Diary of Knowledge

interdisciplinary surgery by axe and blowtorch rather than scalpel and needle; reading, analysing, summarising and writing; trying to transform information to knowledge

Tag: Michel Foucault

on exomologesis and biopolitical walking tours

.1) The Birth of Biopolitics – Michel Foucault. Foucault is defining and analysing Liberalism not as an ideology, but as a “principle and method of rationalising the exercise of government, rationalisation that obeys […] the internal rule of maximum economy”. Foucault then goes on to state that “governmentality should not be exercised without a critique far more radical than a test of optimisation”. Instead of asking for the economical optimisation of governing, one should ask for the need for governing.

Liberalism grew (from late 18th century) as a tool for criticising governments as: 1) a former governmentality one tries to shed; 2) a current governmentality one wish to strip down (to reform); 3) a governmentality one opposes and whose abuses one tries to limit. Foucault argues this to be the main aspect of liberalism, market economy and political economy are tools used for the fulfilment of this main goal.

Foucault then goes on to describe two different liberal movements, the (West) German liberal movement (1948-1962) and the American neo-liberal Chicago School. Both were born as a critique of over-bureaucratisation, state interventions and planned economy (i.e. Soviet Socialism, National socialism and Keynesian economy). They however differed in the conclusions drawn from neo-liberal market studies. German liberals argued the “natural” market price to be fragile and thus needed to be supported through careful governing of civil aspects, such as assistance to the unemployed, healthcare coverage, housing policies etc. The Chicago School went the other way around and proposed that aspects of life, such as family and birth policies, or delinquency and penal policies, should be governed solely by market rationality. Foucault abruptly closes, arguing biopolitics (as the strategic governing of the bodies of the population) to have been framed by the questions of liberalism (since the end of 18th century).

.2) Government of the Living – Michel Foucault. Exomologesis – to state/confess the truth AND to identify yourself with it. Originally used in christian circuits, both as an act of faith (proclaiming your faith and the conviction in your proclamation), and the slightly darker one; the confession of sins you have committed and the direct identification of yourself as a sinner.

.3) In Slavoj Zizek’s “In Defense of Lost Causes” (which I’m now trying to read for the third time) there is a short excerpt concerning this exomologesis of today:

“In the endless complexity of the contemporary world, where things, more often than not, often appear as their opposites – intolerance as tolerance, religion as rational common sense, and so on and so forth – the temptation is great to cut it short with a violent gesture of ‘No bullshit!’ – a gesture that seldom amounts to more than an impotent ‘passage à l’acte’. Such a desire to draw a clear line of demarcation between sane truthful talk and ‘bullshit’ cannot but reproduce as truthful talk the predominant ideology itself. No wonder that, for [Harry] Frankfurt himself, examples of ‘no bullshit’ politicians are Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and, today, John McCain – as if the pose of outspoken personal sincerity is a guarantee of truthfulness.”

.4) Helen Runting and Kim Trogal performed a walking tour through Stockholm, analysing spaces, uses and restrictions along the way. As starting and ending point two symbolically charged and restricted places were chosen, The Royal Palace in Gamla Stan and the Migration Office in Solna. Though the intervention could be criticised by its (lack of) direct consequences (Zizek for example often shows his distaste for this kind of “soft” thought), the analysis of the two places, and some of the spots along the route connecting them, is incredibly interesting.


Looking into the private business sector you find this exomologesis again. Airline companies promising that their cabin staff is “always (and sincerely) happy”; articles stating why you shouldn’t hire unhappy people etc.

You are no longer allowed to lie, a fake smile to your colleague or professional politeness is not acceptable. Today this simple lie is not enough, we have to lie doubly; both by word and act, both a fake smile and a fake sincerity behind it.

We can then go further and apply the term of exomologesis on Runting’s and Trogal’s walking tour; The Royal Palace is basically a fake that pretends to be real both by what it says and by the way it says it, it pretends the pretending to be real. It is the residence of the Royal family, without them actually living there. Still it hides this fact behind a facade of seriousness; the palace is guarded by the Swedish army (with live ammunition), there are rules and regulations as for where you are allowed to walk and not, what you are allowed to do and not. Finally, we have the tourists. The tourists in this place becomes an act of unmasking. By their mass, with cameras and guide books, they turn the Palace and its seriously pretended seriousness into a spectacle, unmasking it, stripping it of its facade.

This opened my eyes to the (marxist?) action of “touristing” something, an appropriation and inversion of ‘slumming’. Just by viewing something as an amusing spectacle, by stating it to be a spectacle, it becomes a spectacle. Secondly, can such an act of unmasking also take place in personal relations? I don’t mean to superimpose the (violent) act of ‘touristing’ onto individuals and personal relations, but the key concept might be the same. Irony as an act of unmasking?


on recession, prostitution and biopower

.1) So even if Swedish economy has recuperated rather well since 2008, the road ahead is bumpy. Swedish economy is at large based on a high export, and state economy inequality (such as caused by the Euro Crisis) has a negative impact on Swedish export and thereby on Swedish economy, employment rate etc. etc.

