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Milchman - A Foucauldian Analysis of Psychoanalysis: A Discipline that "Disciplines"

A Foucauldian Analysis of Psychoanalysis: A Discipline that "Disciplines"

by Alan Milchman and Alan Rosenberg

My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same a bad.  If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not to apathy but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism.  I think that the ethico-political choice we have to make very day is to determine which is the main danger.  (Michel Foucault) 1

One of the ethico-political choices of the later Foucault was to focus on the danger represented by psychoanalysis in our developing disciplinary society.  Tendentially, such a society, for Foucault, would be "a regulated, anatomical, hierarchized society whose time is carefully distributed, its spaces partitioned, characterized by obedience and surveillance."  If we refer to a developing disciplinary society, it is because, for Foucault, these tendencies encounter resistance, not all the trends and practices of our society are disciplinary, and, therefore, the very powerful disciplinary tendencies which characterize modernity do not constitute a totalization. According to Foucault, "'Discipline' may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a 'physics' or an 'anatomy' of power, a technology."  That developing disciplinary society, in which we moderns find ourselves, has as one of its key feature a political technology of individuals in which the repression and domination of people through the violence, or direct threat of violence, by the monarch or ruler has been largely replaced by the control of people through disciplinary technologies and the disciplines, These latter, the human science, of which psychoanalysis is one, make it possible to discipline the human subjects to whose very creation they have been integral.  As C. G. Prado has pointed out, central to Foucault's account of modernity is:

 ... what he calls "disciplines" or what can be glossed as techniques for managing people. His point is that disciplinary or managerial techniques were initiated and developed into a technology for the control of individuals. The new techniques continued to operate on the body, as had monarchical torture, but they did so by imposing schedules, restrictions, obligatory comportment, and examinations. In contrast to their brutal predecessors, the new techniques did not inflict violence on the body. Instead of inflicting pain, the new techniques instilled controlling habits and value-sustaining self-images. 

If psychoanalysis loomed large in Foucault's concerns about the developing disciplinary society, it was because it was one of the disciplines which has had a decisive role in constituting the modern subject, which has shaped its very deployment and the mode in which it is disciplined.  According to Louis Sass, "psychoanalysis is by far the most influential contemporary vision of human nature...." It shapes the way in which we today understand the personal domain (self, self-identity and subjectivity) as well as the relation between self-organization and the contemporary social and political worlds.  Moreover, the knowledge proffered by psychoanalysis presupposes the person of desire, whose essential truth lies in her sexuality, and which is revealed through a confession, a verbalization, brought within the confines of a rigorous scientificity.  In addition, as Francoise Meltzer has argued, "Psychoanalysis has infiltrated such diverse areas as literature (to which it owes its myths), linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, history, feminism, psychology, archeology, neurology, to name some. And it is in the notion of 'some,' perhaps, that lies the crux of the problem. For there is in psychoanalysis an overt conviction that it exists as the ultimate totality, of which everything else is a part."  Beyond the vast scope of its theoretical claims, psychoanalysis also shapes the therapies which are deployed by the health professions: a s Eli Zaretsky has pointed out, "... all forms of psychotherapy, other than drugs or behavioral modification, are based on some variation of psychoanalysis. Finally, the modern subject, in the deployment of which, and in whose therapeutic treatment, psychoanalysis has played so important a role, has itself assumed an unexamined, taken-for-granted character; its truth is taken to be universal, and as such, it is rarely questioned.

Foucault's concerns about psychoanalysis were linked to his overall concern to alert us to the dangers involved in that which is taken to be self-evident, universal, and necessary.  Action based on the unexamined, taken-for-granted, assumptions implicit in our practices and thinking can have painful consequences.  For, as William E. Connolly has pointed out, Foucault believed that it was the "arbitrary cruelty installed in regular  institutional arrangements taken to embody the Law, the Good, or the Normal " that was most dangerous.  These institutional arrangements are an integral part of the developing disciplinary society; their cruelty inseparable from it.  In the case of psychoanalysis this "arbitrary cruelty" refers to the operations of a mode of thinking that creates the binary opposition between normality and pathology.  This "dividing practice," to use a Foucauldian trope, is dangerous because it judges individuals as "insiders" (normal) and "outsiders" (pathological).  Such an ordering procedure in effect dictates what an individual should be, namely normal, and then, according to John Caputo, develops "administrative practices and professional competencies to see to it that such individuals are in fact produced....Individuals who are specified by the expert, the professional, as pathological come to understand themselves as "sick," and this designation may then become the basis for them not only being stigmatized, but feeling themselves to be, and understanding themselves as, perverted.  What is no less troubling is the situation of those individuals who do not see themselves as "sick" but who are nonetheless stigmatized by virtue of being so classified. As David Halperin has asserted, these individuals are unable to speak the truth about their own lives because they have "been denied a rational basis on which to speak at all," that power having been arrogated by the expert, the psychoanalyst.

Thus, for example, many psychoanalysts in the 1950's and 1960', including such prominent figures as Irving Bieber, Lionel Ovesy, and Charles Socarides, designated homosexuality as necessarily pathological, and viewed the adoption of heterosexual behavior to be a valid and important goal of treatment. Their scientifically based assumption of a supposed normal pattern of sexual development, according to Nikolas Rose, simultaneously defined a state that was presumed to be healthy at the level of the individual, desirable at the social level, and normal at the statistical level. Confronted by such normative claims, many homosexuals were trapped by a rhetoric of pathologization and rejection, causing great personal anguish.  That anguish was compounded by the fact that the homosexual confronted a series of claims and assertions that were supposedly scientifically grounded, and, thereby, seemingly unchallengeable.  As David Halperin has pointed out:

To be, and to find oneself being, known and described--rationally (or so it can be made to seem) and therefore definitively, more objectively (or so one is told) than one is capable of describing oneself and therefore irrefutably, resistlessly, and with an instantaneous finality that preempts and defeats any attempt on one's own part to intervene in the process by which one becomes an object of knowledge, and that renders one helpless to stave off the effects of a knowledge one has had no share in creating -- that is an experience whose peculiar terror is hard to convey to those who have never suffered from the social liabilities that cause the rest of us to be continually and endlessly prey to it.

