’s Work Represents A Decisive Advance Over Any Form Of Marxist Analysis. Discuss Essay, Research Paper

When addressing the effect of Foucault`s work on the validity of Marxist analysis we are confronted with a problem in that, though much has been written about the relationship between the two, Foucault himself says less. However, this is not to say that his work bears no relation to it for, just as with the work of Nietzsche and Freud, Foucault feels that “all social thought takes place within the space delimited by these figures and he uses them just as modern scientists use Einstein`s theories, without feeling the need to cite the obvious reference”. Many, such as Barry Smart, go further than this in claiming that, in much of its analytic focus and methodological orientation, Foucault`s work can be seen to be, to a large extent, a response or critique of Marxist strategy. Before any useful comparison between the methods of analysis can be made, the differences in style and subject matter must be highlighted. An appreciation of Foucault`s intention to never spawn an ideology or to propose general theorems universal laws or irreducible truths defines him as in a very different light to Marx the dialectician, polemecist but also prophet, for whom “all history is the history of class struggles” universally and unavoidably determined by economic factors. The disparate nature of Foucault`s studies may lead one to believe that it might be inconsistent in direction but to admit the often “fragmentary character” of Foucault`s work is not to deny its coherence: Foucault`s purpose has been said to be not to formulate a global systematic theory which holds everything in place but to “analyse the specificity of mechanisms of power, to build little by little a strategic knowledge”. This difference of intention accepted if we turn to how it can be legitimately claimed that Foucault`s methodology represents an advance over Marxist analysis then we can divide our appraisal into, for the most part, two not unrelated divisions. Firstly the areas of disagreement over the treatment of subject: best seen in the analyses of conceptions of history and transference of power and secondly what, from the Foucauldian standpoint are seen as the gaps, limitations or vital omissions in Marxist analysis. These Foucault covers in much of his work and concern amongst others, the concepts of sexuality and the relationship between power and knowledge. It is useful to give a brief explanation of the two conceptions of historical analysis before comparison. The Marxist conception of history as dialectic in nature was derived to a large degree from the work of the nineteenth century philosopher, Hegel. The Hegelian understanding of history was that it proceeds in a series of stages thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Simplifying, Hegel saw any given epoch in history (thesis) as having contradictions in an opposite tendency (its antithesis), and that there resulted a combination which he called synthesis, which itself became a thesis with its own antithesis. This process continues throughout history until a final synthesis is reached which contains no contradictions. For Hegel the motivating force behind this progression was something he variously called “Reason, Idea, Spirit and the Absolute”. Marx was in agreement with the Hegelian concept of history advancing via a dialectic mechanism of contradiction and conflict, but for Marx the motivating force behind the process is to be found in the economic relationships between men. The Marxist case for the history of the ownership of the means of production being the basis for the history of all other social phenomena is neatly put by Engels: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of the development of human history: the simple fact… that man must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc; that therefore the production of the immediate means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development… form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art and even the ideas on religion of the people concerned have been evolved…” In Marxism, therefore, the all-important economic structure, or foundation, of society determines the superstructure of ideas, morals, religion, social and political institutions and more. Foucault`s conception of history was founded in the work of Friedrich Nietzsche more than any other influence, as he states in his seminal paper “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”. The genealogical method of historical analysis attempts to home in on previously disregarded historical phenomenon such as punishment or sexuality and challenges the presumption of their irrelevance. Rather than fitting events into impressive explanatory systems, genealogy endeavours to maintain the specificity of events. Foucault`s interpretation of this method also turned away from this traditional, centralised historical analysis, with its recognition of phenomena significant only to a linear progression or pattern of change. Echoing Nietzsche, Foucault thought that more important were the previously neglected details of social life, thinking them a more valid area for analysis. He then divided his study into two interrelated divisions: genealogy as the study of descent and as the study of emergence. Genealogy as the study of descent asserts a lack of continuity in historical progression – that the traditional idea of a stable linear process in history with series` of events emanating from a discernible cause or causes is too simplistic a concept. The Foucauldian critique of what he believes to be facile systems is that the historical process is one containing fragile and complex forms – that it is not necessarily the extraordinary which shapes the shifting epoch, but the “minute deviations… the errors… which give birth to those things which continue to exist and have meaning for us”. Much of the genealogical analysis points to the effect of the historical forces on the “body” (encompassing both its nature and physiology). The constant changes in the environment surrounding the body and the instability of influences acting on it are conveyed in the lines: “The body is molded by a great many distinct regimes; it is broken down by the rhythms of work, rest, and holidays; it is poisoned by food or values, through eating habits or moral laws; it conducts resistances.” The study of genealogy as the analysis of emergence supports this element in that there is no constant surrounding in which the body can acquiesce in the Foucauldian