Rhetorical Reflection Assignment

  • 750-1000 words, not including a works-cited/bibliography.
  • Embrace “writing as thinking” in this activity but ensure that there is a thesis that functions as an umbrella or organizing idea for the short paper.
  • This reflection should offer a synthesis of the Foucault units on “Resistance,” “Genealogy,” and “Governmentality” that draws connections between the different readings considered across these sessions. You may do this free-form, based on your notes and observations from the sessions where we discussed these readings.
  • If you would prefer, you may answer one or more of the following questions instead:
  • What are the characteristic methods, gestures, or moves of the Foucauldian analysis of resistance, genealogy, and governmentality? What are the basic tenets of this mode of analysis?Why is/should Foucault under erasure? Why or how should critics today go beyond the kind of historical analysis that he offers?
  • Why/how should rhetoric (and/or other areas of Communication Studies) continue to adopt these methods of analysis? What is useful/helpful about them?  What does this kind of analysis help us to understand? What falls outside of the scope of this particular ‘method’?


What is Governmentality? Some Introductory Notes

From Kaspar Villadsen and Mitchell Dean. 2012. “State-Phobia, Civil Society, and a Certain Vitalism,” Constellations 19(3): 401-420.

Governmentality, in short, is an analysis of the state and not something that lies beyond it. It shows the conditions of experience of the “state” as that which confronts an external domain – civil society – to which it must grant a measure of free action in order for government to function. It grows out of a diagnosis of the present as one in which the state has come to be regarded as essentially despotic, the source of evil in the world, and as a repressive force that deforms our subjectivity, from the inside as much as the outside, limiting our potentiality in the world. For Foucault, this is a view shared not only by the ultra-left that seeks a violent overthrow of the state, but also by variants of neoliberalism in the twentieth century. This view is rooted in the anti-state eschatology of the nineteenth century, which has the notion of civil society at its core. (p.405)

The “history of governmentality” is …

  1. The ensemble formed by the institutions, procedures, analyses, and reflections, the calculations and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific albeit complex form of power, which has as its target population, as it s principal form of knowledge political economy, and as its essential technical means apparatuses of security.
  2. The tendency which, over a long period and throughout the West, has steadily led to the pre-eminence over all other forms (sovereignty, discipline, etc.) of this type of power, which may be termed government, resulting, on the one hand, in the formation of a whole series of governing apparatus, and, on the other, in the development of a whole complex of savoirs.
  3. The process, or rather the result of the process, through whic hteh state of justice of the Middle Ages, transformed into the administrative state during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, gradually becomes ‘governmentalized.’

We have talked about Foucault as invested in the particular, epistemes, and knowledge while refusing to acknowledge the existence of universal, transcendental, or ontological concepts. The most famous way that this is rendered is as Puvoir/Savoir, or “Power/Knoweldge.” There are several words that signify forms of knowledge and their capacity to “do” or “act” in Foucault’s work:

  • As a noun, Pouvoir is most typically translated as “power”, but it is also the infinitive form of the verb meaning “to be able to”, and is a common way of saying “can” in Romance languages.
  • Savoir specifically refers to a particular kind of implicit knowledge permeating a historical period. That is, the understanding that counts as the “common sense” of that time/place/people.
  • Connaissance is the explicit knowledge that is shaped by Savoir. It is knowledge that has been institutionalized in the disciplines that make up the human sciences, including natural (e.g. biology) or social (e.g. psychology) science

Foucault ultimate wants to make it possible to think of modes of counter-conduct in a governmentalized state. Counter-conduct:

  • Is “the conduct of conduct”
  • Inhabits power relations
  • Struggle against processes implemented for conducting others.
  • Is “within and against” conceptions of change.
  • Is not always progressive.
  • It has to reconfigure the lines of force already present within governmentality.

Governmentality does not question universals by using history as a “critical method,” instead, it starts from the presumption that historical universals do not exist, and therefore poses the question: what kind of history can be done in their absence?

The governmentality lectures offer a “lesson in [the] method” of governing as a conversion from local modes of pastoral power. The aim is not to just perform a genealogy of “governmentality” but to radicalize our ability to think of “the state” at a particular moment of time. This conversions in play include:

Pastoral power → Governmentality → Neoliberalism/laissez faire/liberal governmentality

  • What is the “art of government”? From Security Territory Population lectures:“A firm domination over people” and  “Knowledge of the appropriate means for founding, preserving, and expanding such a domination.” It is also an art of government that must seek out its own form of reason independent of natural or religious law. What is specific to the state-form of reason?
  • (1)  Economic mercantilism, which is a form of government more than an economic doctrine. It maintains that the state must enrich itself through accumulation, the state must strengthen itself through increasing its population, and that it must exist and maintain itself through permanent competition with other foreign powers.
  • (2) It is an organization and embodiment of government according to Raison d’Etat and the internal management of the police, the unlimited regulation of the country via a model of tight-knit urban organization
  • (3) A permanent army and diplomacy that form a “military-diplomatic apparatus’ with the objective of keeping the plurality of states separate to hold imperial absorption back.

