Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power, Ch. 3

Ann Laura Stoler – Carnal Knowledge and imperial power: race and the intimate in colonial rule (2002)

Ann Laura Stoler is a professor of anthropology and historical studies at The New School for Social Research in New York. Stoler’s research interests include: “Politics of knowledge; colonial pasts/postcolonial presents; critical race theory; histories of sentiment & sexuality; historical ethnography.”

Ch. 3 – Toward a genealogy of racisms: The 1976 Lectures at the College de France

In this chapter, Stoler does a close reading of Foucault’s The College de France lectures, placing them alongside the last chapter in the History of Sexuality. In particular, Stoler follows and digs into Foucault’s understanding of race and biopower. “I examine what the lectures say about the discursive production of unsuitable participants in the body politic, and how the maintenance of such internal exclusions were codified as necessary and noble pursuits to ensure the well-being and very survival of the social body by a protective state.” (62) Placing these ideas into a broader academic and historical context, she highlights significant contributions of Foucault while pointing out silences and omissions. Stoler finishes by pointing out directions for further inquiry, particularly the central place of imperialism in the construction of race, and the place of gender.

Stoler first specifies the way in which Foucault approached questions of race and racism. Foucault’s main topic of interest is not primarily race or racism, but instead “on the modern state and the emergence of state racism as a part of it. It is not racist practice that he tracks, but rather a new form of historical analysis, emerging in the seventeenth century that comes to conceive of social relations in binary terms.” (56) While tracing this genealogy that Foucault proposes, Stoler also highlights certain methodological contributions and insights: “we are privy to Foucault’s grappling with what I take to be one of the hallmark features of his work: not only a search for the discontinuities of history as so many commentators have claimed, but a more challenging analytic concern with the tension between rupture and reinscription, between break and recuperation in discursive formations… What concerns him is not modern racism’s break with earlier forms, but rather the discursive bricolage whereby an older discourse of race is “recovered,” modified, “encased,” and “encrusted” in new forms.” (61)

Sovereignty – 64

Emergence of the discourse of the war of races – 65-6

Transcription of this 17th century idea into biological / nationalist formation, and into class struggle

What’s new about Foucault’s understanding of race: 68-69
– “not based on successive meanings of race”
– 19th century racism “is not consolidated in biological science, but more directly in the biologizing power of the normalizing state”
– Polyvalent mobility of race: “Race has not always been what we might assume, a discourse forged by those in power, but on the contrary, a counter-narrative, embraced by those contesting sovereign notions of power and right, by those umasking the fiction of natural and legitimate rule.” and “racial discourses are not only righteous because the profess the common good; they are permeated with resurrected subjugated knowledges, disqualified accounts by those contesting unitary power and by those partisan voices that speak for the defense of society.’
– Not a scapegoat theory of race. “For Foucault, racism is more than an ad hoc response to crisis; it is a manifestation of preserved possibilities, the expression of an underlying discourse of permanent social war, nurtured by the biopolitical technologies of ‘incessant purification.’ Racism dos not merely arise in moments of crisis, in sporadic cleansings. It is internal to the biopolitical state, woven into the weft of the social body, threaded through its fabric.”

War of races as a counter history: “the discourses of class and revolution are not opposed to the discourse of social war but constituted by it… they are neither independently derived ideologies nor alternate ‘persuasive views’; their etymology is one and the same.” (72-73)

Foucault’s mention of colonialism – 74-75

Emergence of the nation and nationalism – 76

Biopower, very clear, helpful reading from and glossing Foucault – 80-84

“Foucault ends his final lecture here on a prescient and ominous note. While the deadly play between a power based on the sovereign right to kill and the biopolitcial management of life are exemplified in the Nazi state, it is not housed there alone. His argument is broader still, namely that this play between the two appears in all modern states, be they fascist, capitalist or socialist… Invoking nineteenth century popular mobilizations revered by the French left, the Communards, and the Anarchists, Foucault contended that their notions of society and the state (or whatever authoritarian institutions might substitute for it) were predicated on the strongly racist principle that a collective body should manage life, take life in charge, and compensate for its aleatory events. In doing so, such forms of socialism exercised the right to kill and to disqualify its own members.” (86-87)
– Question from Stoler – “should this rightly be labeled a ‘racist principle or be understood as a particular effect of biopolitical technologies more generally?”

“To my mind, one of the seminar’s most striking contribution is the tension that underwrites Foucault’s historical analysis: namely, that between rupture and reinscription in the discourse of history and the implications it carries for the practices predicated on it.” (88-89)

Question from Stoler – what are the dynamics of the transformation to state racism and biopower? What are “the discursive and non-discursive mechanisms that account for the selective recuperations of some elements and not others”? (89)

What’s missing
“Despite some for the clarifications that the lectures provide, a number of critical lapses and ellipses remain: the most obvious being the connection between the normalizing bourgeois project in which racisms have developed and the imperial context of them. There is no place made in Foucault’s account for the fact that the discourse that surrounded the fear of ‘internal enemies’ was one that was played out over and over again in nineteenth-century imperial contexts in specific ways… For the discourse of the nation, as much recent work has shown, did not obliterate the binary conception of society, but rather replaced it with a finer set of gradated exclusions in which cultural cometpetencies continued to distinguish those who were echte Dutch, pure-blood French, and truly English… Racism has not only derived from an ‘excess’ of biopower as Foucault claimed, but, as Balibar argues, from an ‘excess’ of nationalism.” (92-93)

“Finally, the most glaring omission from Foucault’ s analysis is its non-gendered quality. Just as feminists have long questioned how Foucault could write a history of sexuality without gender or for that matter women, we could query a genealogy of racism and a history of normalizing biopolitical states that fail to account for the formative work that gender divisions have played in them. State racism has never been gender-neutral in the management of sexuality; gender prescriptions for motherhood and manliness, as well as gendered assessments of perversion and subversion are part of the scaffolding on which the intimate technologies of racist policies rest.” (93)


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