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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Critical Theory

Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power by Derek Hook (Critical Theory and Practice in Psychology and the Human Sciences: Palgrave Macmillan)
This series of essays presents a variety of responses to the question of what the genealogical works of Michel Foucault may mean to the domain of critical psychology. This, Hook thinks, is an important task given that 20 years after Foucault's death, the discipline of psychology has yet to absorb the full impact of his work. Two particular prob­lems arise here, both of which became apparent to me in relation to teaching. First, although there are several reasonable introductory texts on Foucault none focuses on those of Foucault's ideas most important to students/practitioners of psychology and none introduces Foucault from the standpoint of psychology itself. Although certain critical psycho­logy texts have made mention of Foucault his work is generally drawn on in a 'mix and match' manner, along with other thinkers - usually under the general rubric of poststructuralism -without the benefit of sustained exposition and/or adequate theoretical and methodological contextualization. Second, despite the importance of Foucault's methodological writings, and, indeed, the need for crit­ical psychology to engage with these lines of critique and analysis, I have found it difficult to prescribe a text which presents a detailed set of Foucauldian methodological frameworks within the context of Foucault's particular theoretical, political and historical objectives.

As neglected as the topic of Foucault and psychology has been - especially so, given the content of Foucault's earliest published work,' and in view of his training and practice in the realm of clinical psychology (Macey, 2004; Whitebrook, 2005) - it is not completely novel. Nikolas Rose's (1991, 1996a) seminal studies of the Psy-complex and British psychology usefully extends Foucault's critique of psychology – aspects of which Hook revisits in the following chapter — although these studies cannot be described as didactic, or as offering easy access to a variety of Foucauldian frames of analysis. May's (1993) Between Genealogy and Epistemology does, admittedly, discuss the relation between aspects of Foucault's thought and psychology; once again, however, this treatment does not lend itself to practical application. His predominant focus, moreover, is on Foucault's earlier archaeological writings; it is the later genealogical work between the mid and late 1970s that I, by contrast, believe holds the most potential both for the critique of psychology and for analytical innovation. On the other hand, a book like Kendall and Wickham's (1998) Using Foucault's Methods, which does hope to introduce a series of Foucauldian frameworks for analysis in a user-friendly way, lacks the theoretical depth and historical complexity that grounds Foucault's work, and that lends it much of its characteristic urgency. My position, in contrast to such an approach, is that Foucault's methods cannot be simply detached from the political and philosoph­ical concerns that Foucault had with interrogating the human science disciplines themselves. The aim of this book is thus to introduce both of these methodological and politico-historical preoccupations together, to put Foucault's genealogical writings to work as a means of critically re-conceptualizing aspects of psychological knowledge and practice, first and, correspondingly, as a means of grounding a set of radical research methods, second.

In terms of the first of these objectives, Foucault certainly enables us to spell out a series of complex links between psychology and power; to understand how psychology is itself an indispensable vector of modern power, something typically overlooked in most approaches to the discipline. The themes of such a critique emerge in a variety of ways throughout this book: in the account of the disciplinary role of psychology as a subjectifying form of power-knowledge whose history cannot be divorced from the trajectory of corrective practices essential to modern power; in the interroga­tion of those psychological notions so central to the philosophy of humanism and to the detouring of critique (e.g. 'individuality' as a naturally emerging category rather than a function of power; inter­pretative appeals to the truths of consciousness and/or interiority); and in an awareness of how technologies of subjectivity implemented by various Psy-disciplines and institutions enable certain govern­mental agendas — particular rationalities of the state — to be articu­lated through the ethical self-knowledge and self-practices of subjects. Foucault's work, provides us with a complex analytics of modern power, indeed, with a multi-dimensional model of the functioning of relations of control, that may be critically applied in a variety of different loca­tions and at a variety of different levels, both within the domain of psychology and further afield.