What is “Raison d’Etat”? Raison d’Etat maintains that one only governs insofar as a state is already there, but also only insofar as there is a state to be built or constructed. It exists, but it never exists enough. The 16th century state was a specific and relatively autonomous reality. It respected a number of principles and rules which were ‘above’ or dominated the state and which were therefore external to it. For instance, divine, moral, and natural laws had to be respected because they were not part of its own provenance.

  • Reason
  • Essence: “the entire essence of the thing, constituted in its unity”
  • Knowledge: “the means to knowledge”
  • Force: “something that allows the will to adjust to what it knows”
  • State
  • A domain
  • A jurisdiction, which includes law, custom, a set of institutions
  • A condition of life, an individual status, or a profession
  • A quality that means a thing remains what it is.
  • Chemnitz: “a certain political consideration that is necessary in all public matters, councils, and plans, which must strive solely for the preservation, expansion, and felicity of the state, and for which we must employ the most ready and swift means.”
  • Nothing in this definition refers to anything except the state. In other words, no nature, order, God, etc.
  • The Raison d’Etat is articulated around the essence-knowledge relation (savoir); it is the essence of the state and equally the particular knowledge (connaissance) that enables us to follow the ‘weave’ of the Raison d’Etat.


  • We are always already in the state because Raison d’Etat avoids questions of foundation or origination.
  • The problem of the “ends of the state” is not just un-raised or avoided, it must not ever be raised. It has a determining effect upon our perception of an ‘open’ temporality. An indefinite government gives way to the idea of progress.
  • The coup d’etat is a suspension of or temporary departure from laws and legality. Extraordinary actions against ordinary law. It is not an exception to Raison d’Etat because Raison d’Etat and legality/legitimacy are in NO WAY homogeneous. It describes moments when the state must free itself of the law for the sake of its own integrity.
  • “In contrast with the ceremonies of royalty … I think we could set this modern kind of theater in which royalty wanted to be shown and embodied, with one of its most important manifestations being the coup d’Etat being carried out by the sovereign himself.”
  • The court organized by Louis XIV “is the place where Raison d’Etat is dramatized in the form of intrigues, disgraces, preferences, exclusions, and exiles, and also the place where the theater represents the state itself.”

When we think about liberal governmentality, we are thinking about the following shift:

  • From the “zero sum game” of mercantilism where european diplomacy was an interruption that sustain european equilibrium and prevented imperial reabsorption to …
  • “The freedom of the market” and Adam Smith’s idea that the enrichment of one country can only be sustain by a mutual enrichment or “reciprocal enrichment through the game of competition,” which also presents a hypothetical model of unlimited progress. But continuous inputs to this competitive economy are also necessary.

(Foucault) on Governmentality by Michael Tahmoressi

Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Criticism of Political Reason: The Tanner Lectures on Human Values -Foucault 1979

This lecture is centered on the question of what role reason played in the development of political structures. He begins the lecture by defining pastoral power and describing how it functioned as a system to that developed individuals.

Important themes from this section:

  1. Submission- In the Hebrew conception, God being a shepherd, the flock following him complies to his will, to his law. Christianity, on the other hand, conceived the shepherd-sheep relationship as one of individual and complete dependence. Obedience is a virtue. Self imposed control through submission
  2. Confessions as a form of self policing. -Christian pastorship implies a peculiar type of knowledge between the pastor and each of his sheep. This knowledge is particular. It individualizes.
  3. Mortification- the goal of submission and obedience and confession is to provide the individual a chance at life in heaven. Foucault says this is a constitute `` part of Christian identity. This has nothing to do with maintaining a population through sacrifice of life. This a conflation of political and pastoral to make submissive individuals.
  4. The problem of the political to create unity where none exists naturally and the problem of pastoral the technique of creating individuals have separate goals. but the concepts are linked through their interest in consolidating and organizing power in the Christian Enlightenment era europe.

