologies of indirect rule “from above” and technologies of the self “from below.” This is a form of power that became pronounced in modern society as a whole, in general, and within the international system that emerged therein in particular since the 19th century, in specific. Again recalling here the eclectic nature of Foucault’s reasoning, one is well advised to heed to Neal’s (2009: 542) advice that also in the realm of international politics Foucauldian concepts such as “ ‘governmentality’ can only be used to problematise diverse techniques of power, not to systematize.” Departing from this understanding, the main purpose of this chapter then is to discuss the relationship between governmentality and international politics. Taking Foucault’s toolbox argument serious, I will enrich the concept of governmentality through theoretical inspirations drawn from alternative, yet related research traditions that have modern society and its indirect forms of political power as a main focus of observation too. This allows me to resort in particular to the concepts of world society associated with modern systems theory championed by Niklas Luhmann and sociological neoinstitutionalism associated with John W. Meyer and to Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of social fields. The core objective then is to account for how international politics emerged and evolves as a distinct subsystem - or field - within an encompassing system of (modern) world society. I argue in particular that such a conjoined reading of Foucault and related theories of modern society offers a historically and sociologically informed framework for the study of the evolution of international politics as a social system and field of power relations under the condition of “globality” (see Busse and Hamilton’s introductory chapter). The core argument being that within the modern international system governmentality and its core feature of indirect power is a central operating feature. After a general introduction into the overarching topic of the evolution of international politics as a subsystem (Section 2), I take a closer look into Foucault’s toolbox in Section 3, exploring here the concept of governmentality - thereby highlighting its double dimension of constraining and engendering individual conduct through indirect power - while in Section 4,1 explore how this can be enriched

Global governmentality and Foucault’s toolbox 31 through insight from the aforementioned theories of modern society on offer at your local Social Sciences DIY-store.

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