Foucault's concerns about the "arbitrary cruelty" imposed by the institutions of the developing disciplinary society which act as the arbiter of the " Normal ," to which William Connolly has called attention, are also reflected in the ways in which children have been normalized through the discursive and social practices of psychoanalysis and its allied sciences. Thus, for example, from the work of Arnold Gesell at the Yale Psycho-Clinic to the "Developmental Profile" created at the Anna Freud Center in England , diagnostic methods for assessing both normality and abnormality in the behavior of children were created.  As Nikolas Rose concluded with reference to the work of Gesell, "childhood is first made visible, in relation to the normalization of behavioral space within the clinic, then inscribable through the refinement of procedures for documenting individuality, then assessable through the construction of scales, charts, and observation schedules." Anna Freud and her colleagues created a "Developmental Profile" to provide an "internal picture of the child" with particular emphasis on the interaction of drive (libidinal and aggressive) development and ego and superego development. The child appeared as motivated by instinctive forces of infantile sexuality, the Oedipus complex, primitive aggression, regression and fantasy. The result, as Rose has pointed out, was that "the psychic life of children had been opened directly to the psychoanalytic gaze and rendered observable, notable, and inscribable in terms of the pertinencies of psychoanalytic theory."

As a result of these discursive and medical practices which are embedded within the developing disciplinary society, in Rose's words, "The human individual has become calculable and manageable." However, what of those children whose behavior has been designated as abnormal or pathological, and whose management requires therapeutic "correction"? Such children may face exclusion and segregation from their peers, be classified as deviants, and become the objects of invasive therapeutic and medical technologies. Given the suffering that is inflicted on children designated as abnormal, children who do not conform to our management-driven behavioral norms, we should make a thorough inquiry both into the social and discursive practices on the basis of which those norms were created, and into the assumptions underlying the very institutions and professional expertise that empower us to engage in the classifying and dividing practices of psychoanalysis.

William Connolly has pointed out that Foucault contended "that systematic cruelty flows regularly from the thoughtlessness of aggressive conventionality, the transcendentalization of contingent identities, and the treatment of good/evil as a duality wired into the intrinsic order of things." It is through "disrupting" our present practices and prevailing categories of thought, showing that they were historically created and contingent, not self-evident and necessary, that Foucault hoped to foster the critical distance needed to see the dangers inherent in them. For Foucault, "A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest." Moreover, for Foucault, the work of the critical intellectual is "to question over and over again what is postulated as self-evident, to disturb people's mental habits, to dissipate what is familiar and accepted, to reexamine rules and institutions...."

Only after showing that things are not self-evident or necessary is the conceptual space opened up that will provide the opportunity to exercise the freedom to "think differently" and act otherwise. Thinking differently for Foucault, as C. G. Prado has asserted, entails the "ceaseless problematization of established truths and knowledges" which will "enable us to resist being wholly determined by power-relations." By modifying the truths and knowledges within which we are fashioned, and in terms of which we fashion ourselves, as subjects, we can resist the dominant forms of power-relations instantiated in the developing disciplinary society. Indeed, thinking differently means not just disrupting taken-for-granted modes of thinking, but experiencing the world in new ways, and acting in it on the basis of a new perspective. Thus, thinking differently, critique, for Foucault, is genealogical, not metaphysical. Foucauldian critique is not directed to the quest for any transcendental bases of human thought or action, but rather to separating "out, from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being, doing, or thinking what we are, do, or think. It is not seeking to make possible a metaphysics that has finally become a science; it is seeking to give new impetus, as far and wide as possible, to the undefined work of freedom."

Foucault's conception of the critical intellectual who opens up the space to think differently is linked to his perspectivism, his experiential notion of truth, and to his conception of his own works as "fictions."  For Foucault, truth is not a linguistic correspondence with reality, with the "facts." As a Nietzschean, for Foucault, there is no reality "in itself," no facts, to which truth would correspond, or, at any rate, no way to ground such a conception of truth.  Instead there are only interpretations, and truth is perspectival and experiential; "Truth is not of the order of that which is, but of that which happens, an event. It is not recorded, but created [suscitée]: something produced, not apophantic." Foucault's perspectivism, his contention that his own conclusions and judgements are interpretations, what Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow have designated his "interpretive analytics," means that his diagnosis of modernity as a developing disciplinary society cannot itself be grounded; there is nothing outside the analysis or interpretation itself on which to ground it. As Dreyfus and Rabinow contend, Foucault's "diagnosis that the increasing organization of everything is the central issue of our time is not in any way empirically demonstrable, but rather emerges as an interpretation. This interpretation grows out of pragmatic concerns and has pragmatic intent, and for that very reason can be contested by other interpretations growing out of other concerns." Foucault's perspectivism, his commitment to the radical contingency of interpretation, is an extremely novel idea, the implications of which have not always been recognized.

