Pedagogy’s Topographies of Power

Mark Jackson
Vol 23, Number 2, p.83
The work of Michel Foucault develops a series of problematics with respect to an understanding of social and political order. From his early concerns with archaeology to those of genealogy, Foucault developed an entirely new discourse on power that broke decisively with political interventionist understandings dominated by Marxism and was equally at odds with liberal humanist concerns. From his analyses of what he termed the power-knowledge dispositif, and in relation to his close reading of Georges Canguilhem’s philosophy of the biological sciences, Foucault opened a new horizon for understanding the political rationality of modernity in terms of what he named the bio-political. His late writings on governmentality emerged from these developments and emphasised the centrality of the human sciences in the political rationality of our modern forms of governance. This essay sets out to provide a detailed account of what Foucault understands by the notion of governmentality and how it differs fundamentally from our orthodox notions of governance that seek juridical guarantee in the legitimacy and unity of the State. This is primarily explored in the essay’s first section, “Questions of Governance”. In outlining this notion of governmentality, Foucault articulates three autonomous exercises of power that implicate each other but are neither reducible to one another nor isomorphic in their practices: strategies, programmes and technologies of power. This aspect of Foucault’s work is examined in the central section, “Questions of Practice”. The essay concludes with a discussion on the genealogy of the emergence of compulsory education as a spatial problematic of governmentality, “Questions of Control”. It further suggests that our current concerns with globalisation present a political rationality of governmentality whose origin lies not in recent interventions or inventions of global mediation but rather in a problem of topographical management fundamental to the emergence of popular education itself.