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Multiple Power in Colonial Spaces

Jiat-Hwee Chang

Entrées d’index

Index de mots-clés :

pouvoir, colonialisme

Index by keyword :

power, colonialism

Indice de palabras clave :

poder, colonialismo

Schlagwortindex :

Macht, Kolonialismus

Parole chiave :

potere, colonialismo

Index chronologique :

XXe siècle

Personnes citées :

Foucault Michel (1926-1984)
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Texte intégral

  • 1 Peter Redfield, “Foucault in the Tropics: Displacing the Panopticon,” in Jonathan Xavier INDA (ed.) (...)
  • 2 James S. Duncan, In the Shadows of the Tropics: Climate, Race and Biopower in Nineteenth Century Ce (...)
  • 3 Jiat-Hwee Chang, “Tropicalising Technologies of Environment and Government: The Singapore General H (...)
  • 4 Arjun Appadurai, chap. 6 “Number in the Colonial Imagination,” in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dime (...)

1The panopticon has indeed failed in the past, at least in French Guiana.1 So has a regime of biopower introduced to regulate the lives of plantation workers in colonial Ceylon.2 Likewise, a pavilion plan hospital, designed as a “curing machine,” was inoperative in mitigating the high mortality rates of the “native” population in colonial Singapore.3 Instead of helping the colonial state “know the governed,” the detailed enumeration of population characteristics in the census of colonial India – one of the technologies of governmentality – merely endowed the colonial state with an illusory sense of bureaucratic control.4 Similar miscarriages of Foucauldian disciplinary power, biopower, and modern technologies of government abound, particularly in colonial contexts.

2How can we understand these instances in which Foucauldian analytics of power fell short? Are these instances of failure symptomatic of some broader conceptual or theoretical deficiencies? Can we generalize from these cases that there were indeed systemic flaws or oversights in Foucault’s conceptualization? Mark Crinson’s critique seems to suggest so. He attributes such failures to at least three main reasons – the all-encompassing and totalizing nature of the Foucauldian method, Foucault’s neglect of key concepts in historical thinking such as causation and agency, and the incompatibility of Foucault’s Eurocentric project with colonialism.

  • 5 Hubert L Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd ed., (...)
  • 6 Ibid.

3Before I address Crinson’s important critique directly, I would like to make two brief remarks. First, I want to probe the notion of failure, and second, to discuss the challenges of locating Foucault’s “method.” In their seminal text on Michel Foucault, Herbert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow argue that although the modern prison system had, from its inception, failed to live up to its promise of reforming all criminals into normal citizens, new and purportedly improved forms of prisons continued to be built. For Dreyfus and Rabinow, the question that should be asked is not why these prisons have failed, but “What other ends are served by this failure, which is perhaps not a failure after all”?5 Indeed, when one explores the history of colonial hospitals and colonial censuses, it becomes clear that colonial hospitals continued to be built, and colonial censuses went on being taken, long after their alleged failures. Citing Foucault on the purpose of prisons being about distinguishing and classifying offenses as anomalies in society, rather than eliminating offenses entirely, Dreyfus and Rabinow argue that the raison d'être for technologies of normalization like the panopticon prison and the pavilion plan hospital is “their claims to have isolated such anomalies and their promise to normalize them.”6 In fact, they note that the spread of normalization operates through the creation of abnormalities. As a result, normalizing power succeeds when it is not entirely successful, and anomalies that require reform persist. The process of isolating and identifying these anomalies transforms them into technical problems for specialists to deal with. According to Dreyfus and Rabinow, the power of the experts and the established technical matrix they utilize are not questioned in the aftermaths of failures. On the contrary, failures are construed as proof of the need to reinforce and extend the experts’ power.

  • 7 Ibid., p. xviii.
  • 8 See especially Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, [trans. Alan Sherid (...)
  • 9 Michel Foucault, Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studie (...)