The book's second key objective is to foreground Foucault's various contributions to 'the work of critique', that is, to the historical and discursive analysis of asymmetrical relations of power and knowledge. Hook maintains that Foucault's most vital contribution in this respect is less that of a theorist than that of a methodologist. Foucault's analytics of power, that is to say, does not follow the route of 'grand theory'; his is not the project of writing power's ontology, of outlining its overall struc­ture. In many ways, Foucault's is precisely a de-theorizing project that aims to resist final formularizations of power in favour of the attempt to generate solid analytic grounds from which we may fix aspects of its operational force and logic. In other words, we best benefit from Foucault's critical legacy — both as it applies to psychology and more generally — by examining and applying his `analytics'. To this end, the book provides elucidations of three Foucauldian analytical frameworks: critical discursive critique, genealogy and heterotopology (the analytics of heterotopia), although, of course, a variety of Foucault's concepts —the notion of human technologies, the concepts of bio-power, appar­atuses of security and governmentality — are important analytical tools in and of themselves. Not only do these approaches offer themselves as useful alternatives for researchers in the qualitative psychology tradi­tion, they also offer very different lines of conceptualization, novel critical orientations to a variety of ostensibly psychological questions (such as issues of psychological deviancy and abnormality (Chapter 4), the notion of place-identity (Chapter 5), the social deployment of racist subjectivity). Ultimately, of course, Foucault's methods entail a posi­tion of critical reflexivity towards the knowledge-productions of the discipline within which one is working. In this respect, it should come as no surprise that what is frequently most valuable about Foucault for psychology — paradoxical as it sounds — is precisely his attempt to develop non-psychological, indeed, even anti-psychological modes of analysis and critique. In respect of this issue of critical reflexivity, I think it is worth pointing out that the very first chapter of this book (Foucault's historical re-contextualization of psychology) can also be read as a logical consequence of the methodology chapters that follow it, for no genuinely critical work can emerge from within psycho­logy that does not scrutinize the disciplinary location from which it emerges.

Hook opens the book by introducing Foucault's influential account of disciplinary power - or `disciplinarity' as I refer to it - as a condition of possibility for the emergence of psychological individuality. Breaking from other introductory approaches to this material, Hook has moved away from the tendency to rely solely on Foucault's Discipline and Punish, refreshing many of these explanations with recourse to the recently published Psychiatric Power. Furthermore, while remaining faithful to the basic terms of Foucault's account - the critique of humanism; the notion of disciplinary technologies; the factors of surveillance, confes­sion and normalization; the idea of the 'soul-effects' produced within disciplined bodies - Hook has also suggested that his analysis of power could be usefully advanced with a more developed category of 'the psycholo­gical'. To be sure, Foucault's account of disciplinarity helps emphasize the extent to which virtually all of 'the psychological' (as it is lived, practiced and rendered subject to knowledge) falls within the ambit of power. This is key to its critical utility - the fact that it forces us to reassess notions of a natural, universal psychological subjectivity. This notwithstanding, Hook has queried whether an implicitly psychological account of power - such as disciplinarity often seems - can in fact effect­ively dispense with all psychological modes of description and analysis. Just as the vocabulary of the psychological is often superseded by the terms of a Foucauldian analytics eager to play up the historical and political dimension of its practical concepts, so it is also the case that aspects of this vocabulary are, at certain crucial points, able to supersede Foucault's analytical frame.

Building on the historical grounds provided in the first chapter, Hook goes on to advance a series of methodological pragmatics for the analysis of power. Key injunctions here concern the attempt to 'desubstantialize' power, that is, to view relations of control, influ­ence and subjectification not with reference to power as a structure, possession or repressive capability, but rather as a dynamic, relational, contingent assembly of forces working in both top-down and bottom-up directions. The idea of power as an 'unstructured formation' is presented, alongside a series of injunctions guiding the prospective analyst to grasp the technological specificity of a given relation of power and to suspend the assumption that the category of the individual comes before the constitutive role of 'power-knowledge'. Crucial here also are guidelines concerning the need to interrogate the epistemology of humanism, to think of power as intentional and strategic yet 'de-agented' and to understand how relations of resistance makes for a necessary precondi­tion for the operation of power. The chapter ends with an evaluation of Foucault's 'desubstantialization' of power, along with a series of comments on its usefulness as a general set of methodological prag­matics.

