Foucault and Method

Michael J. Shapiro

Introduction: “Tools”

My title is inspired by Fredric Jameson’s Brecht and Method, where he suggests that rather than offering a doctrine, [Brecht’s] “‘proposals’ and his lessons—the fables and proverbs he delighted in offering—were more on the order of a method than a collection of facts, thoughts, convictions, first principles and the like.” He adds that for Brecht “science and knowledge are not grim and dreary duties but first and foremost sources of pleasure: even epistemological and theoretical dimensions of ‘science’ are to be thought in terms of popular mechanics and the manual amusement of combining ingredients and learning to use new and unusual tools.”1 Foucault also evokes the tool metaphor to articulate his work with method. Referring to his analysis of prisons and asylums, he writes, “I would like my books to be a kind of tool-box which others can dig in to find a tool with which they can make good use, in whatever manner they wish, in their own area.”2 Certainly, many have dug in effectively; there is no stronger testimony to Foucault’s hopes for the value of his toolbox than the various essays in the edited volume, The Foucault Effect, where

M.J. Shapiro (*)

University of Hawai’i, Manoa, HI, USA e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017 115

P. Bonditti et al. (eds.), Foucault and the Modern International,

The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56153-4_7

diverse scholars make use of Foucault’s concepts—“the rationality of government” (“governmentality”), “the microphysics of power,” “risk,” “insurance technology,” and “genealogy,” among others.3

Doubtless we can connect Brecht and Foucault on a number of conceptual dimensions, not the least of which are practices of space and strategies of distanciation. For example, inventing an innovative model of spatiality, Foucault placed critical value on what he called heterotopias, “sites that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the real space of Society.” Such sites function, among other things, he writes, “in relation to the space that remains,” and one such function, which gestures toward the role of the theater (as Brecht understood it), is “to create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory.”4 Brecht’s use of the theater echoes that sentiment and adds the dimension of distanciation. For him the theater, “as an institution microcosmic of society as a whole (...) offers an experimental space and collective laboratory” where “the classical questions and dilemmas of political philosophy can be ‘estranged’ and rethought.”5 Similarly, Foucault avowedly employed strategies for distancing oneself from familiar problems. For example, he noted that he would often attend to “the history of successive forms in order to show how peculiar the contemporary form is” and thereby “to stand detached from it, bracket its familiarity, in order to analyze the theoretical and practical context with which it has been associated.”6 And in his lectures on Security, Territory, Population, where he notes that his method has involved a “triple displacement,” he speaks of the necessity of transferring to the “outside,” by looking at institutions from a point “off-center,” by employing an “external point of view in terms of strategies and tactics [instead of] the internal point of view of the function,” and by “free[ing] relations of power from the institution, in order to analyze them from the point of view of technologies.”7 In the next section, I want to pursue these aspects of his method and treat the epistemological issues that he has always added to them.

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