Michel Foucault and the Social Contract, Chris Watkin with Stuart Elden and Mark Kelly – video of Monash discussion, 13 April 2021

Michel Foucault and the Social Contract, Chris Watkin with Stuart Elden and Mark Kelly – video of Monash discussion, 13 April 2021. Youtube video above, also available as a podcast.

My talk was entitled ‘The Yoke of Law and the Lustre of Glory’; Mark’s ‘Social Contract as Norm’.

Internationally renowned Foucault scholars Stuart Elden (Warwick University, UK) and Mark Kelly (Western Sydney University, Australia) discuss Michel Foucault’s relationship to the modern social contract idea. Followed by questions and discussion.

The seminar took place on 13 April 2021, and was hosted by Christopher Watkin (Monash University, Australia), as part of the Australian Research Council funded Future Fellowship project “Rewriting the Social Contract: Technology, Ecology, Extremism”.

To find out more about the Social Contract Research Network, please visit https://www.monash.edu/arts/languages…

Subscribe to the Social Contract Research Podcast at https://anchor.fm/social-contract-res…


Stuart Elden (Warwick University), ‘The Yoke of Law and the Lustre of Glory’

Perhaps surprisingly, Foucault does not talk about social contract theory very often. In this talk I will briefly survey his discussions of the term and the tradition of political thought, especially in his Collège de France lecture courses – his discussion of civil war and the contract in The Punitive Society; the challenge to the tradition in ‘Society Must Be Defended’; and his indication of a shift from the implicit contract of security in territory to population security in his work on governmentality. The main focus, however, will be on a remark Foucault makes in ‘Society Must Be Defended’ about the dual nature of sovereignty, of the relation between political, juridical power and magical, supernatural power. These two faces or aspects are the power to bind and command, and the power to dazzle and petrify. He calls this the “yoke of law and the lustre of glory”. I will explore the links between this understanding of contracts and Georges Dumézil’s work on Indo-European mythology.

Mark Kelly (Western Sydney University), ‘Social Contract as Norm’

While Foucault’s own direct engagements with the social contract are few and far between, I want to offer a Foucauldian critique of social contract theory qua normative political theory. Contractarianism is notoriously premised on a profound ontological individualism, on the idea that individuals are prior to society, and can therefore either (on a strong reading) constitute civil society based on their free contracting to bring it into existence or (on a weak reading) change the form of society in accordance with their wishes. Against this, Foucault argues that the individual (and thus discourses of individualism like social contract theory) is an invention of disciplinary modernity. I will seek to progress this line of critique by combining it with Foucault’s critique of utopianism to suggest that social contract theory represents an incipient normalisation of society itself, indeed one that precedes and provides the background for the intense normalisation of individuals in late modernity.

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Foucault Studies: Special Issue. Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 4, Confessions of the Flesh (2021)

New issue of Foucault Studies on the fourth volume of Foucault’s History of Sexuality.

Foucault News

Foucault Studies, Number 29, 9 April 2021
Special Issue: Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 4, Confessions of the Flesh

Sverre Raffnsøe, Alain Beaulieu, Barbara Cruikshank, Bregham Dalgliesh, Knut Ove Eliassen, Varena Erlenbusch, Alex Feldman, Marius Gudmand-Høyer, Thomas Götselius, Robert Harvey, Robin Holt, Leonard Richard Lawlor, Daniele Lorenzini, Edward McGushin, Hernan Camilo Pulido Martinez, Giovanni Mascaretti, Johanna Oksala, Clare O’Farrell, Rodrigo Castro Orellana, Eva Bendix Petersen, Alan Rosenberg, Annika Skoglund, Dianna Taylor, Martina Tazzioli

Special Issue: Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 4, Confessions of the Flesh

Confessions of the Flesh – Guest Editors’ Introduction
Agustín Colombo, Edward McGushin

Foucault’s Concept of Confession
Philippe Büttgen

Foucault’s Queer Virgins: An Unfinished History in Fragments
Lynne Huffer

Fascinating Flesh: Revealing the Catholic Foucault
James Bernauer

Foucault’s Keystone: Confessions of the Flesh
How the Fourth and Final Volume of The History of Sexuality Completes Foucault’s Critique of Modern Western Societies

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Paul Rabinow (1944 – 2021)

The death of Paul Rabinow, a very important anthropologist and a crucial figure in the Anglophone reception of Foucault.

