Security, Biopolitics, Surveillance and Perfect Future: Dispositifs of Power and Resistance

The same mechanism of “regurgitation” of a Foucault—the Foucault as he had been reconfigured by the successive appropriations and translations of his works—, is at work with the issue of security. Apart from some brilliant exceptions,36 a large number of IR scholars who had jumped on the post-2001 publications of Foucault’s lectures at the College de France were quite surprised by his Security, Territory, Population lectures series. For they were prisoners of their own conception of security (as war, survival and state protection) on the one hand, of the discussion on the state of exception Giorgio Agamben had launched immediately after September 11 on the other hand, they hardly managed to make sense of Foucault’s narrative on security. They could not realize that Foucault’s conceptualization of security was radically different, in fact connected with the question of the emergence of responsibility and labor work struggles, and with the correlative emergence of new administrative laws accepting a responsibility without guilt of the state in terms of compensations. This was all what Foucault’s seminar was about. By the time, Francois Ewald was preparing his Phd dissertation, and Robert Castel was publishing on the topic already.37 What was gaining centrality in the study of security was in fact the emergence and transformation of economics in terms of risk, insurance, welfare. As I explained earlier, Foucault abandoned the idea of developing a triptych in which security would be added to sovereignty and discipline to avoid some sort of evolutionist, neo-weberian approach of different stages of power evolution marked by a combination of three ideal types.38 Unhappy with these readings of his work, he reproached himself for his lack of clarity and shifted his attention to rationalities of government and the governmentality approach.

Paul Veyne—from whom he was very close—insisted at that time on the fact that the more Foucault tried to present the “novelty” of security in regard to discipline, the more he described a form of pastoral power practice. For Veyne, Foucault should rather look back at the Greeks and the Romans, before giving too much credit to seventeenth century liberal thought for having invented something new with a form of power acting upon freedom. Foucault first seemed to ignore these remarks, before changing his mind quite bluntly. He stopped working on security, and took the question of the conduct of conduct seriously to investigate again the government of the self out of an evolutionist canvas. This profound shift remained unnoticed to IR scholars who developed in the 2000s a new theorization of “critical” security that would connect the reading of risk and insurance with the rhetoric of incalculable risk the Bush administration developed at the same moment to justify a policy to “prevent” and anticipate terrorism (see Bonditti in this volume).

In these critical security works, terrorism and social security-welfare were creatively put under the label of security and very soon moved to risk “management” or “speculative” security. A crucial discussion about the state of exception, emergency, terror and prevention in times of anxiety or under a politics of insecurity and unease in the everyday life emerged and is still ongoing. In this debate however, quotations of Foucault serve more as invocations of the spirit of a dead grandfather than a proper analytics of the text—something Foucault himself might have been happy as I suggested in the introduction.

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