This follows basic macro-economy; further could be said that this is a classic Capitalist narrative, where nation-wide economy is described as a self-organising, self-controlling entity. I have no objections at large; what is interesting is not the entity on its own, but the two-way inter-dependancy of macro-economy and the parts, us, constituting it.

.2) The gap between wages and profit has widened considerably during the last 30 years. Instead of ending up in the employees’ wallets, it has gone to corporation profit and investments. Richard Murphy argues this to be the main reason for the ongoing recession; quoting Murphy “So that’s it in a nutshell: the recession was caused by not paying people enough for what they did.”

.3) Rental cars in Sierra Leone is provided by a (at least formerly) small scale entrepreneur. Apparently large car rental corporations, as Avis, have not dared to move in to the war-torn country. The concept of the business is security. Whenever the car breaks down a new car is sent to your location. In order to provide security the business has invested in a storehouse of spare parts and its own mechanic.

.4) Prostitution is often regarded as a highly harmful occupation. Suicide rates, drug abuse, child abuse, shortened life expectancy etc. are some of the factors strongly correlating with prostitution. Ole Martin Moen however argues the same to have been true for homosexuality far into the 20th century. People opposed to homosexuality (during e.g. the 20’s) argued the short life expectancy, the amounts of drug abuse and increasing venereal diseases (which all correlated to homosexuality) to be reasons enough to prove it as harmful and should therefor forbidden.

In the case of homosexuality, most issues (e.g. high suicide rates) were derived from the social stigma connected to being gay and not the the sexual orientation itself. Maybe this is true for prostitution as well? Maybe it is not the prostitution itself that is harmful, but the way we relate to it, condemn it, stigmatise it.

I have however one large objection to Moen’s argument. Nowhere in the paper is prostitution discussed as a part of a system. If we believe Moen’s argument to be sound prostitution is not per say harmful for the individual, but is it harmful for the society? Mainly women are prostitutes, mainly men are the buyers (just as in porn (though I have a feeling porn is (very slowly) getting more “equal”)). Legalising prostitution (and making it more socially accepted) might improve the situation for prostitutes, but would it at the same time conserve gender inequalities in society?

.5) Biopower is a term coined by Michel Foucault. Basically, it is power (in its social sense) used to command bodies, thereby being a tool for controlling other people. It is a tool to manage the bodies of the population, in contrast to “Discipline” which is a tool for making people behave. Foucault even describes as a “technology of power”; a (social) invention creating (/manufacturing?) subjugation of bodies.

In it’s most strict sense biopower is related to physical/biological aspects; birth, death, health, sexuality, life. Maybe it can be further expanded to basically include the control of ones body, how we relate to our own and others’ bodies, how we move and act in space. If biopower is a single ordering rule, biopolitics is the network or system of power, the formal and informal legislation of our physical bodies.

Foucault is one of the most often name dropped philosophers in Architecture/Urban Studies. A (sloppy) description as to why: architecture can be described as a knowledge of space, space is used/understood through movement and action, movement/action requires a body. Our relation to space is thus effected by our relation to our own body. Formal and informal regulations (based on legislation/society/social contracts) control how we move and act. By critically examining and redefining these regulations we change our relation to our bodies and thereby our relation to space.


Movement and reliability are key issues, both in terms of economy and politics. Rental services providing the reliability of movement are succeeding; the international market can not provide the reliability of movement of goods for the Swedish industry which thereby is in decline.

The movement of prostitutes has always been an issue for control. One of the main arguments for legalising prostitution is “in order to control it”. Red Light Districts to keep it maintained, STD control and condom-laws for public health etc. More seriously, even with liberal legislation the social stigmatisation of prostitution controls where and how sex is sold and how people involved are able to move or act. For some reason, porn is much more socially accepted, where an actresses can become porn stars.

The connection between biopower/biopolitics and prostitution might be one of the most obvious ones (one of Foucault’s major works is “The History of Sexuality” from 1976).

I’m further curious about how prostitution and economic backlash are related. Is sex a stable market or does lower general wages decrease the amount of money spent on sex? Apparently the recession has “forced” more women into prostitution. The Buckingham Post article describes the women as having no qualms (or enjoying) their occupation. At the same time trafficking and bottom scale (illegal) prostitution increases. Increased risk taking is one way to compete (e.g. moving into more dangerous markets or geographical areas). In car rental services this might be okay, but what happens in the field of prostitution?

Is this what happens with increasing supply (combined with decreasing purchasing power)? Price dumping? Increasing illegal (and poorly controlled) markets? And does biopolitical control (through legalisation) actually make any difference for the emancipation of women or is it simply adding further control mechanisms to an already existing systematic mistreatment and gender inequality?

The issue can further be expanded to deal with the biopolitical tool of (National) borders. One of the most insecure and shady sides of prostitution (and human abuse) is trafficking, directly connected to the immobility for most people over national borders. So in order to come to terms with trafficking, deregulating border control might be more direct and efficient than regulating prostitution.