Foucault News

Portrait of Paul M. Rabinow by Saâd A. Tazi, during his Blaise Pascal professorship at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, rue d’Ulm, Paris.

Christopher Ying, UC Berkeley professor emeritus Paul Rabinow dies at age 76, The Daily Californian, April 11, 2021

Paul Rabinow, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of anthropology and world-renowned anthropologist, died April 6 at the age of 76 in his Berkeley home.

Rabinow spent about 41 years at UC Berkeley between 1978 to 2019, serving as the director of anthropology for the Contemporary Research Collaboratory and as the former director of human practices for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.

Rabinow is most well-known for his commentary on the works of French philosopher Michel Foucault, with whom he worked while Foucault was in Berkeley in the early 1980s.

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Camille Robcis, Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in Postwar France – University of Chicago Press, May 2021 and discussion

Camille Robcis, Disalienation: Politics, Philosophy, and Radical Psychiatry in Postwar France – University of Chicago Press, May 2021

There is a discussion of the book here.

From 1940 to 1945, forty thousand patients died in French psychiatric hospitals. The Vichy regime’s “soft extermination” let patients die of cold, starvation, or lack of care. But in Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, a small village in central France, one psychiatric hospital attempted to resist. Hoardingfood with the help of the local population, the staff not only worked to keep patients alive but began to rethink the practical and theoretical bases of psychiatric care. The movement that began at Saint-Alban came to be known as institutional psychotherapy and would go on to have a profound influence on postwar French thought.

In Disalienation, Camille Robcis grapples with the historical, intellectual, and psychiatric meaning of the ethics articulated at Saint-Alban by exploring the movement’s key thinkers, including François Tosquelles, Frantz Fanon, Félix Guattari, and Michel Foucault. Anchored in the history of one hospital, Robcis’s study draws on a wide geographic context—revolutionary Spain, occupied France, colonial Algeria, and beyond—and charts the movement’s place within a broad political-economic landscape, from fascism to Stalinism to postwar capitalism.

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Jean-Marie Guyau, The Ethics of Epicurus and its Relation to Contemporary Doctrines, edited by Keith Ansell Pearson and Federico Testa – Bloomsbury, October 2021

Jean-Marie Guyau, The Ethics of Epicurus and its Relation to Contemporary Doctrines, edited by Keith Ansell Pearson and Federico Testa – Bloomsbury, October 2021

This is the first English translation of a compelling and highly original reading of Epicurus by Jean-Marie Guyau. This book has long been recognized as one of the best and most concerted attempts to explore one of the most important, yet controversial ancient philosophers whose thought, Guyau claims, remains vital to modern and contemporary culture. Throughout the text we are introduced to the origins of the philosophy of pleasure in Ancient Greece, with Guyau clearly demonstrating how this idea persists through the history of philosophy and how it is an essential trait in the Western tradition. 

With an introduction by Keith Ansell-Pearson and Federico Testa, which contextualizes the work of Guyau within the canon of French thought, and notes on both further reading and on Epicurean scholarship more generally, this translation also acts as a critical introduction to the philosophy of Guyau and Epicurus.

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British Academy, The COVID decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19 – open access report

British Academy, The COVID decade: understanding the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19 – open access report

The British Academy was asked by the Government Office for Science to produce an independent review on the long-term societal impacts of COVID-19. This report outlines the evidence across a range of areas, building upon a series of expert reviews, engagement, synthesis and analysis across the research community in the Social Sciences, Humanities and the Arts (SHAPE). It is accompanied by a separate report, Shaping the COVID decade, which considers how policymakers might respond. History shows that pandemics and other crises can be catalysts to rebuild society in new ways, but that this requires vision and interconnectivity between policymakers at local, regional and national levels.

