Security, Territory, Population

Foucault, Michel. 2007. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978.

Foucault says he’s following the genesis of a political knowledge that put “population” at the center of its concerns. He uses “government” as the guiding thread of this genesis. “Population,” for Foucault, denotes the making of the biological features of the human species as the object of political strategy. If the primary site of discipline is the body, the primary site of biopower or biopolitics is population. Nonetheless, from the outset of the lectures he’s at pains to note that he’s not drawing up epochal transitions of sovereign power, to disciplinary power, and then to a society of say security or government (8, 10, 107).

These technologies of power traverse each other, intersect, and the difference is more one of conjunctural emphasis of one or the other—one might even say on particular relations of force. Another thread through the lectures is how security and population become articulated and conjoined in different ways at different times, and this is also related to the “government” theme, too.

Questions of space shoot through almost all the lectures. The space of security for instance is depicted in terms of milieu, an almost contingently and uncertainly configured series of relations between individuals, nature/climate, architecture, groups, social relations, etc etc. The town is a paramount example in which an attempt is made to manage a series of aleatory factors, whether through architecture, “campaigns” (health or otherwise), provisioning, birth rates and more. In short, there’s a certain recognition of the biological or “naturalness” of the human as species (as part of the milieu) that raises a host of problematics for the political artifice. Projects, or political techniques, seek to regulate this complicated field socio-bio-natural relations.

Security, or rather apparatuses of security, aims to regulate this milieu within the field of population; he shows this through a series of very spatial arrangements (the town, circulation of people and things). “The final objective is population. The population is pertinent as the objective and individuals, the series of individuals, are no longer pertinent as the objective, but simply as the instrument, relay, or condition for obtaining something at the level of population” (42). In this way, population is the means for the government of each and all, but rather than through the almost totalizing mechanism of discipline, security “lets things happen” and certain things are taken as given and works through them in a regulatory capacity. Security retains freedom as a necessary means for its operation.

This technology of power works through a calculative approach that takes into account for its interventions the case, risk, danger, and crisis (60-61) and a host of other contingent factors. Population is thus “a datum that depends on a series of variables” (71) that inform reflexive procedures of government. In this way, the sovereign could be said to “rule,” but not “govern.” The series security-population-government denotes this degovernmentalization of the sovereign: “when population becomes the vis-à-vis of government, of the art of government, rather than of sovereignty, then I think we can say that man is to population what the subject of right was to sovereignty” (79). Foucault gives the “government of the economy” as an example of this shift in which the objectives of government cannot be legislated by law—or at least not only by law (99).

It’s here that Fouacault introduces the concept of “governmentality,” giving it a threefold definition (108):

  1. The ensemble formed by institutions, procedures, analyses and reflections, calculations, and tactics that allow the exercise of this very specific, albeit very complex, power that has the population as its target, political economy as its major form of knowledge, and apparatuses of security as its essential technical instrument.
  2. The tendency toward preminence of “government” in the west over other forms of power (sovereignty, discipline, etc), leading to the creation of specific governmental apparatuses and knowledges
  3. The gradual governmentalization of the administrative state.

The evolution of “police” is a key element or hinge in this process, but before getting to that, Foucault situates pastoral power as a kind of pre-figurative form of governmentality in which one governs not over a territory or a political structure, one governs people. Pastoral power is beneficent power of the shepherd over the flock; “Pastoral power is a power of care” (127). It is both individualizing (a sheep) and global (the flock); the shepherd tries to not let a single sheep escape him in the care for the flock, raising the problematic paradox of the potential need to sacrifice one for the benefit of all. The everyday workings of pastoral power, with its religious underpinnings of the conduct of the self, are also important to note. The Church institutionalized the pastorate, though it remained based on the “art of ‘governing men’,” which Foucault defines as governmentality in an embryonic form whose entry into politics “marks the threshold of the modern state. The modern state is born, I think, when governmentality became a calculated and reflected practice” (165, cf. 185).

The pastorate as a form of conducting conduct also implicitly contains a notion of “counter-conduct,” which is the main topic of lecture eight. There is an internal relation to the conduct of conduct and counter-conduct; “there was an immediate and founding correlation between conduct and counter-conduct” (196). I won’t go into these, but one point I find really interesting is the idea of “tactical reversals” in which particular discourses of conduct are turned against themselves in the practice of counter-conduct (207-215).

The problematic of governing is heightened with the onset of new social, economic, and political relations precipitating a need to go beyond the pastoral. Conduct of individuals becomes articulated with the exercise of sovereign power; part of this articulation is the emergence of “raison d’état,” which comes to be seen as a knowledge/rationality in which government has no end beyond expanding the livelihood of the state itself. This occurs, too, in a context of increased inter-state competition, and the sizing up through “statistics” of states’ comparative “powers”—largely, wealth.

Foucault ties this process to the rise of “police” and apparatuses of security—the latter, military-diplomatic. Police is understood in a sense quite foreign from today’s colloquial meaning; it is instead “the set of means for bringing about the internal growth of the states forces” (365). The onus of government is redirected toward population (by default, if not yet explicitly) and wealth—also, the emergence of political economy. Population as a set of living beings whose variables can be tinkered with—through a concrete set of technical governmental interventions—and regulated, relatedly, through political economy.

On pages 277-289, Foucault relates the important linkages between state and government. The third to last lecture deals largely with the role of inter-state competition and the sizing up of forces as a key source in the development of security apparatuses—both those directed externally, militaries and diplomatic missions as well as those (i.e. police) aimed at the cultivation of the internal vitality of the state. He situates these processes, too, within discourses of a balance of forces in Europe and links the internal and external apparatuses their conjugation via statistics.

“Police is directed towards men’s activity, but in so far as this activity has a relationship to the state” (322). Police has among it the following concerns: the qualities of population (its relationships to territory, resources, commerce, etc); food and basic needs; health; work and professions; circulation of goods. “Generally speaking, what police has to govern, its fundamental object, is all the forms of, let’s say, men’s coexistence with each other…” (326). All this is managed through a carefully calculated set of strategic interventions that seek to promote population from simply “being” to being well or “well-being” (328).

In the final lecture, Foucault begins relating all this to political economy, the physiocrats—along with other interventionist critiques—gesturing toward (neo)liberal government. He starts to situate these latter points within the emergence of “civil society” and the notion that the cohabitation of men produces a set of “natural” relations or drives that can be steered or harnessed toward the motives of population. “Population appears as a both specific and relative reality; its relative to wages, to the possibilities of work, and to prices, but it is also specific in two senses. First, population has its own laws of transformation and movement, and it is just as much subject to natural processes as wealth itself” (351). Freedom, too, becomes instrumental in the liberal critique of government.

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