This idea that truth is not apophantic, corresponding to something "out there," something "real," is connected to Foucault's claim to write experience-books, to acknowledge that his interpretations "'are nothing but fictions.'" According to Dreyfus and Rabinow, these fictions can be extremely important, though in ways that reveal "more about society and its practices than about ultimate reality.  Interpretation starts from current society and its problems.  It gives them a genealogical history, without claiming to capture what the past really was." However, Foucault's fictions, through which he creates the space to think differently, which are an exercise of freedom, are not to be understood as "false" over against statements which are true. Rather, these fictions can become true to the extent to which they are taken up and used to comprehend, and act in, the world. That is, these fictions become true as we think with them, and act in the world on the basis of them. This is close to what C. G. Prado understands by Richard Dawkin's notion of "catching on," or to Richard Rorty's conception of "uptake." The constant danger is that these fictions, once they catch on, once they become truths, will end up as ahistorical, transcendental, concepts. It is for this reason that Foucault speaks of a permanent critique of ourselves, and of our historical epoch, which applies not just to the truths established by the prevailing discursive practices, but to the fictions which we want to catch on as well. In that sense, Foucault's injunction to constantly disrupt people's mental habits will also apply to his own fictions should they achieve the status of successful cultural artifacts. Such then is Foucault's "hyper- and pessimistic activism": the critical intellectual seeks to resist the power-relations inscribed in the prevailing social and discursive practices, seeks to overcome the dangers which they instantiate. And it is this hyper- and pessimistic activism which Foucault directs to an encounter with psychoanalysis.

Before turning to the several different elements of a Foucauldian critique of psychoanalysis, we need to insist that Foucault's very understanding of psychoanalysis arises within the perspective of his confrontation with the developing disciplinary society, and to stress the fact that psychoanalysis itself is a contested term, one without any fixed meaning. Thus, psychoanalysis signifies very different things, depending on the time and place in its history. Moreover, the very criteria on the basis of which one defines psychoanalysis, and who is qualified to be considered an analyst, will differ greatly depending where one is situated historically, culturally, and linguistically.  Psychoanalysis can be best understood as a "floating signifier," as a term that is itself historically contingent and variable. It is therefore important to indicate what Foucault means when he uses the term. Psychoanalysis, for Foucault, does not simply refer to psychotherapy or theory as it is conventionally understood. Rather, refunctioning a concept that Mitchell Dean has utilized in a different context, we can see psychoanalysis as an "assemblage," "comprised of diverse and heterogeneous elements: modes of training; forms of expertise; systems of classification; administrative practices and principles ... theories, strategies, and programmes of governance, their targets, aims, ideals, and effects; and agents and authorities." Moreover, this assemblage which comprises psychoanalysis is but one manifestation of the developing disciplinary society that so troubled Foucault, and whose genealogy was a focus of his work. As Dreyfus and Rabinow contend, Foucault "isolates and identifies the pervasive organization of our society as `bio-technico-power.' Bio-power is the increasing ordering of all realms under the guise of improving the welfare of the individual and the population. To the genealogist this order reveals itself to be a strategy, with no one directing it and everyone increasingly enmeshed in it, whose only end is the increase of power and order itself."

Psychoanalysis is the term by which we designate one of the disciplines among the psychological and social sciences, a discipline that includes a taken-for-granted understanding of the human subject and a therapeutic technology for its management. The assemblage that comprises psychoanalysis as a discipline entails a particular discourse on human existence, a life-and identity-defining master narrative which articulates a specific form of the subject that is asserted to be natural, essential, ahistorical, and universal; a subject constituted by its sexual desire. As Jana Sawicki has pointed out, according to Foucault, psychoanalysis "operates by categorizing individuals and attaching them to their identities, a form of power that locates the truth of the individual in his or her sexuality." It is within the framework of the psychoanalytic understanding that the truth of the individual lies in one's sexuality, that Foucault will explore the profound implications of what has been termed the "repressive hypothesis."

Indeed, one of the leitmotivs of Foucault's treatment of psychoanalysis as a manifestation of the developing disciplinary society is his thoroughgoing critique of the repressive hypothesis. In the broadest sense the repressive hypothesis, which is integral to the master narrative of psychoanalysis, and to the liberatory schemas of Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse, which are based on the existence of the Freudian desiring subject, insists that in the West, until the beginning of the seventeenth century, men engaged in "both a non-repressed sexual practice, an open and above-board sexual practice, and a free and joyful prattle, a kind of discourse free of reticence and disguises, about this sexuality." By the nineteenth century, the Victorian night had descended, and, according to the repressive hypothesis, sexuality, its practice, and its discourse, had been repressed, silenced. In his histories, Foucault has shown that the nineteenth century actually saw a preoccupation with sexuality and its manifold forms, an overwhelming concern with sexuality on the part of the biological and medical disciplines. What concerned Foucault, then, was the deployment of sexuality, and the forms this deployment has taken in modernity. As he contended: "It's not a question of denying sexual misery, but it's also not a question of explaining it negatively by repression. The whole problem is to understand which are the positive mechanisms that, producing sexuality in such a fashion, result in misery."

For Foucault, the repressive hypothesis itself arose with the modern deployment of sexuality. Propelled by the theories of Reich and Marcuse, the repressive hypothesis, which rested on an ahistorical conception of the human essence, and its sexuality, one it shared with Freudian psychoanalysis, has become the dominant political form in which the claims for sexual liberation have been articulated. However, Foucault argues that, taken up by sexologists and by anti-repressive therapists, these very claims constitute a trap for us:

They basically tell us: 'You have a sexuality, this sexuality is both frustrated and mute, hypocritical prohibitions repress it. So, come to us, show us, confide in us your unhappy secrets...' This type of discourse is in fact a formidable tool of control and power. As always, it uses what people say, feel and hope for. It exploits their temptation to believe that to be happy, it suffices to cross the threshold of discourse and remove a few prohibitions. It ends up in fact repressing and controlling movements of revolt and liberation 34. 

For Foucault, there is a distinction between repression, and the sexual misery it brings, and the repressive hypotheses, which rests on the belief in our invariant sexual essence, and needs to be grasped within the framework of a particular deployment of sexuality.