Hook extends a concern with practical methodological issues in the third chapter, which examines that aspect of Foucault's conceptual and meth­odological work which has had the biggest impact on critical psycho­logy. Hook seems to have in mind here, of course, the analysis of discourse, which, to date, has come to represent a virtual growth industry in research psychology. Through a close reading of Foucault's crucial methodolo­gical statement of intent, namely his inaugural lecture at the College de France, 'The order of discourse' (1981), this chapter re-characterizes the concept of discourse from a firmly Foucauldian perspective. This expos­ition is contrasted with two prominent approaches to discourse analysis from within psychology, those of Parker (1992) and Potter and Wetherell (1987). Relative to these two methods, Hook argues, Foucault's conception of discourse is situated far more closely to the analysis of knowledge, materiality and power than it is to language. It is exactly the omission of these three dimensions of analysis that so undermines the epistem­ological strength, the explanatory power and the political abilities of both Parker's (1992) and Potter and Wetherell's (1987) approaches. The chapter ends by providing a series of Foucauldian methodological injunctions for the analysis of discourse, and by pointing to the necessity of grasping the fundamentals of genealogical analysis.

Hook explores how the procedures of a Nietzschean 'effective history' (genealogy) enables Foucault to accommodate and elaborate upon the analytical imperatives asserted in the foregoing chapter. Following the style of that chapter, Hook introduces a series of distinct­ively Foucauldian methodological injunctions, attempting to do so in a way that remains accessible without sacrificing any of the philosoph­ical complexity at hand. Many of Foucault's comments on the strategic utilization of genealogy speak directly to an explicitly political project. Part of the work of this chapter is to speculate on how genealogy might enable the project of political criticism and to comment on how it might be put to use within the domain of psychology. Crucial here are a series of genealogical notions - the category of the 'event', the dissipation of the object, the rejection of the self-constituting subject and the reassess­ment of the 'relation to knowledge' - each of which represents a valuable line of critique apropos standard psychological objects of knowledge. Hook illustrates many of the methodological maxims introduced with refer­ence to a series of examples drawn from a recent study on the historical formation of paedophilia within South Africa. These examples are in turn supported by a number of speculations on the historico-discursive production of abnormality derived from Foucault's (2003b) Abnormal; speculations, which Hook believes, exemplify many of the methodological injunctions of genealogy.

In hindsight of the commentaries on the methodological, philosoph­ical and political issues raised in earlier chapters, Hook takes a somewhat different track. It offers an extended example of an applied empirical analysis - an analysis that proceeds on the basis of a relat­ively neglected Foucauldian framework - that of heterotopology (the analytics, in other words, of 'heterotopia'). Foucault's notion of hetero­topia provides a means of conceptualizing 'differential', or 'other' social spaces. These are zones of social activity with prescribed functions and identities which are able to operate as spaces of alternate social ordering; heterotopia, in other words, are able to show up, critically reflect and subvert a society's commonplace norms and discursive values. Heterotopia are connected to a series of criteria - ritualized systems of opening and closing, a codified sense of social functionality, a distinctive ordering of time and the spatial realization of utopian aspirations - that Foucault applies as a set of steps for the analysis of spatio-discursive relations of power. The applied focus of this chapter is on a particular South African gated community, a site in which a particular formation of 'place-identity' - that of exclusion and privilege - is thrown into sharp perspective. The subsequent analysis identifies a particular discourse of privilege, a "rights" of entitlement' that gated-community inhabitants mobilize as means of justifying a series of exclusionary measures. This discourse and its associated modes of spatial ordering function as symp­tomatic indicators of far larger socio-historical structures of exclusion and privilege.

