Technologies of the self

Technologies of the self

Technologies of the self (also called care of the self or practices of the self [http://www.capurro.de/self.htm] ) are what Michel Foucault calls the methods and techniques ("tools") through which human beings constitute themselves. Foucault argued that we as subjects are perpetually engaged in processes whereby we define and produce our own ethical self-understanding. According to Foucault, technologies of the self are the forms of knowledge and strategies that “permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.” [Foucault, M (1988) Technologies of the self. In L H Martin, H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, page 18.]

Foucault was interested in the history of the subject in Western societies. He claimed that in order to begin piecing together such a history, one must examine the interplay between the micro-relations of the subject in space and time, and macrological structures of power: political economy, juridical legal apparatus, education, health services, and state administrative strategies. [Foucault, M. (1991) On Governmentality. In G Burchell, C Gordon, and P Miller (eds) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 87-105] The interaction between self and self, and self to social reality represents performative processes whereby ‘truth’ is negotiated and legitimated through discursive fields at various scales. In other words, he was interested in how subjects came to represent to themselves the ‘truth’ of their own thoughts and practices and how this ‘truth’ was constructed in relation to governmental, institutional, and social administrative structures of power and knowledge. [Foucault, M (1988) Technologies of the self. In L H Martin, H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, page 18.]

Foucault argued that technologies of the self must be understood as inextricably linked to his notion of governmentality: the guiding rationalities whereby individuals and social structures regulate and police norms of thought and behavior. Burchell states, “government, is a ‘contact point’ where techniques of domination and technologies of the self ‘interact’. [Burchell, G. Liberal Government and Techniques of the Self. In A Barry, T Osbourne, and N Rose(eds) Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neoliberalism, and rationalities of government. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, page 20.] According to Foucault, this “contact point” is where “technologies of domination of individuals over one another have recourse to processes by which the individual acts upon himself and, conversely,...where techniques of the self are integrated into structures of coercion.” [ibid., page 20.]

References

Burchell, G. Liberal Government and Techniques of the Self. In A Barry, T Osbourne, and N Rose(eds) Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, neoliberalism, and rationalities of government. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 19-37

Foucault, M (1988) Technologies of the self. In L H Martin, H Gutman and P H Hutton (eds) Technologies of the self. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, pp 16–49.

Foucault, M. (1991) On Governmentality. In G Burchell, C Gordon, and P Miller (eds) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 87-105.


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