4Foucault’s work is notoriously elusive. Clifford Geertz maintained that Foucault “is a kind of impossible object: a nonhistorical historian, an anti-humanist human scientist, and a counter-structuralist structuralist,” and his work is like an “Escher drawing – stairs rising to platforms lower than themselves, doors leading outside that bring you back inside.”7 Furthermore, Foucault was incredibly prolific over many decades during his lifetime. His works, especially his lectures at the Collège de France, continue to be posthumously translated and published, even today. Taken together, Foucault’s elusive approach and broad, diverse oeuvre make any overall summary of his work immensely intriguing but incredibly difficult. When we talk about his method, are we referring to his early archaeological phase or his later genealogical phase? Or, more relevant to this essay, when we refer to Foucault’s analytics of power, are we referring to what he writes in Discipline and Punish, in which he notes the shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power, or are we discussing the contrast he points out between biopower that “makes live and lets die” with sovereign power – the “right to take life or let live” in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction?8 Perhaps we should ignore both of these analytics, and attend to Foucault’s late work on governmentality, in which the different modalities of power – sovereign, disciplinary, and biopolitical – coexist?9 I am certainly not an expert on Foucault’s work, and in this short essay it is within neither my ability nor my intention to untangle this intricately knotted skein of theoretical threads. What I hope to achieve is much more modest – to address Crinson’s critique and to discuss what Foucault’s analytics of power could do for a subfield of a subdiscipline like colonial architectural history.

  • 10 Michel Foucault, “Afterword: The Subject and Power,” in Hubert L Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel F (...)
  • 11 Colin Gordon, “Governmental Rationality: An Introduction,” in Michel Foucault, Graham Burchell, Col (...)

5Can a body of work that is so diverse and heterogeneous also be totalizing and all-encompassing? What do critics mean when they apply these qualifications to the Foucauldian method? Crinson’s critique seems to suggest that the Foucauldian method conceptualizes power regimes in such an overwhelmingly dominating manner that the agency of those subjected to power is ignored and alternative outcomes, such as resistance or failure, are overlooked. Foucault, however, noted that although the quest for the perfect schematization of power – such as Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon – exists, power does not automatically dominate. In fact, he writes that “[w]hen the determining forces saturate the whole there is no relation of power; slavery is not a power relationship when man is in chains.”10 Foucault’s analytics of power does not preclude the agency of those subjected to power. In fact it assumes their ability to take action because, as Colin Gordon noted, “power is only power when addressed to individuals who are free to act in one way or another... it presupposes rather than annuls their capacity as agents”.11

6What is distinctive about Foucault’s method is that power is seen as something that is just as productive as it is repressive, a force which constitutes as much as destroys the person’s subjectivity. This perspective of power and subjectivity, in turn, came from what Foucault saw as the dual meanings of the word subject – on the one hand, subject to someone else by control, and on the other hand, connected to his or her own identity by self-knowledge. Finally, in Foucauldian power relations, power is diffused rather than centralized, exercised and not simply held, immanent rather than external to any relation. Thus, power circulates and affects both the “dominant” and the “dominated.” In this analytics of power, resistance is obviously possible but it has to be conceptualized differently.

  • 12 The lecture series was recently published as Michel Foucault, Michel Senellart, François Ewald and (...)
  • 13 Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in Michel Foucault, Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Mil (...)

7As hinted earlier, Foucault’s conception of power shifted again in his late work on governmentality, a neologism he first coined in a 1978 lecture at the Collège de France. Governmentality is also known variously as “governmental rationality” or “the art of government.”12 Unlike his earlier analytics of power that emphasized the shift from sovereign power to either disciplinary or biopolitical power, governmentality is situated within the triangle of sovereignty-discipline-government, in which different modalities of power co-exist.13 A short discussion of governmentality would perhaps help to address two important aspects of Crinson’s criticisms – Foucault’s failure to account for co-existing regimes of power and the suitability of a set of theories based on Western liberal governmentality for understanding colonial rule.

  • 14 Mitchell Dean, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society , London: Sage, 1999.
  • 15 Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose, “Introduction,” in Paul RABINOW and Nikolas S. ROSE (eds.), The E (...)
  • 16 Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose, “Introduction,” op. cit., p. xvi.
  • 17 Margo Huxley, “Geographies of Governmentality,” in Jeremy W. Crampton and Stuart Elden (eds.), Spac (...)

8Governmentality is primarily conceptualized as “the conduct of conduct,” or the calculated and rational exercise of power on the governed to direct their behaviours and structure their actions towards particular ends.14 Under governmentality, multiple authorities and agencies are grouped together, and a variety of techniques and forms of knowledge are employed in what Rabinow and Rose call a “strategic bricolage” to first define and specify targets of government, and then to regulate and control them.15 The analytical focus of governmentality is on the “how” of government, particularly how specific technologies of government in the strategic bricolage render problems of government visible, facilitate political calculations, and constitute the rationality of government.16 In this context, architecture and the built environment can be seen alongside statistics, maps, medical knowledge, sanitary practice, moral theory, and welfare measures as part of the larger strategic bricolage of governmentality.17

  • 18 Mitchell Dean, Governmentality, op. cit. (note 14).
  • 19 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, op. cit. (note 8), p. 216.