Commentators on Foucault often have largely focused on that part of his critique of the repressive hypothesis which shows that the nineteenth century actually saw a veritable explosion of discourses on sexuality, if not in literature (though if one includes pornography, there too), then surely in the biological and medical domain. However, to us what seems most significant in Foucault's critique of the repressive hypothesis is his contention that sexuality was actually deployed by the disciplines, which is why there was an explosion of discourses on sexuality in the Victorian Age, and that sexuality was part of a strategy of control, integral to the spread of bio-power. According to Foucault, sexuality "appears... as an especially dense transfer point for relations of power" articulated through a web of scientific and medical discourses and practices operating on the body. These latter constituted the particular deployment of sexuality that was connected to the exercise of bio-power. As Foucault argued:

Sexuality must not be described as a stubborn drive, by nature alien and of necessity disobedient to a power which exhausts itself trying to subdue it and often fails to control it entirely. .... Sexuality is not the most intractable element in power relations, but rather one of those endowed with the greatest instrumentality: useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a lynchpin, for the most varied strategies.

Indeed, as David Halperin has insisted, in contrast to the claims of psychoanalysis and its repressive hypothesis, sexuality " not some biological or physiological reality but an unprecedented historical `apparatus' (dispositif) for the organization of subjectivities, social relations, and knowledges...." What Foucault most objected to in the repressive hypothesis, then, was its somatization and transcendentalization of sexuality, and the desiring subject. Where psychoanalysis claimed to reveal the person of desire, Foucault argued that it had created him; where psychoanalysis claimed to uncover sexuality as the veritable key to our human nature, Foucault asserted that it had played the major role in its deployment.

For psychoanalysis, the discovery of the truth about one's sexuality is liberating, and, therefore, constitutes one of the primary goals of its therapeutic technologies. These therapeutic technologies, in which the patient is enjoined to speak the truth about his or her sexuality, according to Foucault, are linked to the confessional practices of ancient and medieval Christianity.  For Foucault, both Christian confession and psychoanalysis enjoin one to speak, to reveal, to disclose, in the former to a priest, in the latter to the analyst. Verbalization is the basis of both. What psychoanalysis, and its scientia sexualis has wrought is a veritable transformation of confessional practices, which has "caused the rituals of confession to function within the norms of scientific regularity...."

For Foucault, one of the main dangers of psychoanalysis was precisely its claim to know and reveal the Truth of the human subject; its denial of the historicity and variability of the modes of human subjectification.  As John Rajchman has opined, hasn't the purportedly revolutionary idea of psychoanalysis, that we are persons of desire, only continued "a confessional tradition, a jeu de verite of a time and place that had made it possible to say only one sort of truth about ourselves: the truth concerning our desire?" The claim that there is an invariant human subject, the essence of which is revealed by psychoanalysis and its theoretical matrix, facilitates the constitution of norms of behavior which can be fashioned on the foundation of its purportedly scientific knowledge. Therein lies the basis for the various disciplinary technologies which are deployed in the developing disciplinary society. It is against the backdrop of precisely that danger that Foucault undertakes his confrontation with psychoanalysis. For James Bernauer:

The significance and form of Foucault's history of the man of desire are best grasped if the history is understood in the context of its contribution to his "archaeology of psychoanalysis"; the objective of this latter project was to undermine modern anthropology and the notion of the self that was one of its firmest supports and expressions. Freud's understanding is a model of this notion, and thus becomes the principal target of Foucault's effort to render the self freshly problematic. The failure to recognize the confrontation with Freud that is taking place in Foucault's last works has often prevented commentators from appreciating his intentions and organization in these writings....40

For Foucault, what links the various psychoanalytic technologies is that they all provide procedures for making the self calculable, manageable, and governable along a set of fixed coordinates. According to Hubert Dreyfus, each of these technologies emanate from theories which "make causal claims based on an alleged science of human nature which justifies an account of normal and abnormal psychological function." Each of them postulates a subject, the features of which are fixed and unchangeable. Thus, the Freudian and Kleinian versions of psychoanalysis insist that the truth about our human nature is lodged in our sexuality, a vision which they share with the anti-repressive hypotheses of Reich and Marcuse. As Dreyfus points out, even the currently very influential Lacanian version of Freudianism "assumes an ahistorical knowledge of human nature...." For John Rajchman, it was just that claim on the part of Lacan which provoked Foucault's questioning: "Did we really have to place at the heart of our eros a 'signifying chain' that would always be leading back to an impasse or failing in our desire, and forward to the intricate role this desire would keep having in our lives? Or was this not just the presumption of a specific practice of interpretation, a particular 'hermeneutic of the self'?" Similarly, object-relations theory, one of the most important versions of psychoanalysis is the United States today, assumes that there is a fundamental human striving to relate to others, and that, according to Ronald Fairbairn, the libido is inherently object-seeking, not pleasure-seeking. Perhaps most important, object-relations theory posits algorithms of interaction which work by making human relations calculable. Meanwhile, self-psychology postulates that the human infant arrives in the world with an innate, biological, need for attachment, which therapy seeks to facilitate by developing the analysand's capacity to find an empathetically responsive selfobject milieu.

In Foucault's view, by contrast, the subject does not only have a genealogy, a history, but histories, inasmuch as there are manifold historical forms of subjectification and possibilities for new forms of subjectification in the future.  As John Rajchman insists, "Foucault took it upon himself to show that the question of 'desire' introduced through the Freudian 'revolution in ethics' was not universal, but rather `historical' -- a singular and contingent invention we may in fact be able to do without."  In contrast to the psychoanalytic conception of a transcendental subject, the later Foucault argued that "there is no sovereign, constitutive, subject, a universal form of the subject that one can find everywhere."  Instead, the subject is a historically contingent and changeable cultural identity.  Moreover, the Freudian subject, the person of desire, the subject whom psychoanalysis has claimed to scientifically discover and reveal, is, therefore, a cultural construction; indeed, an identity constructed by psychoanalysis itself as a discipline.  According to Gary Gutting, Foucault is especially concerned to challenge the claims of the human sciences "to provide knowledge of human beings. This is because he sees these disciplines ... as the primary source of contemporary constraints on human freedom." These constraints arise from the claims of the human sciences, and psychoanalysis in particular, to reveal the norms on the basis of which the healthy subject must function. The claims to scientificity on the part of these disciplines rest, in Foucault's view, on the fact that it invests them with enormous power, "a power which the West since medieval times has attributed to science and has reserved for those engaged in scientific discourse." 47

