Biopolitics, governmentality, (security) dispositifs. Concepts for the study of the International?

A conference co-organized by the Association pour le Centre Michel Foucault (Paris, France), the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (Paris, France) with the support of IRI/ PUC-Rio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and the Center for Americas in Sciences Po (Paris, France).

Poster EN / FR & Program EN / FR


In 1997, in Paris, the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI) hosted a conference entitled Pratiques politiques et usages de Michel Foucault (Political practices and uses of Michel Foucault)[1]. Without saying that this conference initiated a new partition of the « foucaldian legacy » approaches, it seems, nevertheless, that it contributed to establish a division, still visible today among the vast movement of appropriation of the work of Michel Foucault, between commentators and users[2]. The originality of the 1997 conference lies in the fact that it tried not to be an(other) event on or about Michel Foucault, his path, his « legacy », his work. The ambition of the conference organizers was to break with a certain tradition of the commentary of Foucault’s thought and opt for an effort of practical application of his « historico-critical » approach. The issue, then, was not an exegetic effort on Foucault’s work but, rather, to put his thought « into practice »[3] in order to « better understand the contemporary phenomena, inseparably intellectual, social and political »[4] ; an ambition transposed in the title of the conference and maybe even more in the title of the edited volume that come out of it : Penser avec Michel Foucault (Think with Michel Foucault)[5]. Along that same approach, the CERI also hosted the conference « Monitoring the future in security and life sciences » on April 2009 with members of the CERI and the BIOS Center at the LSE together with « specialists » of Michel Foucault’s work. Sixteen years after the first event and four after the second one, the conference we are organizing on « Biopolitics, governemnentality, security dispositifs. Concepts for the study of the International?» wishes to revive the move initiated in 1997 and extend it. The conference will seek to seize Foucault via his many uses to question the practical reasons of his philosophical silence about the « International » and this domain of knowledge we came to call « international studies » or the « discipline of International Relations » (IR).

Contributors to this conference will work in two directions. On the one hand, they will develop on foucaldian approaches in/ to « international studies » through various themes: the « international system », the « balance of power », « security », « foreign policy », « development » or « globalization ». The question will be that of the contributions and potential limits of this foucaldian perspective for the understanding of so called « international » phenomena. On an epistemological point of view, we could also ask what Foucault has brought to « IR » through the uses that were made of his work. On the other hand, we will come back on Foucault’s thought, his concepts and his method to put them to the test of the multiple ways in which they have been used. The question we will examine would then no longer be that of what Foucault has brought to the understanding of contemporary phenomena, no longer be that of what he brings to IR, but that of the contributions of these uses to our knowledge on his very thought and conceptual tools. Here, the will to know what the multiple uses of Foucault’s work have made of his thought and tools substitutes for the will to know what had enabled his thought: how many and which Foucaults have been extracted from the multiple thought of the philosopher? And what for? And what do they tell us about the philosopher’s silence on the modern international?

This conference will aim at contributing to the making of Foucault’s silence on « world politics » and the « modern international » into a place of encounter and confrontational space for ideas, with a view to make the man, the thinker, the author or the supposed unity of Foucault’s work disappear and leave space for the multiple uses that have been made of them.

Foucault and IR

Though the « International » is largely absent from Foucault’s work, « International studies » have not ignored the philosopher, his method and his concepts. In the anglo-saxon world, Foucault is even one of those who, with Derrida, Baudrillard, Virilio and, more recently Deleuze or Bourdieu, are at the origin of what is often identified as a « critical turn in/ of International Relations ». Starting at the end of the 1970s, some within IR found in The order of Things and Archaeology of Knowledge – i.e. in the least positivist Foucault ­– as well as in his propositions of a relational and productive power, the arguments for a radical critique of the onto-epistemological options of the then dominating IR theories.

The archeo-genealogical mood that was deployed at the time contributed to problematise this field of knowledge and to shed new light on « theories of international relations » while showing that the later were not so much the explanations of « world politics » they pretended to be, than the expressions of a very specific and historically situated spatial and political imaginary. Critical authors at that period also drew the attention on historical practices that had been made invisible by non problematized uses of concepts such as State, territory, sovereignty, foreign policy or security. Be it with or from Foucault, they have set the historically contingent character of IR that, from the end of WWII onwards – and in the anglo-saxon world at least – had gradually built up as an academic discipline, claiming today its institutional independence from political science.