critique, no final synthesis. Each emergent stage is simply a temporary transfer of powers, a shift in domination-subordination, independent of any isolated cause. Thus genealogy marks those subjects previously considered irrelevant to historical change, (tastes, sentiments, ethics, ideals, the physiology of the body), as valid terrain for analysis. Further to this, Foucault, in dismissing the validity of generalisations made on the assumption that there exists a “hierarchy” of knowledge, is producing an inherently ant-scientific argument. The reasoning follows that knowledge shifts with perspective and that there can be no historical absolutes. This is, of course, in direct conflict with what Marx believes is the “scientific” nature of his analysis, brought to it by the twinning of economic determinism and his notion of surplus value on which capitalist exploitation is based: “These two great discoveries, the materialist conception of history and the revelation of the secret of capitalist production through surplus value, we owe to Marx. With these discoveries socialism became a science.” As has already been indicated, Foucault does not view his analyses as scientific in nature – indeed, he makes the clear distinction in the “Archeology of Knowledge” between “scientific domains” and “archeological territories”. Foucault analyses the “rules of formation” of specific scientific discourses and there emerges an increasingly strong emphasis on the critical analysis of the relationship between power and knowledge and the implications of this relationship on the “scientific hierarchisation of knowledge”. Since Marxism falls within the definition of a discourse in the pursuit of scientificity, then it too is therefore a target for the Foucauldian genealogical critique. In accordance with the materialist dialectic, the Marxist concept of power revolves around the transference of power which is economic in nature and ultimately rests with the bourgeois class, stemming from their exploitation of the proletariat – whose loss of power is related to a series of limitations placed upon them by the capitalist mode of production. The labour force suffer a number of different alienations: alienation from species (or essence), of man from his fellow man, of man from the fruits of his labour and from his work activity. For Marx, all of these forms represent a corruption of values but the latter two represent the idea of power transference, not only from worker to capitalist, but from producer to product – the product acquires influence over the worker. Commodity fetishism means that the worker is alienated from his product, the product becomes linked to a fallacious system of valuation related to mis-valued labour time. Foucault argues against this, clarifying that power does not originate with either bourgeoisie or proletariat, rather that power is similar in character to that of a network. The bourgeoisie simply utilise an existent “mechanisation” of power. The Marxist concept of power as repression, prohibition or constraint is, for Foucault, “inadequate for an understanding of the contemporary mechanisms through which a positive and productive power is exercised over life.” This is dealt with extensively in “Discipline and Punish” and later in “The History of Sexuality, Vol 1″, where, contrary to the Marxist concept of power as repression and a force for the limiting of man’s essence, Foucault sees power as productive in a similar way to the Nietzschean concept of the body marked by history and thereby empowered. In assessing the validity Foucault`s analysis relative to that of Marx it is a mistake to limit ourselves to the boundaries of Marx`s materialist dialectic in the way that Smart accuses Lecourt of doing. This provides an unfair appraisal since if we view all Foucault`s conjectures from the point of view of the inner logic of the dialectic, then Marx`s conclusions would tend to prevail. A useful foil for the judging of each respective theory is the criticism made of both by Nicos Poulantzas. Poulantzas believes, like Foucault, that Marx is mistaken in his assumption that it is possible to form general theories of the state or economy. The reason for this is that the theoretical objects of economic analysis, political science or sociology do not remain constant. If Marx is unable to form a general theory for the state he can hardly predict its collapse (or “withering away”). However, Poulantzas does not agree with Foucault over the subject of power not being grounded in relations of production, seeing this as a readily apparent feature – but he does agree with the Foucauldian idea of power being more than simply a source of repression or exploitation, acknowledging the less visible of normalising or generally positive effects. Poulantzas also has problems with Foucault`s lack of differentiation in his notion of power, ironically so since it was Marxist economic reductionism which prompted Foucault to elaborate his theory of power initially. Jurgen Habermas has also criticised Foucault for his abstracted concept of power – claiming that it is a product of Foucault`s desire to establish a normalising regime of truth. Rather than superseding Marxist analysis, it could be argued more convincingly that Foucault`s was a strong rationalist critical theory. In the academic areas in which the two theorists overlapped Foucault provides powerful arguments and refutations against Marxist dialecticism and theories of power transference, but Marx must always retain a great deal of respect for his accurate economic predictions, social theory and sound dialectical logic.Bibliography Couzens Hoy, David, Foucault, A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986) Deleuze, Gilles, Foucault (London: Athlone, 1988) Foucault, Michel, The Archeology of Knowledge (London: Tavistock, 1977) Gane, Mike, Towards a critique of Foucault (London: Routledge, 1986) Gordon, Colin, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings (New York: Pantheon, 1980) Gutting, Gary, Michel Foucault`s Archeology of Scientific Reason (Cambridge: 1989) Lecourt, Dominique, Marxism and Epistemology (Bristol: Western, 1975) Major-Poetzl, Pamela, Michel Foucault`s Archeology of Western Culture (Sussex: Harvester, 1983) McNay, Lois, Foucault, A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Blackwell: 1994) O`Farrell, Foucault, Historian or Philosopher? (London: Macmillan, 1989) Rajchman, John, Michel Foucault, The Freedom of Philosophy (New York: Columbia, 1985) Smart, Barry, Foucault, Marxism and Critique (London: Routledge, 1983)