Foucault than spends the second part of the essay describing how the pastoral became integrated into the theory of the police through a search for the reason of the state in the 16th century and 17th century art of government. Here are some key concepts from that section

  1. The Doctrine of the Reason of the State  - compares methods of governing states. looking at how they differed, say, from the way God governed the world, the father his family, or a superior his community. this is a negative power that attempts to define through disconnection.
  2. The Theory of the Police defined the nature of objects of the states rationality. This police power is not the modern institution that enforces for the law. The police power is a positive power that seeks to extend life so it can better function for the state. Elements of pastoral power got were adopted in into this specific rationality.
  3. Power/Knowledge in this case being linked to police power. a technique of bio political state that is utilized to judge risks that flow through its population. Foucault articulates that its through the production of statistics that the state can begin to define itself scientifically. “the state must define itself in the art of governing. , characteristic of reason of state, is intimately bound up with the development of what was then called either political statistics, or arithmetic; that is, the knowledge of different states’ respective forces. Such knowledge was indispensable for correct government.”
  4. Population  centered as the object of power knowledge production for police power. the additive affects of administering life to extend it where to be implemented to create a better population. quarantine protocols, regulations on dangerous activities, ensuring supply of food.


  • What does Foucault say are things that challenge pastoral power?
  • Foucault argues in a rhetorical fashion to describe impact of the theory of policing. That it became normalized through controlling the communication surrounding the individuals place in society. How has this discourse extended in the 21st century? What are some everyday example of how people are forced to police their behavior to meet a social expectation.

The Governmentality Lecture

The reason I thought this lecture potentially should follow the other one is because this lecture is looking at the transformation of  the art of government which Foucault leaves us with at the end of the pastoral essay into a science.  He spends a majority of his lecture talking about a historical debate surrounding the book by  Machiavelli the prince functioned as a way to create a framework for the art government. Some key things from this debate

  1. Governance has a Relationality to Immanence. People’s subjectivity and their moral code can be structured by coming into contact with a variety of structure’s which contain governing principles, the covenant, the family, the parish, all coexist in the modern head of state as places where individuals can find models to reproduce subjectivity. He argues there is a upward -the prince must govern himself to be able to govern and downward mobility to this model of government-the police who create subjectivities of productive individuals.
  2. Political Economy- Foucault describes this as a space where different objects and groups compete for importance in government. Through this competition a logic that determines which issues are important to the state arises. Th economic element of political economy takes on a modern meaning. The flows of goods and the work of people becomes an interested for the art of government.
“All of this talk about the economy of power is getting to the point here that these practitioners of the art of government were looking at how there is a shift in the importance of what is governed from territory to” governing things”  “the things are infact men” but men in their relations their links to means of substance wealth, the territory, pg 93
  1. Its a means to an end- a state of affairs where all subjects obey the law. They accomplish expected in the practice trades and respect of established order. obedience to the law but not as submission to sovereignty.  this directly contradict Machiavelli who saw the primary relation as between prince and territory not population.
  2. The problem of population - After rationality was applied to government the new technology of statistics became a tool to judge the health of the state. What was put up to judgement was regularities and irregularities in the population, deaths and disease, and scarcities. The goal of taking statistics to measure the miasmas in the population became a way for the state to rationalize how close it was to losing its control on power. or conversely its ability to expend power. the statistics were knowledge production they functioned as way for the governing apparatus to “know the population”. this is how government became a science it was not longer a philosophical debate about who should rule. If there is grain scarcity it can be measured by how much grain there is and how many people there is to feed.

Governmentality is a relationship between sovereignty, discipline, the juridical and security and government.

Foucault describes how he is going to investigate “a history of governmentality” as three things

  1. The ensemble formed by the institution's procedures, analyses and reflections. The calculations and tactics that allow the exercises of this very specific albeit complex form of power. which has its target the population as its principle form of political economy and as its essential technical means apparatus of security.
  2. Tendency towards the preeminence over all other forms of power. on the one hand in the formation of a whole series of specific government apparatuses and on the other in the development of a complex of savoirs(to know)
  3. The process or rather the result of the process through which the state of justice of the middle ages transformed into the administrative state during the fifteenth and sixteenth century gradually becomes governmentalized.

In the United States, the process of governmentality has granted more power to the private entities through policies like tax cuts for corporations. What role does discourse play in the legitimation of this relationship? How do social representations of wealth reinforce the discourse?

What are affirmative types of power and negative types of power that exist inside of this governmentality theory? Has the government evolved past the governmentality principles? What types of violence become naturalized inside of the governmentality process?  