By then, the works of Michel Foucault fulfills a heterotopical and virtually emancipatory function for the critique. They served more as a base for a critique that no one now contest the fruitfulness, than they were actually discussed. Critical IR scholars then contributed to open a space in which many others, coming from various fields of knowledge have dived into bringing in other ways of using Foucault and thereby contributing to renew the study of « world/international politics ». From the 1990s on, and even more since the 2000s, uses of Foucault for the study of the « International » and so called « international phenomena » have shifted and pluralized. In order to study a « globalised world » and its contemporary transformations, it is no longer the epistemologist or archeologist Foucault of discursive monuments who is called in, but also the Foucault of the governementality, the dispositifs of security and the genealogy/ critique of neo-liberalism. The toolmaker philosopher who wishes to be used as a toolbox has been heard.

Questions and structure of the event

Participants in this conference will interrogate all these different uses of Foucault from a resolutely interdisciplinary approach to address the question of whether and how to think about the modern International from the multiple thought of Michel Foucault. Is it possible – and if so, how – to think the « International » from a perspective that, in Foucault’s own thinking trajectory, and from the mid-1970s onwards, never ceased to work at making the state disappear behind the infinity of the practices, strategies and tactics, programs, dispositifs and instruments we have come to gather under this word? Is it possible to understand the International as a series of practices ? And if so, which are they ? Are they identical to those of the « state », meaning that there would be some sort of identity of practices but not of the state and the International ? Or are they different ? And if so, how can we think the International as a practice or a series of practices independently from what we call the « state » ?

In order to deal with these questions, we suggest to articulate the conference around four roundtables that would each be introduced and concluded by a lecture given by scholars especially renowned for their use of Foucault.

  • Participants to the first roundtable will discuss, in a both epistemological and historical register, how internationalists use foucaldian method and concepts to question their effects on the « discipline », its status, objects (like security) and methods. What have been the consequences on « internationalist knowledge » of the problematisation of the modern conception of the political a foucaldian approach drives us into ?
  • In the second roundtable, participants will extend the discussion on governmentality addressing issues such as « neoliberal bureaucratization » and management thinking. What is bureaucracy and to what extend does flexibility translate to bureaucraties under neoliberalism? Do Foucault’s analyses on neoliberalism help « portraying our managerial present »? The question of (the possibility of) critique as well as that of the rights of the governed in front of the contemporary rearticulations of power practices will also be addressed.
  • Participants to the third round table will elaborate on the possible uses of Foucault to think historical (and therefore contemporary) forms of the « globalisation of the world » in a contradictory dialogue with « postcolonial studies » and « development thinking ». How does Foucault help us to rethink relations of sovereignty and domination such as they are rearticulated and established on a planetary scale ?
  • The fourth roundtable of this conference will come back on the limits of the political in the light of the notions of power, sovereignty and violence such as the foucaldian perspective work them out. This will allow us to ask how such a perspective help us to problematise the relationship that has been established to political life under modernity.

While scanning across the spectrum of questions associated to the three main figures of Foucault: the toolmaker, the Foucault subversive of disciplining procedures of knowledge, and the Foucault who is object of knowledge, we hope this conference will contribute to bring to life an « internationalist » Foucault capable of helping us to think the political, the modern International and their historical and contemporary transformations differently.


MONDAY, JANUARY 13th, 2014

09h15-09h30 Welcoming address and introduction

Didier Bigo (CERI/Sciences Po), Philippe Bonditti (IRI/PUC-Rio), Frédéric Gros (UPEC)

SESSION 1International? Politics and Security in light of genealogy and governmentality

Chair: Philippe Bonditti – IRI/PUC-Rio

09h30-10h15 – Introductory Lecture

  • Counter Concepts for the International: Political Spirituality, Insurrection and the Courage of Truth – by Michael Dillon, University of Lancaster, UK

10h15-11h30 Roundtable

  • Foucault in IR. Is there anything left to say? – by Jef Huysmans – Open University, UK
  • Decolonising critical security from IR : genealogy of (in)securities – by Didier Bigo, CERI-Sciences Po, France
  • Lives of Infamous Men in the 21st Century – by Fabienne Brion, Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgique

11h30-12h30 Discussion

SESSION 2Neoliberal? Bureaucratisation, Management, Critique

Chair: Sandrine Revet – CERI-Sciences Po, France

14h00-14h45 – Introductory Lecture

  • Global Policing and (in)different management – by Mariella Pandolfi, University of Montreal, Canada

14h45-16h00 – Roundtable

  • On neoliberal bureaucratization – by Béatrice Hibou, CNRS/ CERI Sciences Po, France
  • A historical ontology of management – by Luca Paltrinieri, CIRPP, CCI-Paris-Idf and Collège international de Philosophie
  • Is there a critical liberalism? – by Frédéric Gros, UPEC, France

16h00-16h15 – Coffee Break

16h15-17h00 Keynote address

Foucault and Method – by Michael Shapiro, University of Hawaï at Manoa, Untited States

17h00-18h00 Discussion


09h00-09h30Participants welcoming

SESSION 3 | Global? Beyond (post-)colonialism and developmentalism

Chair: Didier Bigo – CERI-Sciences Po, France

09h30-10h15 Introductory Lecture

  • Globally yours: globalization as regimes of subjectification – by Jean-François Bayart, CNRS/ CERI Sciences Po Paris, France

10h15-11h30 – Roundtable

  • Foucault and the subject of the postcolonial international – by Vivienne Jabri, Kings College London, UK
  • Foucault and the colonial – by Paulo Esteves and Marta Moreno, IRI/ PUC-Rio, Brazil
  • Globalization, sovereignty and the politics of survival – by Marc Abélès, LAIOS, CNRS/EHESS, France

11h30-12h30 Discussion

SESSION 4 | Modern? Sovereignty, violence and power

Chair: Pierre Hassner – CERI-Sciences Po Paris, France

14h00-14h45 Introductory Lecture

  • Power as sumbolon and signature: sovereignty, governmentality and the international – by Mitchell Dean, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

14h45-16h00 | Roundtable

  • The invention of terrorism and the mutation of modernity spatiality – by Philippe Bonditti, IRI/PUC-Rio, Brazil
  • Spatializing the international through governmentality, sovereignty and violence – by Pierre Sauvêtre, Sciences Po, Paris, France
  • Sovereign state and inward colonization: fiction about a Foucault/ Schmitt non-dialogue – by Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, Université Toulouse le Mirail, France

16h00-16h30 Discussion

16h30-16h45 – Coffee Break

SESSION 5 | Concluding session

16h45-17h30 Concluding lecture

  • Which Foucault? Which International? – by RBJ Walker, University of Victoria, Canada

17h30-18h00 General discussion

A conference co-organized by the Association pour le Centre Michel Foucault (Paris, France), the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (Paris, France) with the support of IRI/ PUC-Rio (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and the Center for Americas in Sciences Po (Paris, France).

Foucault and the International – Conference Program

Foucault et l’International – Programme

[1] Pratique politiques et usages de Michel Foucault, colloque organisé sous la responsabilité de : Eric Fassin, Michel Feher, Denis Lacorne et Jean-François Bayart, CERI, 13-14 novembre 1997.

[2] Paltrinieri L., L’expérience du concept. Michel Foucault entre épistémologie et histoire, Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2012, pp. 7-12.

[3] Fassin E., « Genre et sexualité. Politique de la critique historique » in Marie-Christine Granjon (dir.), Penser avec Michel Foucault. Théorie critique et pratiques politiques, Paris, Karthala, 2005, p. 230

[4] Granjon M.-C., « Penser autrement avec Michel Foucault. La méthode ‘historico-critique’, usages théoriques, heuristiques et politiques » in Marie-Christine Granjon (dir.), Penser avec Michel Foucault, Penser avec Michel Foucault. Théorie critique et pratiques politiques, Paris, Karthala, 2005, p. 9.

[5] Granjon M.-C. (dir.), Penser avec Michel Foucault. op. cit.


One thought on “Biopolitics, governmentality, (security) dispositifs. Concepts for the study of the International?

  1. Pingback: Biopolitics, Governmentality, (Security) Dispositifs. Concepts for the Study of the International? (2014) | Foucault News

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s