Michel Foucault, “Security, Territory and Population” (response for Lab 4)



  • Intro: M.F taught from 1971 to 1984 at Collège de France. The students are considered auditors. The program is set around the genealogy of knowledge/power relations, a term he started using in the 1970s. Those that attended his lectures could always relate his subjects to contemporary reality.
  • Bio-power is when the basic biological features of the human species becomes a political object and so used strategically.
  • His analysis: “ investigating where and how, between whom, between what points, according to what processes, and with what effects, power is applied”.
  • To form and understand a theory of power, you have to look at it as a set of different procedures. Its roles are to “establish, maintain and transform mechanisms of power”. It is not an entity that exists on its own and doesn’t exist. It’s not an on/off button that dictates when it applies and when it doesn’t. It’s not “self-generating”.
  • Mechanisms of power are part of a circular set of relations, that are all their own cause and effect. It reminds me of a symbiotic relationship to some extent.
  • As these power relations are based on our society and the system it functions on, analyzing them is like analyzing those systems themselves and an overview on our society and civilizations.
  • He teaches the politics of truth, “ showing the knowledge effects produced by the struggles, confrontations and battles that take place within our society, and by the tactics power that are the elements of this struggle.
  • He mentions that imperative discourse are based on a choice of aesthetic order. He wants them to be merely tactical pointers. His only order that he wants to be applied is “Never engage in polemics”.

Security, terriory, population:

  • Security works around an average. The question it’s based on is “how to keep a type of criminality […] within socially and economically acceptable limits and around an average that will be considered optimal for a given social functioning”. The apparatus of security insert a phenomena within a series of probable events. The reaction to it is calculated in the cost. An optimal average between the permitted and prohibited is set on one hand, and on the other an interval that shouldn’t be exceeded.
  • Legal code = binary division between permitted and prohibited. Prohibition is coupled with a type of punishment which is the legal or judiciary mechanism.
  • Before the 18th century, the corrective effect applied with punishment was on the population as the wrong doer was usually hanged publicly. But any correction that avoids relapse is a mechanism of security.
  • Theft was a crime whose importance was due to its high probability.
  • Mechanisms of security, as time goes by, require more and more legislative green lights. However they are not to be mistaken with mechanisms of discipline (which replaces juridic-legal mechanisms). It is actually a series of complex edifices where the techniques at the surface may change, but it is the dominant characteristic that defines the correlation between all of them.
  • Mechanisms of security vary according to the goal that needs to be achieved. For example, the technologies used to control an epidemic aren’t the same as the ones used to prevent theft or crime.
  • “The actual exercise of sovereignty point to a certain multiplicity, but one which is treated as the multiplicity of subjects, or [as] the multiplicity of a people”.
  • “Discipline exists insofar as there is a multiplicity and an end, or an objective or result to be obtained on the basis of this multiplicity”.
  • “So sovereignty and discipline, as well as security, can only be concerned with multiplicity”.
  • Sovereignty, discipline and security treat space differently.
  • The state must be like an edifice: the peasants and countryside at the foundation, the common parts are the artisans in small towns, the noble quarters for the sovereign and the capital = geometrical relationship. The capital has a moral role and diffuses it throughout the territory.
  • How to ensure maximum economic development through commerce, within a rigid system of sovereignty.
  • In towns: more trade means more circulation. Space had to be structured in a way that ensured hygiene , ventilation, opening areas where it was too densely packed. It is maximizing good circulation by minimizing/deminishing the bad.

In conclusion:

The mechanism of security is based on a calculations of probabilities of a series of events. Estimating, managing and regulating those events within “a multivalent and transformable framework” is its essential characteristics.

Sovereignty exercises a moral code on a set milieu where physical nature and the human species connect.

Discipline works on a constructed artificial space and sets a hierarchal and functional distribution of elements.

Answer to questions:

I am currently in Madrid, Spain, the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic in Spain and one of the biggest hotspots in Europe. I was here when they enforced a full lockdown. It happened in stages: first they closed the schools and jobs, then they closed all businesses and restaurants that weren’t essential. Those decisions were mechanisms of security. After that they closed the national borders as well as the city’s borders, reinforced by municipal, national police, the civil guard and even military. The deployment of these different functionaries and the organization of their tasks is based on a mechanism of discipline. Finally, the acting government, that makes choices on a bigger scale but also keeps the morale with daily speeches and guidance is a mechanism of sovereignty. The response to the pandemic is a combination of the three. I don’t think there is anything new because political and sanitary responses to viruses like these are based on the responses from previous pandemics. Epidemiologists and health organizations study and follow from past events, and maybe contextualize it to our modern world and technologies, but at its essence it is the same.

The urban condition is affected as follows: there is a lot of fear, fear of the other, the invisible and the unknown. Nobody is used to this, nobody is used to this global halt. Additionally, let’s not forget we are in a western European country, so the fight for survival and states of emergency is not their everyday cup of tea like in some other misfortunate nations. I think it impacts them even more because their survival is not based on sheltering from bombs and violence, and the enemy is not clear. The affects are much more subtle but go deeper. For example, Spanish people love their football, restaurants and bars. It is engrained in their way of life and a life without it isn’t a life at all. They are now forced to discover a new way of functioning, a new way to entertain themselves and a new way to socialize that is very far from their traditions. Whereas culturally, in other places, if we take the United States for example; it is obviously a big shock to them too, but binge watching series and hours on the television is common to their culture. Another interesting shift I see is this refuge in leadership and national forces. The Police here is not very liked or respected, even in the richer neighborhoods. They are known to be unnecessarily violent and arrest easily in order to get commission and extra money. However, during this new time, discipline is respected, even put on a pedestal. When people go outside to clap for the medical staff at 8pm, if a police car passes in the street people clap harder and whistle, and it is returned with car sounds and sirens. Because of the gravity of the situation, security and discipline mechanisms are very harsh. People are getting fined extremely large amounts for the slightest, like going to the supermarket and buying less than 40 euros of food. I’ve never felt such pressure, fear, and surveillance from the state. Yet, still, we look for guidance and protection in them and applaud their endless hours of work. Finally, when it comes to sovereignty, not much has changed. The chief of government, Pedro Sanchez, is disliked by many if not most of the population, including people of the leftist party. As expected, in this situation, he is even more under pressure and scrutiny for the way he handled things. This is typical behavior in modern times towards the top figures; if we look around us, very few presidents are liked and respected by the majority of the population. However I’m noticing a lot of people, on social media and news outlets as well as in my entourage, that are being very forgiving towards him and that try to relate to the gravity of the situation and accept his decisions. It’s a mentality of “things are so bad we shouldn’t focus on penalizing him and instead try and work together to fight this”. It’s like a new solidarity between the sovereign and the people is born as we all work under his direction against a common enemy.

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