Politics & Political Theory

Subjects of truth: Resisting governmentality in Foucault’s 1980s

Responding to ongoing concerns that Michel Foucault’s influential governmentality analytics fail to enable the study of ‘resistance’, this paper analyses his last two lecture courses on ‘parrhesia’ (risky and courageous speech). While Foucault resisted resistance as an analytical category, he increasingly pointed us towards militant, alternative and insolent forms of counter-conduct. The paper comparatively analyses Foucault’s reading of Plato, Socrates and the Cynics, exploring parrhesia’s episteme (its truth–knowledge relations), techne (its practice and geographies), identities (its souls and its bodies) and its possible relations to the present. It concludes that Foucault viewed resistance as power; power which problematised governmentalities but could also be analysed as a governmentality itself. In pursuing parrhesia, Foucault reaffirmed his commitment to studying discourse as always emplaced and enacted, while sketching out the geographies (from the royal court and the democratic Assembly to the public square and the street) that staged the risk of truth-talking. This suggests new subjects and spaces to open up political possibilities when exploring the geographies of governmentalities.

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