Recently a HECAT researcher, Magnus Paulsen Hansen was featured on the Fully Automated podcast, hosted by Nicolas Kiersey. The topic of discussion: was Foucault seduced by neoliberalism at the end?
This has been a contentious subject within Foucault Studies for a long time, and the podcast takes a big step towards addressing the most prevalent issues. In particular the podcast addresses the issue that often arises in such discussions, Foucault’s personal disillusionment with socialism in the twilight years of his life and the claim that at the time of his death that he had been preparing a book against the socialists. Foucault’s early work is compared to his later work and the podcast features an excellent discussion on how the tone and thrust of Foucault’s writing changes across his career. His early career work, which focused on specific institutions (prisons, hospitals, asylums) is often said to possess a level of critical intensity that steadily dissipates, particularly in his late-life lectures at the Collége de France.
Towards the end of the podcast the host and his guest take a turn to other questions, such as Foucault’s complicated relationship with Marxism, and the continuing absence of a socialist governmentality. As well as addressing the relevance of Foucault going forward, including Deleuze’s charge that Foucault analysed one type of society: the society of discipline, characterised by institutions. But now our society has changed to one of control, which is characterised by being digital, technological and diffused. For example consider that some workplaces use a system whereby workers must scan a keycard in order to unlock the bathroom, and each use of the keycard is tracked. Meaning that workers are incentivized to take fewer bathroom breaks, as their bosses and supervisors will know if they go to the bathroom too often. While this could be illustrated as a further example of the Panopticon in action, Deleuze suggests that this would miss the point. Foucault’s Panopticon was intended to work within the matrix of a disciplinary institution such as a school or prison, but now power has become completely dispersed and actualized through technological means of control.
The podcast is a must listen for anyone interested in engaging with Foucault in a comprehensive manner and who wishes to delve more deeply into the connection(s) between Foucault’s politics and his academic work. Both the host and his guest are keen to avoid the classic mistake of reading into unspoken or unconscious intentions of authors. What emerges is a nuanced and sophisticated conversation, informed by a detailed knowledge of Foucault. What conclusions do they come to? You’ll have to listen to the podcast yourself to find out.