9Although governmentality was primarily developed to understand the “liberal modes of government” that operate through the freedom of the governed, it is complementary with sovereign power.18 Unlike Foucault’s previous analytics of power in which sovereign power was supplanted by biopower and disciplinary power, sovereign power was deemed an integral component of governmentality. Thus, under governmentality, the liberal modes of government associated with life-giving biopower coexist with the coercive and violent, life-taking sovereign power. By extension, the architecture of the panopticon that allows an individual to inspect a great multitude is supplemented by the architectural spectacle of temples, theatres, and other highly visible monuments that permit a multitude of men and women to inspect a small number of objects.19

  • 20 Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton: Pr (...)
  • 21 Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College De France, 1975-76, trans. David (...)
  • 22 Gyan Prakash, Another Reason, op. cit.(note 20), p. 123-58; David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: Stat (...)
  • 23 Stephen Legg, Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi's Urban Governmentalities, Malden: Blackwell, 2007 (RGS- (...)

10Scholars of colonial histories have argued that the presence of sovereign power within governmentality contributes to our understanding of how metropolitan governmental rationality was dislocated and translated in the colonial contexts in racialized, deficient, and excessive ways. As shaped by what Partha Chatterjee calls the “colonial rule of difference,” colonial governmentality violates its metropolitan liberal conception.20 The recently published transcripts of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France contain his assertion that the intervention of racism divided populations into those whose lives should be optimized and those whose lives could wittingly or unwittingly (through neglect) be exposed to the risks of disease and death.21 In various accounts of colonial medicine in India, historians like Gyan Prakash and David Arnold argue that, instead of working through the freedom of the governed, colonial governmentality relied on coercive measures and intrusive tactics of sovereign power to master the colonized bodies and optimize their lives without attaining the desired internalization of biopolitical power by the colonized.22 In terms of the built environment, Stephen Legg has shown that sovereign power in colonial Delhi was materialized through a combination of monumental architecture, hierarchical town planning, and rituals deployed to perform and showcase imperial sovereignty. These spectacles of sovereign power supplemented other colonial architectural schemes that represented different modalities of power, such as the town improvement scheme that, as part of the biopolitical power regime, sought to secure the health of the colonized population.23

11From these recent works by colonial historians who draw on Foucault’s late work on governmentality, we see that biopolitical power and sovereign power are not oppositional but complementary. Taken as such, the division and antagonism between “visible politics” and “spatialized power,” as shorthand for the opposition between monumental spectacles of sovereign power, on one side, and the distributed spatial diagram of biopolitical and disciplinary powers, on the other, is indeed unfortunate, as Crinson rightly pointed out in his critique. This begs the question: why was the false dichotomy created in the first place? As someone who has contributed to this bifurcation, let me start by acknowledging that it was an overstatement on my part of the differences between what I saw as two tendencies in the scholarship on colonial architectural history. But an overstatement was perhaps warranted in order to make a distinction.

12As Crinson articulates so succinctly in his critique, a discipline typically carries on in “cumulative fashion” rather than through the ruptures akin to Kuhnian paradigm shifts. This is evident in how, for example, postcolonial theories shifted the analytical framework but did not entirely displace previous political economic analyses of colonial cities and architecture. Recent scholarship in architectural history influenced by Foucauldian analytics of power likewise draws on the insights of the earlier scholarship inflected by postcolonial critique, even while it seeks to explore new territory. Without the earlier scholarship focusing on the politics of architectural production in colonial contexts, power would not have emerged as one of the key themes of analysis. The foregrounding of power in the built environment enabled the recent scholarship to expand on the theme and extend it to understand power relations in the built environment of ordinary colonial landscapes – such as mass housing, schools, and hospitals – and the large bureaucratic colonial organisations – such as the improvement trusts, Public Works Departments, and sanitary boards – in British colonial contexts.

  • 24 At least two architectural history monographs influenced by postcolonial theories were given book a (...)