In Chapter 6, Hook allows himself more explanatory latitude than in previous chapters in terms of how I seek to apply a number of important Foucauldian conceptual motifs. His intent here is to develop the argument that a Foucauldian analytics needs to grapple with the role of certain psychological forces - in this case, affect - not merely as the outcome of power, but also as conduits, conductors, as its 'instru­mentalizable' resources. Three lines of discussion come together here. First, continuing Foucault's re-conceptualization of power discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, Hook introduces the complimentary notions of govern-mentality, apparatuses, bio-power and technologies of subjectivity and self. These are crucial concepts: the notion of technologies of subjectivity and self provides a valuable means of thinking the interchange between structural forms of influence and ethical micro-practices of self; the concept of the apparatus helps us understand the diffused and indeterm­inate set of articulations which connect individualizing with totalizing means of power. Second, Hook discusses the issue of racism, both so as to point to the limits of a predominantly historico-discursive frame of analysis, and so as to motivate for the importance of an analytics of affect. Third, through a reconsideration of the model of technologies of subjectivity and self, and in conjunction with a series of contemporary examples of the governmental conduct of conduct, Hook presents a tentative outline for how the analytics of governmentality might be advanced in such a way that takes seriously the affective dimension of such processes.

Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power does not represent a working-through of a systematic or global position. The book combines both introductory and more advanced exploratory engagements with Foucault, both strict close-text commentaries and freer instances of applied analysis. This is a combination that has been aided by my decision to make use of discussion boxes, which allow me to present parallel contents which interestingly augment, question or exemplify the arguments of the main text. Hook is conscious that at times in the book that he may appear to have adopted different argumentative positions depending on the particular objectives of the chapter in question. This is in part a function of combining didactic and critical speculative types of engagement with Foucault. It is also, no doubt, the result of exploring a variety of perspectives on what Foucault's genealogical work might mean to critical psychology, a 'body' of work, that should by no means be viewed as a closed system.

The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen (Chelsea Green Publishing Company)  

Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions. – Primo Levi

As readers of the acclaimed A Language Older than Words can attest, Derrick Jensen is a public intellectual of rare abilities. In The Culture of Make Believe, Jensen sets the bar as high as possible, examining the atrocities that characterize so much of our culture – from modern slavery and corporate misdeeds to manufacturing disasters and the destruction of the natural world.

Jensen takes no prisoners. Interweaving political, historical, philosophical and deeply personal perspectives, Jensen argues that only by understanding past horrors can we hope to prevent future ones. Exploring the lines of thought and experience that connect the atrocities of our culture throughout history, Jensen leads us on an extraordinary journey from early twentieth-century lynchings in the United States to today’s death squads in South America.

The Culture of Make Believe deftly weaves together history, philosophy, environmentalism, economics, literature and psychology. Jensen focuses in on the dangers of abstraction and the economics that result from our viewing people and things as sources of profit and elements in systems. Therefore he chooses to look at the particular, telling many stories in great detail. He has the ability to forge these events into an emotionally compelling and devastating critique of the intellectual, psychological, emotional and social structures of Western culture.

What he comes up with is

  • The valuing of production over life.
  • Racism, hatred of women, and contempt for nature.
  • A world in which hatred and destruction come easily.

He finds that the sources of the values that permeate our society are in imperialism, slavery, the rise of global capitalism, and the ideologies of possessiveness and consumerism.

Jensen's solution is a return to the simple life, perhaps much like that of the hunter-gatherers, yet he knows that such a turn must be "the end of civilization." At the end of the preface, Jensen writes: “This book is a weapon. It is a gun to be put into the hands of all of us who wish to oppose these atrocities, and a manual on how to use it. It is a knife to cut the ropes that bind us to our ways of perceiving and being in the world. It is a match to light the fuse.”

The Culture of Make Believe is as impeccably researched as it is intense, with conclusions as far-reaching as they are shocking. What begins as an attempt to reconsider the nature of hatred soon explodes into a reckoning with the very heart of Western civilization.

The Culture of Make Believe is a masterpiece. - Frances Moore Lappe

Read this book. Get it for everyone you care about. - Inga Muscio


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