Foley, Voicing Terri Schiavo and Prosopopoeic citizenship

This article's main thrust was examining the way the media, anti choice groups, and politicians attempted to give non speaking bodies rights by speaking for those bodies. in the terry schiavo case. The paper looked at the rhetorical strategies utilized to constitute non speaking bodies as rights holding citizens. This requires attributing a voice to their bodies. I found some strong themes in this piece that tie into the theoretical readings

  1. Symbolic condensation of voice – schiavos body became a channel to make arguments about how voice is understood in American society. The spoken word consolidates the speakers being -derrida
  2. Prosopopeia - the trope of giving voice to a voiceless body. The author argues it functions rhetorically to resecure the link between voice and citizens to pursue a life. Voice hear is a biopolitical technology that citizens use to make themselves intelligible to governmental power.
  3. Bare life- Agamben's observation that greeks had two different words for life bios the manner in which life is lived and zoe the biological fact of life. His argument is that the loss of this distinction obscures the fact that in a political context, the word ‘life’ refers more or less exclusively to the biological dimension or zoē and implies no guarantees about the quality of the life lived. Foley applies this to schiavos case not being able to think is the moment when life is supposed to given over to death but Schiavo was kept alive mechanically. The authors this is a perversion of the let die principle of biopolitics.
  4. Prosopopeic prosthetics.- “no beings not even humans speak on their own but always through something ro some one else.” Bruno Latour. Foley argues that the living will functions as prosethetic that allows individuals to speak from the grave.

The authors describe how living wills function as a form of rhetoric that asks individuals to determine their wishes after death. The living will or an advance health care directive is an apt name for a governing technique that articulates life and choice self sovereignty and biopower. This extends selft determination to the very limit of life itself. This promised to give citizens the last word on their lives.  How do the authors describe the challenges or potential benefits of this form or rhetorical conception of voice after death? Can someone actually speak after death or will their words always be a prosthetic propped up through discourse?

The author argues the states ultimate decision to let terri die required a forensic reconstruction of her voice. thus the case ended up relying on Terry's voice to decide what should be done with her body. This is an example of a prosopopeia prosthetic. How does this Relate it back to Foucault that individuals speech is speech always an act of submission or confession? What does resistance look like to this type of loss of agency, is it possible to escape proposepeic  governmentality? impacts the way we talk certain non speaking subjects like the environment

Greene, Money/Speech

Political economy of rhetoric – this adding rhetoric to understanding of the way governance operates. Ron articulates that how Foucault described that rhetoric was central to the development of the science of government in the 16th and 17th. That economy be came way to gauge the reality of state. The way the economics formulated in discourse was the rhetorical element. The political economy of rhetoric is supposed to give rhetoricians a way into conversations about meaning making in an increasing financed focused world.
“Neoliberalism calls for the organization of all social life as a market. Thus, one effect of neo-liberalism is to imagine labor power as human capital; that is, as ‘‘an innate component of bodily and genetic equipment, and an acquired component of aptitudes produced as a result of an investment.’’19 Similarly, we might think of rhetorical capital as the capacity to adapt to the shifting character of a rhetorical situation.”
“A political economy of rhetoric provides the advantage of diagramming how different scales of governance*from the government of the self to the international trade in cultural commodities*rely on harnessing rhetoricality.”

“A political economy of rhetoric should provide scholars with new knowledge about the social relations of rhetoricality. In other words, we need to know more about how the generation and regulation of rhetorical capital permeates ‘‘the new international division of cultural labor.’’’

Communicative labor – work that attempts to tie cultural artifacts content to a process of commodification to produce surplus value. Ron utilizes the example of advertising which can amplify a product surplus value solely by the ability for people to connect with the marketing in the advertisements. “ It also describes how capitalism increasingly relies on the social dimensions of communication*control, deliberation, persuasion, cooperation, competition, creativity*for the accumulation of capital and the appropriation of social wealth. Communication becomes central to capitalism because ‘‘one has to express oneself, one has to speak, communicate, cooperate’’’

Money/speech- the supreme court created a new way of understanding political speech after citizen united vs FEC. Ron argues this decision fused together money and speech under the first amendment. The dichotomy is an overdetermined articulation of money and advocacy that can appear in different rhetorical forms advertising oratory lawn signs, lobbying. Political rhetoric is understood as a financial process in this framework. It regularizes the expenditure of money as a way to understand political rhetoric.

Neoliberal governance-a form of governmentality that understands political rhetoric as an extended form of finance capital. This type of governance “calls for the organization of all social life as a market”. This turns people into an innate element of this organization “human capital”.

Discussion Questions:

  • What other types of identities maybe left out by a political economy of rhetoric that relies on the neo liberal individual as the form of subjectivity in its analysis of power?
  • This essay is specifically talking about government in the neo liberal north American contexts, how might this limit its ability to analyzye the way power is formed in other governmentalities?
  • What does resistance look like in the political economy of rhetoric? how does counter hegemony confront the overwhelming power of neoliberal representation?