Autonomy, Truth, and Power: Reconciling the Carceral with the Care of the Self in Foucault

In Discipline and Punish Foucault maintains ‘in its function, the power to punish is not essentially different from that of curing and educating’.

Later he argues that ‘Let’s take the pedagogical institution… I don’t see where evil is in the practice of somebody who, in a given game of truth, knowing more than another, tells him what he must do, teaches him, transmits knowledge to him, communicates skills to him.’

What is the tension if any in these two positions and how does Foucault reconcile these trains of thought in the interview ‘The Ethic of the Care of the Self as a Practice of Freedom’? Is he convincing?

Enfolding the unfolded:

Foucault on autonomy, truth, and power

Reconciling the carceral with the care of the self in games of truth and knowledge

Taken together, the works of Michel Foucault presuppose a discursive counter-humanist framework in which the Enlightenment and its liberal legacy are condemned. The consequent rejection of a normative basis upon which social, political, economic, even cultural, change can be theorised tends, then, to significantly limit the theory’s predictive—and certainly prescriptive—capacity. This paper seeks to show that, on closer reading, Foucault’s middle and late periods are reconcilable. In the analysis that follows, Foucault’s contrasting views on the roles of the state (or system), knowledge, and the self, are shown to constitute, in mediating subjectivity, two sides of the same functional juncture between an unfolded (or outward) order, and its underlying, easily missed (or inward) order. The paper concludes that Foucault’s middle and later period are thus reconcilable.

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