On Foucault’s Work: Continuity Rather Than Rupture
Noortje Delissen is currently enrolled in the second year of the research master philosophy at the University of Utrecht. Before this research master, she completed her bachelor studies philosophy, the honors program Descartes College, and a propaedeutics in veterinary medicine, all at the University of Utrecht. Her research is focused on practical philosophy; at the end of her bachelor studies she mainly has worked on Michel Foucault and for her master thesis she is focusing on the intrinsic value of the humanities.
The early and late publications of the French philosopher Michel Foucault are customarily studied in isolation from each other. It is assumed that there exists a rupture between Foucault’s early analysis of knowledge and power mechanisms that shape and form subjects and his later analysis of subjects constituting themselves (Harrer 2005). Whereas Foucault in his early work seems to have focussed on existing power relations in a more direct manner, through expressing them in practices of direct domination, his later work concentrates on the presence of indirect power relations in practices where people legislate and govern themselves according to (unconsciously) given rules of ethical conduct. In this view, it is not only ‘the subject’ that seems to come forward differently. Foucault’s use and understanding of ‘resistance’ seems to have changed as well. What was a direct backlash against domination became a more indirect and subtle form that arises out of freedom practiced by people. One way to argue against this division is by pointing at Foucault’s methodology. Whereas it is customary to divide Foucault’s work into an archaeological and genealogical part corresponding to the division of the early and late period mentioned above, it can by contrast be argued that the methodology of his work should always be understood as a combination of both methods and must therefore be regarded as continuous. In this way, one can make Foucault’s seemingly changing use and understanding of ‘the subject’ and ‘resistance’ comprehensible within a continuous whole.