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Rereading Foucault on Technology,Variegation, and Contemporary Power

  • Author(s): Lustig, Nicholas Ferris
  • Advisor(s): Curry, Michael
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation is a critical engagement with, and creative extension of, the work of French scholar Michel Foucault. While Foucault has been among the most read and influential scholars of the last fifty years, the reception of his work has become stultified in what one commentator has called a "Foucault consensus". Through four essays and four book reviews this dissertation seeks to explore new avenues into Foucault's work, underappreciated aspects of his analyses, new possibilities for extending his work, and ways his work must inform an indebted step beyond it. In a time of dramatic transformations in our technologies, institutions, cities, systems of power, relations of time and space, and possibilities of resistance, it is critical for us to reconsider our basic concepts. Returning critically and creatively to the work of Foucault from amidst the present situation can provoke new perspectives on his work and improved analyses of the present.

The first chapter is a lexicon of thirteen terms from his genealogical period that have been underappreciated but hold considerable analytical value not only for creative rereadings of Foucault's work but for contemporary analysis of newly emergent relations and systems of power. The terms include `agitation', `combinatory compositions', `continuum', `correlations', `distribution', `ensemble', `experiment, `extract', `forces', `invest', `multiplicity', `network,' and `seriation'. The book review accompanying this chapter is on the collection Michel Foucault Key Concepts edited by Dianna Taylor. This uneven collection is here praised for its efforts to connect Foucault's work to contemporary dynamics, but faulted for some of its lackluster readings of central terms in Foucault as well as its focus on Foucault's weaker later period.

The second chapter of this dissertation looks at Foucault as a scholar of technology, an aspect of his work that has received surprisingly little attention. This chapter argues for the importance of the concept of `technologies of power' to Foucault's rethinking of power in such a way as to distinguish his version from other scholars and schools, and to capture the distinctiveness of modern systems of power and disciplinary power in particular. This chapter also explores the role of machines in Foucault's analysis of modern power. The book review that follows chapter two is on Johanna Oksala's How to Read Foucault, which offers some interesting insights into Foucault's conceptualization of resistance, but overall fails to offer the creative and updated reading promised by this series.

The third chapter of this dissertation examines some echoes and possible supplements between the work of Foucault and the variegated political economic analyses of Jamie Peck, Neil Brenner, and Nik Theodore. By reading these studies of variegation as a theory of power, and reading Foucault through the lens of some of the key points of this framework, this chapter seeks to draw attention to some overlooked moments in Foucault's texts while also arguing that his framework could be modified and improved through a selective synthesis of his work with some arguments from Peck-Brenner-Theodore. The book review following this chapter is of Gilles Deleuze's Foucault. While in admiration of the creativity and freshness that Deleuze brings to his reading of Foucault, this review takes issues with Deleuze's conceptualizations of power, technology, space, and resistance in Foucault.

The fourth chapter examines the Real Time Crime Center in New York City. This chapter seeks to both work within a lineage of Foucault and move beyond his analysis of disciplinary power. It is argued that the Real Time Crime Center is indicative of a newly emerging ensemble of power that is better described as a set of `control programs'. The main features of control programs are detailed. The book review at the end of this chapter is on Jeffrey Nealon's Foucault Beyond Foucault, which also attempts to decipher what in Foucault is still relevant to contemporary thought, how his work needs to be re-read, and what new connections and supplements are needed for Foucault's continuing relevance for contemporary analysis. The spirit of Nealon's work is praised, but the execution and details are considered disappointing.

The dissertation concludes with a brief chapter summarizing the work and discussing how it will serve as a platform for my own future studies.

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