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We live in the era of a
‘governmentality’ that emerged in the eighteenth century, which engenders debates
over a revised perception of power. The shift from sovereign power to
governmental power generated a paradoxical phenomenon, because “the problems of
governmentality and the techniques of government have become the only political
issue, the only real space for political struggle and contestation”.
Nonetheless, “the governmentalization of the state is at the same time what has
permitted the state to survive. (…) Thus, the state can only be understood in
its survival and its limits on the basis of the general tactics of

Michel Foucault introduces the
concept of governmentality as a tool for understanding the “autonomous”
individual’s capacity of self-governance and the way in which this is connected
to forms of political rule and exploitation. As the “conduct of conduct”, the role
of the government is to shape human behaviour through calculated means.
Foucault argues that the concern of government is “welfare of the
population, the improvement of its condition, the increase of its wealth,
longevity, health, et cetera” (Foucault 1991, p.100). However, he notes
that the practice of power changed drastically when the its subject shifted, by
natural necessity, from the family to the population as a whole. That is
because, at the level of population, governmental power cannot coerce every
individual, nor control one’s action in minute detail. Hence, power is
exercised by setting conditions, “arranging things so that people,
following only their own self-interest, will do as they ought” (Scott
1995, p.202).

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The will to govern, which Foucault
equivalents under governmentality with the will to improve the wellbeing of the
population, is pervasive. It encompasses “men in their relations, their
links, their imbrication with…wealth, resources, means of subsistence, the
territory with all its specific qualities, climate, irrigation, fertility, et
cetera; men in their relation to… customs, habits, ways of acting and
thinking, et cetera; and lastly, men in their relation to… accidents and
misfortunes such as famine, epidemics, death, et cetera” (Foucault 1991,
p.93). Political expertise interferes with those relations to regulate them, in
order to advance constructive processes and diminish detrimental ones. In this
regard, Foucault states:

“Government is defined as a right manner of disposing things so as to
lead not to the form of the common good, as the jurists’ texts would have said,
but to an end which is ‘convenient’ for each of the things that are to be
governed. This implies a plurality of specific aims: for instance, government
will have to ensure that the greatest possible quantity of wealth is produced,
that the people are provided with sufficient means of subsistence, that the
population is enabled to multiply, etc. There is a whole series of specific
finalities, then, which become the objective of government as such. In order to
achieve these various finalities, things must be disposed – and this term,
dispose, is important because with sovereignty the instrument that allowed it
to achieve its aim – that is to say, obedience to the laws – was the law
itself; law and sovereignty were absolutely inseparable. On the contrary, with
government it is a question not of imposing law on men, but of disposing
things: that is to say, of employing tactics rather than laws, and even of
using laws themselves as tactics – to arrange things in such a way that,
through a certain number of means, such and such ends may be achieved.”

The capacity to recognise the
necessary “finalities” and the “right manner” of achieving them illustrates,
according to Dean (1999), the utopian character of the Foucauldian government:
the search for improved lives and improved means of achieving it. It emphasises
the role of thought and technique, which create the ensemble of “institutions,
procedures, analyses and reflections, the calculations and tactics”
(Foucault 1991, p.102) through which governmental programmes of intervention are
drawn up and the conduct of subjects administered.

A program of intervention – the
goal to be achieved –  is a “fragment of
the real”, as it produces explicit results and explains certain practices and
processes. However, they are not created ab initio. It presupposes the will to
govern, and it is the product of multiple intentions and determinants. It not
only employs, but is also situated within a varied assembly of diapositives
which entail “forms of practical knowledge, with modes of perception,
practices of calculation, vocabularies, types of authority, forms of judgement,
architectural forms, human capacities, non-human objects and devices,
inscriptions, techniques and so forth” (Rose 1999, p.52; Foucault 1980,
p.194). Regarding governmental programs as assemblages helps “break down the
image of government as the preserve of a monolithic state operating as a
singular source of power and enables us to recognize the range of parties
involved in attempts to regulate the conditions under which lives are lived”.

The shift to governmental power
means that population becomes the ultimate end of the employment of power.
Contrasting to sovereign power, governmentality is not concerned with the act
of government itself, but with the wellbeing of the population, the enhancement
of its condition, wealth etc. Moreover, the power through which governmentality
reaches those ends is itself intrinsic and operating within the population. Tania
Li argues that “the population now represents more the end of government than
the power of the sovereign; the population is the subject of needs, of
aspirations, but it is also the object in the hands of the government, aware,
vis-a-vis the government, of what it wants, but ignorant of what is being done
to it”. 

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