Beyond its claims for the ahistorical character of the subject, and the power its purported scientificity lends it, Foucault was also concerned to establish the genealogy of psychoanalysis as a discipline. According to John Towes, "Foucault perceived psychoanalytic therapeutic practice and its scientific discourse as a complex formation that stood at the crossroads where most of the important genealogies of the modern subject met and interacted. It also functioned as a kind of epitome of structural similarities in the techniques and discourses that produced the modern sexual subject as well as of an unreflective scientific perspective that denied the historicity of its knowledge." Thus, Foucault called our attention not just to the inability of psychoanalysis to acknowledge the historicity of the subject, and its own role in the genealogy of the person of desire, but also, and perhaps especially, to its failure to address the genealogy of its own all encompassing truth claims.

For Foucault, the very genesis of the discipline of psychoanalysis is itself linked to historical changes in the exercise of power-relations, and in particular to the emergence of governmentality.  According to the later Foucault, modern power-relations cannot be grasped on the basis of political theory's traditional model of power-law-sovereignty-repression. This juridical model of power, which still dominates political theory, and sees power as emanating from a sovereign, from the top down, ignores the fact that power today also comes from below. As Leslie Paul Thiele has argued in his explication of Foucault's contribution to a theory of power: "Power forms an omnipresent web of relations, and the individuals who support this web are as much the producers and transmitters of power as they are its objects."  In place of the juridical model of power, Foucault argues that modern power-relations are instantiated through what he designates as "governmentality." For Foucault:

The exercise of power consists in guiding the possibility of conduct and putting in order the possible outcome.  Basically power is less a confrontation between two adversaries or the linking of one to the other than a question of government.  This word must be allowed the very broad meaning which it had in the sixteenth century. `Government' did not refer only to political structures or to the management of states; rather it designated the way in which the conduct of individuals or groups might be directed: the government of children, of souls, of communities, of families, of the sick. .... To govern, in this sense, is to structure the possible field of action of others.

For Foucault, then, the operations of the modern state are not restricted to interdiction or repression in the political sense, but have expanded to incorporate the practices of governmentality. Government, in the Foucauldian sense, depends on the knowledge generated by the human sciences, by the disciplines, in particular psychoanalysis; indeed, the state claims that it governs on the basis of that knowledge.  Here, the central role of the human sciences in the operation of the developing disciplinary society, and its techniques for the control and management of its citizens becomes especially clear.  Moreover, governmentality, and the technologies for the control of individuals, are by no means limited to the state.

Indeed, according to Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller, modern, liberal societies do not leave the regulation of conduct solely or even primarily to the operations of the state and its bureaucracies: "Liberal government identifies a domain outside 'politics,' and seeks to manage it without destroying its existence and its autonomy."  This is accomplished through the activities of a host of institutions and agents not formally part of the state apparatus, including psychoanalytic facilities and analysts. As Nikolas Rose has pointed out, psychoanalysis, like "All the sciences which have the prefix `psy-' or `psycho-' have their roots in this shift in the relationship between social power and the human body, in which regulatory systems have sought to codify, calculate, supervise, and maximize the level of functioning of individuals.  The `psy sciences' were born within a project of government of the human soul and the construction of the person as a manageable subject."

As a manifestation of governmentality and its power-relations, psychoanalysis is implicated in the control of the individual. For Foucault, psychoanalysis is a discipline that "disciplines," that helps to create politically and economically socialized, useful, cooperative, and -- as one of the hallmarks of bio-power -- docile individuals. Indeed, according to John Forrester, for Foucault, psychoanalysis is "the purest version of the social practices that exercise domination in and through discourse, whose power lies in words, whose words can never by anything other than instruments of power." Of course, the aim of the analyst is not control, but the "mental health" of the individual and the "betterment" of society. Nonetheless, the result of the psychoanalytic management-oriented conception of the subject is an individual who is susceptible to techno-medical control. Moreover, as Nikolas Rose has suggested, the power-knowledge obtained by psychoanalysis (and indeed all of the psy sciences) and its technologies for the control of the individual:

fed back into social life at a number of levels.  Individuals could be classified and distributed to particular social locations in the light of them -- in schools, jobs, ranks in the army, types of reformatory institutions, and so forth.  Further, in consequence, new means emerged for the codification and analysis of the consequences of organizing classrooms, barracks, prisons, production lines, the family, and social life itself....Hence, the psy knowleges could feed back into more general economic and social programs, throwing up new problems and opportunities for attempts to maximize the use of the human resources of the nation and to increase its levels of personal health and well-being.

Whatever its impact or health and welfare, this power-knowledge enhanced the degree of control to which the person was subject, and made it possible to effectively discipline the individual. Indeed, the existence of our developing disciplinary society is inconceivable without the psy sciences, and the power-relations which they consolidate.

The discipline and control of the individual to which psychoanalysis made its signal contribution, was linked to its conception of, and commitment to, normalization. Foucault signalled the increasing role of normality and normalization in the functioning of the developing disciplinary society in Discipline and Punish: "The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the `social worker'-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements."  For Foucault, discipline and normalization were inseparable components of the emergence of the human sciences, and their technologies.  Indeed, he asserted that "a normalizing society is the historical outcome of a technology of power centered on life."

