Violence and the Modern International: An Archaeology of Terrorism

Philippe Bonditti

“I start with a problem as it is currently posed and try to construct its genealogy. Genealogy means I conduct the analysis starting out from a contemporary issue.”1 This sentence from Michel Foucault is doubly informative about the aim of the philosopher-historian’s work. On the one hand, it involved treating a problem—in fact, as we shall see, particular historical forms of problematization of a phenomenon. On the other hand, the history of those problematizations was intended to inform the present in action; this is the role of diagnosis of the present.

The list of “problems” tackled by Michel Foucault is impressive: madness—in fact, its equation with illness and incorporation into the general domain of medicine with the development of psychiatric knowledge (savoir); the criminalization of certain kinds of behavior, with the prison-form as the solution; sexual practices installed by the “dispositif of sexuality” as the fulcrum for a whole set of strategies of power. There is also the problem of government, which, strangely enough, Foucault ignored in that 1984 interview, when he pulled his extraordinarily varied research enterprises together under the concept of “history of problematizations.”

P. Bonditti (*)

ESPOL, Catholic University of Lille, Lille, France e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

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_9

Having gradually made an appearance in his massive oeuvre from the mid-1970s, the problem of government acquired genuine centrality in the 1978 course, which did not actually start with a question about government, but what Foucault at the time called the “security society.” We now know that these analyses of security did not issue in a satisfactory conclusion,2 and Foucault fairly rapidly abandoned the theme in favor first of Christian pastoral power and then liberalism and neo-liberalism (see Bigo, Pandolfi and McFalls, and Gros in this volume). The question of government was the most irksome impasse in which Foucault found himself; he was unable to escape it.

The silent hypothesis behind these pages is that this impasse in fact stems from a double over-determination of Foucault’s historical inquiries by his own hypothesis of bio-power, formulated from 1974. On the one hand, this hypothesis led him to associate the general problem of security too closely with that of illness and health. On the other hand, in his historical research it seems to have led him to single out elements that could confirm the hypothesis of life as a new target of technologies of power. Hence, the continuity in Foucault’s analyses in these years: security—illness—population—human capital—Gary Becker—neo-liberalism (see especially Paltrinieri in this volume).

In what follows, I propose to reengage with the problem of government by reappropriating Foucault’s investigation of security, but examining it from the more particular standpoint of its relationship to the general problem of violence. I shall show that contemporary changes in security, conceived from the standpoint of the radical heterogeneity of its constitutive practices, are closely connected with, and even made possible by, a new problematization of violence since the 1950s. This is attributable to discourses on “terrorism” rather, to the “terrorism- discourse”—which is in fact a discourse on and about violence—that, with this concept of “terrorism” (I shall suggest), has segmented violence in a new way: no longer in accordance with the spatial division between the internal and the external—with crime and police on one side and war and the military on the other—but in line with a temporal division between the effectivity of violence and the possibility of its irruption. I shall then show how this new problematization of violence is accompanied by a profound transformation in the art of governing with the advent of traceability as a technology of government, betraying the emergence of “societies of traceability.”

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