13The earlier scholarship was well-served by the theoretical insights from postcolonial critique, particularly those concerning power-knowledge and the politics of representation. But the new objects of analysis in the more recent scholarship demand new intellectual toolkits, appropriate to more ubiquitous and mundane forms of power relations. Some of us have found these in Foucault’s analytics of power, specifically those aspects associated with his late work on biopolitics and governmentality. Is Foucault’s analytics of power flawless and beyond criticism? Of course not. Does Foucault’s analytics of power help to open up new avenues of enquiry and yield new insights beyond what is offered by the mature and somewhat entrenched scholarship24 inflected by postcolonial critique? I would like to imagine so.

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Notes

1 Peter Redfield, “Foucault in the Tropics: Displacing the Panopticon,” in Jonathan Xavier INDA (ed.), Anthropologies of Modernity: Foucault, governmentality, and life politics, Malden: Blackwell, 2005, p. 50-79.

2 James S. Duncan, In the Shadows of the Tropics: Climate, Race and Biopower in Nineteenth Century Ceylon, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007 (Re-materialising cultural geography).

3 Jiat-Hwee Chang, “Tropicalising Technologies of Environment and Government: The Singapore General Hospital and the Circulation of the Pavilion Plan Hospital in the British Empire, 1860-1930,” in Michael Guggenheim and Ola Söderström (eds.), Re-Shaping Cities: How Global Mobility Transforms Architecture and Urban Form, London: Routledge, 2009 (Architext series), p. 123-142.

4 Arjun Appadurai, chap. 6 “Number in the Colonial Imagination,” in Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (Public worlds, 1), 1996.

5 Hubert L Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, p. 195.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., p. xviii.

8 See especially Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, [trans. Alan Sheridan, 2nd ed.; 1rst published in French: Surveiller et punir: naissance de la prison, Paris: Gallimard, 1975], New York: Vintage Books, 1995; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality. 1. An Introduction, [trans. Robert Hurley; 1rst published in French: Histoire de la sexualité. 1. La volonté de savoir, Paris: Gallimard, 1976], New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

9 Michel Foucault, Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991; Michel Foucault, Michel Senellart, François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1977-78 , Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

10 Michel Foucault, “Afterword: The Subject and Power,” in Hubert L Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, p 221.

11 Colin Gordon, “Governmental Rationality: An Introduction,” in Michel Foucault, Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect, op. cit. (note 9), p. 5.

12 The lecture series was recently published as Michel Foucault, Michel Senellart, François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana, Security, Territory, Population, op. cit. (note 9). The specific lecture in the series on governmentality was first published in 1979 in English in the journal Ideology and Consciousness, and subsequently reprinted in the well-known collection FOUCAULT et al. (eds.), The Foucault Effect, op. cit. (note 11).

13 Michel Foucault, “Governmentality,” in Michel Foucault, Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect, op. cit. (note 9).

14 Mitchell Dean, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society , London: Sage, 1999.

15 Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose, “Introduction,” in Paul RABINOW and Nikolas S. ROSE (eds.), The Essential Foucault: Selections from Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, New York: New Press, 2003, p. xv-xvii. Mitchell DEAN, Governmentality, op. cit. (note 14).

16 Paul Rabinow and Nikolas S. Rose, “Introduction,” op. cit., p. xvi.

17 Margo Huxley, “Geographies of Governmentality,” in Jeremy W. Crampton and Stuart Elden (eds.), Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007, p. 194.

18 Mitchell Dean, Governmentality, op. cit. (note 14).

19 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, op. cit. (note 8), p. 216.

20 Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993 (Princeton Studies in Culture, Power, History); Gyan Prakash, Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999, p. 123-58.

21 Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College De France, 1975-76, trans. David Macey, New York: Picador, 2003, p. 254.

22 Gyan Prakash, Another Reason, op. cit.(note 20), p. 123-58; David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

23 Stephen Legg, Spaces of Colonialism: Delhi's Urban Governmentalities, Malden: Blackwell, 2007 (RGS-IBG book series).

24 At least two architectural history monographs influenced by postcolonial theories were given book awards by the American Society of Architectural Historians. They are Mark Crinson, Modern Architecture and the End of Empire, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003 (British art and visual culture since 1750, new readings); Sibel Bozdogan, Modernism and Nation Building: Turkish Architectural Culture in the Early Republic, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001 (Studies in modernity and national identity).

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Jiat-Hwee Chang, « Multiple Power in Colonial Spaces », ABE Journal [En ligne], 5 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2014, consulté le 15 décembre 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/abe/808 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.808

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Auteur

Jiat-Hwee Chang

Assistant Professor, National University of Singapore, Singapore

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