Psychoanalysis did not break with this complex. Indeed, according to Foucault, "Freud was well aware of all this.  He was aware of the superior strength of his position on the matter of normalization." Indeed, psychoanalysis was thoroughly implicated in the societal process in which the norm increasingly supplanted the law, in which the West was "becoming a society which is essentially defined by the norm."  For Foucault: "The norm becomes the criterion for evaluating individuals.  As it truly becomes a society of the norm, medicine, par excellence the science of the normal and the pathological, assumes the status of a royal science."  Lest one conclude that Foucault is not referring to psychoanalysis here, he is quick to point out that "psychoanalysis, not only in the United States, but also in France, functions massively as a medical practice: even if it is not always practiced by doctors, it certainly functions as therapy, as a medical type of intervention. From this point of view, it is very much a part of this network of medical 'control' which is being established all over." Deviation from the norm, in the establishment of which psychoanalysis played a signal role, the anomaly, became the object of the technologies and therapeutic techniques of the psy sciences, psychoanalysis among them. The theological conception of evil had given way to the psychoanalytic conception of deviance, in the combat against which the analyst was now enlisted to play a leading role.  As Hubert Dreyfus has claimed, "Freudian theory thus reinforces the collective practices that allow norms based on alleged sciences of human nature to permeate every aspect of our lives."  These practices then become a lynchpin of the developing disciplinary society and its techniques for managing people.

If Foucault situates psychoanalysis within the orbit of a developing normalizing disciplinary society of control, a governmentalized society, his genealogy of psychoanalysis scrupulously avoided any essentialization of that discipline, any judgement as to its intrinsic danger.  Indeed, based upon his interpretive analytics, his perspectivism, Foucault's understanding of psychoanalysis could only be an interpretation.  As Jana Sawicki has contended:

From a Foucauldian perspective, no discourse is inherently liberating or oppressive. This includes psychoanalytic discourses. .... we can only conclude that for Foucault, the status of psychoanalytic theory is ambiguous, a matter that must be judged by looking at specific instances, and not by setting up general criteria.  No doubt this is the point Foucault was making in one of his last interviews when he said: 'My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous.' 62

Given Foucault's understanding of genealogy, and his opposition to any totalization, that unwillingness to set up general criteria, or to designate a discourse as inherently oppressive, is only to be expected.

Thus, in the course of his genealogical study of psychoanalysis, Foucault showed how "Psychoanalysis was established in opposition to a certain kind of psychiatry, the psychiatry of degeneracy, eugenics and heredity." As Dreyfus and Rabinow show, "Foucault points out that particularly in its early days, whatever its normalizing function later on, psychoanalysis demonstrated a persistent and courageous resistance to all theories of hereditary degeneracy." In breaking the link between pathology and heredity, in asserting that the division between the normal and the abnormal was not biological, and that it ran through each individual, in its conception of the unconscious, which challenged the claim of consciousness to be the essence of our human being, psychoanalysis had a liberating role to play at its inception.  In his analysis of the origins of psychoanalysis in The Order of Things, Foucault found much to appreciate in the revolutionary achievements of Freud.  Much of the contrast between that understanding of psychoanalysis and the very different conclusions reached by the later Foucault, pertains to the historical context in which psychoanalysis is situated.  In The Order of Things, Foucault was counterposing Freud's theoretical breakthroughs and their impact to the orthodoxies of nineteenth century psychiatry. The later Foucault, by contrast, was concerned with the role of psychoanalysis as a discourse and complex of therapeutic technologies which had become one of the orthodox pillars of the normalizing disciplinary society.

Even in the contemporary world, socio-political context may still allow psychoanalysis to play a liberating role.  Thus, for Foucault, "in certain countries (I am thinking of Brazil in particular), it has played a political role, denouncing the complicity of psychiatrists with political power." The same thing was true in the Soviet Union, where those who were drawn to psychoanalysis tended to be critical of the Stalinist and post-Stalinist regimes, in contrast to the psychiatric profession. Moreover, one can easily imagine that in West African societies where clitoridectomies are routinely performed, and socially sanctioned, psychoanalysis and its insistence on the centrality of sexuality to one's personhood would be progressive in its impact. "But the fact remains that in our societies the career of psychoanalysis has taken other directions and has been the object of different investments.  Certain of its activities have effects which fall within the function of control and normalisation."

Beyond even its complicity in the control and normalization of the individual, the incorporation of the assemblage of psychoanalysis in the dispositif of the developing disciplinary society, the symmetry of its therapeutic technologies with the expanding sphere of governmentality, what Foucault saw as so dangerous in psychoanalysis were its discursive practices -- which it shared with modern humanism -- through which "a certain idea or model of humanity was developed, and now this idea of man has become normative, self-evident, and is supposed to be universal. .... What I am afraid of about humanism is that it presents a certain form of our ethics as a universal model for any kind of freedom."  It was the scientific claim of psychoanalysis to speak the Truth of the human subject that so frightened and disturbed Michel Foucault.

In contrast to that notion of a true self that is supposed to answer the question "who am I?" with a universal model of a normalized self, Foucault's idea, according to John Caputo, is "not only not to answer the question but to see to it that no one else is allowed to answer it either.  He wanted to keep this question open, and above all to block the administrators and professionals and managers of all sorts from answering this question, thereby closing us in on some constituted identity or another that represents a strictly historical, that is, contingent constraint." Foucault was not interested in attempting to generate a new normative idea of a self to which individuals should conform. What individuals should become is not of Foucault's or anyone else's business.  As we have said, what Foucault was attempting to do was to open up spaces, "to give new impetus ... to the undefined work of freedom." In terms of our present socio-political context, that means freedom for the individual to invent herself.

