Re: Micropolitics 101

Erik Linberg writes:

>This is for a friend of mine. Does anyone know if Foucault first used
>the distinction between macro and micro politics. And if so, where?

I can't imagine Foucault teaching a Micropolitics 101 and a Macropolitics
102. I am not sure what these terms mean anyway. Is macropolitics the big
picture and micropolitics specific policies or local struggles? However,
there may be a trace (and I emphasize the word trace) of the micro and macro
in Foucault's notion of power and political action which may be what your
friend is talking about.

Foucault elucidates this distinction in terms of power:

" seems to me...that the important thing is not to attempt some kind of
deduction of power starting from its centre and aimed at the discovery of
the extent to which it permeates into the base, of the degree which it
reproduces itself down to and including the most molecular elements of
society. One must rather conduct an ascending analysis of power, starting,
that is, from its infinitesimal mechanisms, which each have their own
history, their own trajectory, their own techniques and tactics, and then
see how these mechanisms of power have been -- and continue to be --
invested, colonised, utilised, involuted, transformed, displaced, extended
etc., by ever more general mechanisms and by forms of global domination."

Foucault refers to the apparatuses of surveillance, the medicalization of
sexuality, and the redefinition of the mad as delinquent as all
"micro-mechanisms" of power. The key point is the infinite and ultimately
indecipherable circulation of power. There is no "trickle down" theory of
power. The emphasis is on the confluence of forces, the relationship of
power -- power's percolation. Micro and macro co-constitute each other
(please beware that I don't like this distinction, just trying to make a
point). The genius of Foucault is to show how localized discourses and
seemingly opaque practices such as the organization of space work intimately
with/and against more lofty disciplines and powers. Thus, rowdy drunks who
hoot and howl (not usually moral outrage, but for the fun of it) at public
executions share with the philosophes credit for the emergence of 18th
century penal reform. Throughout Foucault's work there is a primacy given
to the micro-mechanisms of power -- the micro is macro, much like
Nietzsche's genealogical subversion of good and evil.

There is something of a trace of the micro-macro in political action as
well. Foucault talks about the new "specific intellectual." I guess you
could call them the micro intellectuals, but what they would think?
Anyway Foucault believes that the "universal intellectual" such as the
writer has been somewhat displaced:

"The intellectual par excellence used to be the writer: as a universal
consciousness, a free subject, he was counterposed to those intellectuals
who were merely competent instances in the service of the State or Capital
-- technicians, magistrates, teachers. Since the time when each
individual's specific activity began to serve as the basis for
politicisation, the threshold of writing, as the sacralising mark of the
intellectual has disappeared. And it has become possible to develop lateral
connections across different forms of knowledge and from one focus of
politicisation to another. Magistrates and psychiatrists, doctors and
social workers, laboratory technicians and sociologist have become able to
participate, both within their own fields and through mutual exchange and
support, in a global process of the politicisation of intellectuals."

Foucault uses the example of the atomic scientist to better explain this
emergence of the specific intellectual:

"It's because he had a direct and localised relation to scientific knowledge
and institutions that the atomic scientist could make his intervention; but,
since the nuclear threat affected the whole human race and the fate of the
world, his discourse could at the same time be that of the universal."

And finally Foucault makes clear his preference: "It seems to me that what
must now be taken into account in the intellectual is not the 'bearer of
universal values'. Rather, it's the person occupying a specific
position--but whose specificity is linked, in a society like ours, to the
general functioning of an apparatus of truth."

But note once again the mutual constitution of the micro and macro: "but
whose specificity is the general functioning of an apparatus of
truth." The specific intellectual is not a car mechanic (yet), but could be
a therapist, criminologist, bureaucrat, school counselor etc., all of whom
work in conjunction with a truth formation -- psychology, criminal justice,
government, and education.

Foucault makes it clear that relationship between the micro and macro are
the stuff of genealogy. I emphasize "relationship." For example, some
multicultural historians are as guilty of reifying the micro as traditional
historians who reify the macro. So on one hand we have macro types who
talk of Thomas Jefferson as the philosopher-king of America; on the other
side, we have the micro types waxing and waning about Jefferson's slave
mistress and lover. I think that Focauldian genealogy should be
interested not only with these polarities, but also Jefferson's practice of
government and half dozen other variables. Certainly, we don't need to hear
more bullshit of whether Jefferson was a child of the Enlightenment, the
Scottish Enlightenment, Deist, etc. Foucault sums up his position

"The essential political problem for the intellectual is not to criticise
the ideological contents supposedly linked to science, or to ensure that his
own scientific practice is accompanied by a correct ideology, but that of
ascertaining the possibility of constituting a new politics of truth. The
problem is not changing people's consciousness--or what's in their
heads--but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production
of truth...The political question to sum up, is not error, illusion,
alienated consciousness or ideology; it is truth itself. Hence the
importance of Nietzsche."

Hope this helps, sorry if I got sidetracked.


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