Parallel Practices

As one of my citations suggests, an important part of Foucault’s method is to provide a history of the present in a way that makes contemporary arrangements peculiar—for example, showing that modernity’s will to truth with respect to sexuality (the demand that people give and account of who and what they are as sexual beings) constitutes a radical break with how sexuality had been problematized in early periods.8 But perhaps his most accessible illustration is contained in his brief analysis of another historical episode of the will to truth, his gloss on the problem of the so- called dangerous individual in nineteenth-century legal psychiatry. There he refers to “the gradual emergence in the course of the nineteenth century of [an] additional character, the criminal.” Whereas in previous centuries, there were merely crimes and penalties, the nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of a new subject, which, having become an object of knowledge, was to be professionally interrogated and asked to tell truths about itself. As a result, conversations about the criminal/subject began taking place between doctors and jurists. Psychiatry had entered the courtroom because it was part of a new medical dispositif, focused on “a sort of public hygiene” applied to a new target of governance, the social order.9

Foucault’s account in his treatment of the “dangerous individual” points to a crucial aspect of his method. He incessantly surveyed com- plicit epistemological discourses, especially those of psychiatry and other “human sciences,” that ran parallel to the manifestations of the will to truth in changing modes of governance. For example, in his lectures under the title, Security, Territory, Population, he refers not only to an emerging governmentality—connected to new techniques of power focused on managing the new collective object, the “population” (a collectivity subject to calculations)—but also to the role of the “human sciences.” He shows that while governance had shifted from a focus on sovereign power to one of managing the social order, those “sciences” had become concerned with the population’s individual subjects, whose living, working, and speaking had to be comprehended.10

Elsewhere, in a reflection on an issue that arose in Australia in the 1970s, I elaborated the implications for inquiry of Foucault’s evocation of that new subject, “the population.”11 Concerned with a high rate of infant mortality among its Aboriginal “population,” the Australian government commissioned a social science investigation to explain what they viewed as a statistical aberration. Employing a social psychological idiom, their investigators attributed the problem to the Aborigine’s recalcitrance, their insistence on continuing to move about while their women were pregnant. As I pointed out, the presupposition of the investigation was assimilation- ist. Rather than recognizing Australia as a bicultural state and thereby taking on the responsibility to mobilize health care services—putting them in vehicles instead of having only the fixed spaces of the hospital—the investigators expected Aborigines to curtail their nomadic cultural practices (they referred to an Aboriginal “failure to assimilate to our norms”).12

As I added, however, a foucauldian gloss on the issue gives it a deeper, more historically sensitive political resonance. Adopting his genealogical approach, in which he investigates changing problematizations rather than problems, I observed that Australia had become assimilated to the modern governmentality, so that the governmentalization of health issues was responsible for absorbing Aborigines into “the techniques of power” (which had emerged in the eighteenth century), turning what was a solution for them into a problem for white Australian governance. This passage from Foucault’s initial investigation of the politics of sexuality remains both politically and methodologically perspicuous:

One of the great innovations in the techniques of power in the eighteenth century was the emergence of “population” as an economic and political problem: population as wealth, population as labor capacity, population balanced between its own growth and the resources it commanded. Governments perceived that they were not merely dealing simply with subjects, or even with a “people,” but with a “population.”13

 
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