This is the link between Foucault's genealogy of psychoanalysis and his exploration of technologies of the self in the last two published volumes of his History of Sexuality.  Foucault's interest in the pagan world, and its preoccupation with the "care of the self," was an integral part of his effort to open up spaces, to allow the individual to re-invent himself.  If psychoanalysis provides us with a normalized self as universal, a subject based on its sexuality, then Foucault was convinced "that there are more secrets, more possible freedoms, and more inventions in our future than we can imagine in humanism as it is dogmatically represented on every side of the political rainbow...." For Foucault, the continuous critique of ourselves, of what we have contingently become, and of our historical epoch, all in the service of an ethic of permanent resistance against the obstacles to our re-creating ourselves, can unlock those secrets, and perhaps instantiate those possible freedoms.

The preoccupation of the final Foucault with technologies of the self was the concretization of the project he had adumbrated on the final page of the first volume of that History of Sexuality: "we need to consider the possibility that one day, perhaps, in a different economy of bodies and pleasures, people will no longer understand how the ruses of sexuality, and the power that sustains its organization, were able to subject us to that austere monarchy of sex, so that we became dedicated to the endless task of forcing its secret, of exacting the truest confession from a shadow."  The final volumes of The History of Sexuality, The Use of Pleasure, and The Care of the Self, as Joel Black has argued, were about "an alternative to the modern, scientific, and specifically psychoanalytic mode of thinking about sexuality," adumbrating an understanding of askesis which is a regulation of pleasure.  Foucault's concept of askesis as the regulation of pleasure, his linkage of ethics and aesthetics, his commitment to the task of creating ourselves as a work of art, constitute his answer to the claims of psychoanalysis, and the danger it constituted as a bulwark of the developing, normalizing, disciplinary society. As Alexander Nehamas has persuasively argued, Foucault passionately "believed that the 'care of the self,' unlike psychoanalysis, was not a process of discovering who one 'truly' is, but of inventing, improvising, creating who one can be.72"


1. Michel Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress," in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Second Edition With an Afterword by and an Interview with Michel Foucault (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 231-232.

2. Michel Foucault, Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, Edited by Sylvere Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 1996), p. 189.

3. Peter Miller also seeks to avoid the risk of totalization, and the danger of failing to see the extent to which "individuals constantly escape, evade and subvert the functioning of discipline." He, therefore, distinguishes a "disciplinary society" from a "disciplined society." See Peter Miller, Domination and Power (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), p. 196

4. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage books, 1979), p. 215.

5. C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995), p. 52.

6. Louis A. Sass, Madness and Modernism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 20.

7. Francoise Meltzer, "Introduction: Partitive Plays, Pipe Dreams," in The Trial(s) of Psychoanalysis, Edited by Francoise Meltzer (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 2.

8. Eli Zaretsky, "Bisexuality, Capitalism and the Ambivalent Legacy of Psychoanalysis, New Left Review, Number 223, May/June 1997, p. 70.

9. William E. Connolly, "Beyond Good and Evil: The Ethical Sensibility of Michel Foucault," Political Theory, Vol. 21, No. 3, August 1993, p. 366.

10. John Caputo, "On Not Knowing Who We Are: Madness, Hermeneutics, and the Night of Truth in Foucault," in John Caputo and Mark Yount (Eds.), Foucault and the Critique of Institutions (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), p. 250.

11. David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 123.

12. Nikolas Rose, "Michel Foucault and the Study of Psychology," PsychCritique, Vol. l, No. 2. 1985, p. 135.

13. See, for example, Kenneth Lewes, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality (London: Quartet, 1989), and Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality (New York: Dutton, 1995).

14. David M. Halperin, Saint Foucault, p. 176.

15. Nikolas Rose, "Calculable Minds and Manageable Individuals," History Of The Human Science, Vol. l, No. 2, October 1988, p. 193.

16. Nikolas Rose, Governing the Soul (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 161.

17. Nikolas Rose, "Calculable Minds and Manageable Individuals," p. 195.

18. William E. Connolly, "Beyond Good and Evil," p. 366.

19. Michel Foucault, "Practicing Criticism" in Michel Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, Edited with an Introduction by Lawrence D. Kritzman (New York and London: Routledge, 1988), p. 154.

20. Michel Foucault, "The Concern for Truth" in Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture, p. 265.

21. C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault, p. 163.

22. Michel Foucault, "What is Enlightenment?" in Paul Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), p. 46.

23. Michel Foucault, "La maison des fous" in Michel Foucault, Dits et Ecrits: 1954-1988, Edited by Daniel Defert and Francois Ewald, (Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1994), Vol. II, p. 694.

24. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p. xxvi.

25. Ibid.

26. Michel Foucault, "How an 'Experience-Book' is Born" in Michel Foucault, Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991), p. 33.

27. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p. 204, our emphasis.

28. C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault, pp. 131-132.

29. Mitchell Dean, "A genealogy of the government of poverty," Economy and Society, Vol. 21, No. 3, August 1992, p. 216. The term "assemblage" has been taken over from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

30. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p. xxvi.

31. Jana Sawicki, Disciplining Foucault: Feminism, Power and the Body (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), p. 41.

32. Michel Foucault, "Schizo-Culture: Infantile Sexuality" in Michel Foucault, Foucault Live, p. 155.

33. Michel Foucault, "The End of the Monarchy of Sex" in Michel Foucault, Foucault Live, p. 216.

34. Ibid., p. 217.

35. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), p. 103.

36. Ibid.

37. David M. Halperin, "Historicizing the Subject of Desire: Sexual Preferences and Erotic Identities in the Pseudo-Lucianic Erotes" in Jan Goldstein (Ed.), Foucault and the Writing of History (Oxford UK and Cambridge USA: Blackwell, 1994), p. 2l.

38. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I, p. 65. A fuller discussion of the links between Christian confession and its transformation by psychoanalysis, and the ways in which "the sexual confession come[s] to be constituted in scientific terms" (Ibid.) is beyond the scope of the present essay.

