Focault on Capitalism

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Akith Dissanayake, Sociology 334, 1

Foucault on Capitalism
Sociology 334 Akith Dissanayake 1231501

Akith Dissanayake, Sociology 334, 2

Foucault’s conception of capitalism and its rationality are understood through the double

character of freedom. Foucault’s analysis lies in his realization that capitalism manages individuals and populations through freedom and not through repression. Freedom is the condition that allows the correlation between what Foucault terms as the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital. Foucault investigates the meaning and conditions of capitalism through three perspectives. Firstly, Capitalism is a political order, which accumulates individuals and populations in a certain manner, which Foucault terms the regime of the accumulation of men. Secondly, Foucault understands capitalism to mean an economic system that is geared towards the accumulation of wealth, which he refers to as the regime of the accumulation of capital. Thirdly, capitalism is an order that combines the two regimes, accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital. Therefore, capitalism is not just a political or an economic system, it is primordial and is the condition of the possibility of both. However, individuals understand particulars about capitalism only in the context of a whole totality. The totality does not reveal itself to us directly as “it remains implicit and requires a special effort to make it explicit.”(Brandom 2000:23). Such totality could be made explicit through the approach of

particulars with this specific purpose. As Foucault states, “the techniques that made the cumulative multiplicity of men useful accelerated the accumulation of capital. Each makes the other possible and necessary; each provides a model for the other”(Rizvi 2006:24). By concentrating on the accumulation of men, the accumulation of capital, or both, with the purpose of making them explicit individuals can make capitalism as a whole explicit. Foucault’s analysis of the relationship between the regimes of the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital provides the opportunity to reconstruct the conditions of the

Akith Dissanayake, Sociology 334, 3

possibility and continued survival of capitalism. Foucault views the accumulation of men as the function of the problem of governance but he treats the problem of governance not in isolation but in relation to the problem of the accumulation of capital. Therefore, the problem is not just the governance but also the type of governance that provides the space in which there is minimum hindrances to capital accumulation while its possibilities are being utilized to the maximum. Thus the problem is not just one of producing submissive docile bodies but of producing such bodies that are also useful. The purpose of producing submissive bodies is to maximize utility leading to the accumulation of capital. For Foucault, the problem of governance is the problem of governance for capital accumulation. He believes that disciplines, which are “the techniques for assuring the ordering of multiplicities and enhancing governance, have the purpose of increasing both the docility and the utility of all the elements of the system”(Rizvi 2006:26). Foucault makes it clear that "the two processes, the accumulation of men and the accumulation of capital, cannot be separated; it would not have been possible to solve the problem of the accumulation of men without the growth of an apparatus of production capable of both sustaining them and using them”(Rizvi 2006:24). This analysis points towards the fact that prior to the correlation of the accumulation of men and capital, there exists a more primordial relationship between the system of the accumulation of men and the system of the accumulation of capital. It is not the case that there is one system for the production of docility of governance and there is another system for the production of utility, capital,...
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