39. John Rajchman, Truth and Eros: Foucault, Lacan, and the Question of Ethics (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), p. 87.

40. James W. Bernauer, Michel Foucault's Force of Flight: Towards and Ethics for Thought (New Jersey and London: Humanities Press, 1990), p. 167.

41. Hubert L. Dreyfus, "Foucault's Critique of Modern Psychiatry," Journal of Modern Medicine, Volume 12, 1987, p. 332.

42. Ibid., p. 321.

43. John Rajchman, Truth and Eros, p. 87.

44. Ibid., p. 88.

45. Michel Foucault, "Une esthetique de l'existence" in Michel Foucault, Dits et Ecrits: 1954-1988, Vol. IV, p. 733. While this formulation of Foucault's, with its universalistic, ahistorical, implication, opens him up to the charge of self-refutation, what seems to us valid and crucial in Foucault's statement is its Nietzschean rejection of the claim -- explicit or implicit in psychoanalysis -- that there could be, in the words of Alexander Nehamas, "a complete theory of interpretation of anything, a view that accounts for 'all' the facts...." See Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 64.

46. Gary Gutting, Michel Foucault's Archaeology of Scientific Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 4.

47. Michel Foucault, "Two Lectures" in Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate, Edited by Michael Kelly (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 1994), p. 24.

48. John E. Toews, "Foucault and the Freudian Subject: Archaeology, Genealogy, and the Historicization of Psychoanalysis" in Jan Goldstein (Ed.), Foucault and the Writing of History, p. 128.

49. Leslie Paul Thiele, "Foucault's Triple Murder and the Modern Development of Power," Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol. XIX, No. 2, June 1986, p. 248. While Foucault spoke of an "analytics" and not a theory of power to distinguish his ideas from the totalizing claims of traditional political theory, Thiele claims that theory is always perspectival, and thereby reclaims the term for a genealogical perspective.

50. Michel Foucault, "The Subject and Power" in Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p. 221, our emphasis.

51. Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller, "Political power beyond the state: problematics of government," British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 2, June 1992, p. 180.

52. Nikolas Rose, "Michel Foucault and the Study of Psychology," p. 134.

53. John Forrester, The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 308.

54. Nikolas Rose, "Michel Foucault and the Study of Psychology," p. 136. Ellen Herman has shown the extent to which psychoanalysis forged a strategic alliance with the American state during World War Two, applying its technologies to the requirements of foreign and military policy. See Ellen Herman, The Romance of American Psychology: Political Culture in the Age of Experts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).

55. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 304.

56. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality,Volume I, p. 144.

57. Michel Foucault, "Body/Power" in Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, Edited by Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), p. 61.

58. Michel Foucault, "The Social Extension of the Norm," in Michel Foucault, Foucault Live, p. 197.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid., p. 198.

61. Hubert Dreyfus, "Forward to the California Edition" in Michel Foucault, Mental Illness and Psychology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. xxxviii.

62. Jana Sawicki, Disciplining Foucault, pp. 54-55. Foucault himself understood that despite his claim that his writings were fictions, there was a real danger that his work would be seen as an essentialization of psycho-

analysis. Thus, he acknowledged his concern that the proponents of a psycho-

analytic perspective "will take as 'anti-psychoanalysis' something that is only meant to be a genealogy." See Michel Foucault, "Power Affects the Body" in Michel Foucault, Foucault Live, p. 212.

63. Michel Foucault, "Body/Power" in Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p. 60.

64. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, p. 172.

65. Michel Foucault, "Body/Power" in Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p. 60.

66. Ibid., p. 61. A Foucauldian perspective would have to keep open the possibility that the evolution of the developing disciplinary society, such as the growth of HMO's in managing health care, and the efficiency and savings in replacing long-term psychotherapy by drugs, such as prozac and other powerful psychopharmaceuticals, may again lead psychoanalysis to function in a liberating fashion, at least in opposition to those tendencies.

67. Rux Martin, "Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault" in

Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault, Edited by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, Patrick H. Hutton (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1988), p. 15.

68. John Caputo, "On Not Knowing Who We Are" in Caputo and Yount (Eds.), Foucault and the Critique of Institutions, p. 250.

69. Rux Martin, "Truth, Power, Self" in Technologies of the Self, p. 15.

70. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I, p. 159.

71. Joel Black, "Taking the Sex Out of Sexuality: Foucault's Failed History" in David H. J. Larmour, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter (Eds.), Rethinking Sexuality: Foucault and Classical Antiquity (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998), pp. 51-52. In The Use of Pleasure, Foucault designates askesis, or what the ancients construed as the forms of ethical work, as "an exercise of oneself in the activity of thought." See Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of the History of Sexuality (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), p. 9.

72. Alexander Nehamas, "Subject and Abject," The New Republic, February 15, 1993, p. 34.

Alan Milchman teaches in the department of Political Science of Queens College of the City University of New York. He has published on Marxism, modern genocide, Max Weber, Heidegger, Foucault, and postmodernism.  He has co-edited Postmodernism and the Holocaust, with Alan Rosenberg (Rodopi, 1998) and Martin Heidegger and the Holocaust, with Alan Rosenberg (Humanities Press, 1996).


Alan Rosenberg is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Queens College of the City University of New York. He has published widely on psychoanalysis, the Holocaust, and the philosophies of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. Among the books that he has co-edited are Foucault and Heidegger: Critical Encounters, with Alan Milchman (University of Minnesota Press, forthcoming); Contemporary Portrayals of Auschwitz: Philosophical Challenges, with James Watson and Detlef B. Linke (Humanity Books); Psychoanalytic Versions of the Human Condition, with Paul Marcus (NYU press, 1998); Healing Their Wounds: Psychotherapy with Holocaust Survivors and Their Families, with Paul Marcus (Praeger, 1989); and Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections on a Dark Time, with Gerald Myers (Temple University Press, 1988).