With the advent of vaccines and the imminent ending of lockdowns, we might think that the impact of COVID-19 is coming to an end. This would be wrong. We are in a COVID decade: the social, economic and cultural effects of the pandemic will cast a long shadow into the future – perhaps longer than a decade – and the sooner we begin to understand, the better placed we will be to address them.

There are of course many impacts which flowed from lockdowns, including not being able to see family and friends, travel or take part in leisure activities. These should ease quickly as lockdown comes to an end. But there are a set of deeper impacts on health and wellbeing, communities and cohesion, and skills, employment and the economy which will have profound effects upon the UK for many years to come. In sum, the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and differences and created new ones, as well as exposing critical societal needs and strengths. These can emerge differently across places, and along different time courses, for individuals, communities, regions, nations and the UK as a whole.

We organised the evidence into three areas of societal effect. As we gathered evidence in these three areas, we continually assessed it according to five cross-cutting themes – governance, inequalities, cohesion, trust and sustainability – which the reader will find reflected across the chapters. Throughout the process of collating and assessing the evidence, the dimensions of place (physical and social context, locality), scale (individual, community, regional, national) and time (past, present, future; short, medium and longer term) played a significant role in assessing the nature of the societal impacts and how they might play out, altering their long-term effects. The three societal areas we chose to help structure our evidence collection and, ultimately, this report were:

Health and wellbeing – covering physical and mental health (including young people and work), wellbeing, and the environment we live in

Communities, culture and belonging – covering communities and civil society, cities and towns, family and kinship, and arts, media, culture, heritage and sport

Knowledge, employment and skills – covering education (compulsory and tertiary), skills, knowledge and research, and work and employment

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Jean Cavaillès, The Second Davos University Conference with the Heidegger-Cassirer debate – new translation, and podcast

Jean Cavaillès, The Second Davos University Conference – new translation at Urbanomic. This is the event where Martin Heidegger and Ernst Cassirer had their debate.

The translation is to mark the new translation of Jean Cavaillès, On Logic and the Theory of Science – Urbanomic, 2021 (UK sales; US sales), translated by Knox Peden and Robin Mackay. Preface by Gaston Bachelard. Introductory notice by Georges Canguilhem and Charles Ehresmann. Introduction by Knox Peden.

There is also a discussion of the book with Robin Mackay, Knox Peden and Matt Hare here.

… we present a young Jean Cavaillès’s report on the Second Davos University Conference, Easter 1929—the setting for a now legendary confrontation between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger.

[Originally published as ‘Les deuxièmes Cours Universitaire de Davos’, in Die II. Davoser Hochshulkurser. Les IImes Cours Universitaires de Davos du 17 mars au 6 avril 1929 (Davos: Kommissionsverlag, Heintz, Neu, & Zahn, 1929), 65–81.]


With its stringent critiques of Kantianism, logicism, and Husserlian phenomenology, Jean Cavaillès’s On Logic and the Theory of Sciencewritten in 1942-43, seeks to clear the ground for what was to be a full account of his philosophy of ‘mathematical experience’. Central to this philosophy is the need to reconcile the fact that mathematics unfolds as a ‘becoming’ with the necessity of its ‘concatenations’—both the chains of reasoning internal to mathematical theories and those that govern the order of their discovery. Cavaillès, that is, shuns any suggestion of a static, eternal register in which mathematical necessity could ultimately be isolated from the unfolding of these concatenations, or from the work that enables them to be formulated; but he also refuses to make the becoming of mathematics conditional upon either the consciousness within which it emerges or the symbols in which it is embodied. In other words, for Cavaillès, to insist on the autonomy of mathematics entails that the combined necessity and processual character of mathematics can be grounded neither in a final instance of consciousness nor in an apodictic set of operations reducible to formal tautology...

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Tom Slater, Shaking Up the City: Ignorance, Inequality, and the Urban Question – University of California Press, September 2021, foreword by Loic Wacquant

Tom Slater, Shaking Up the City: Ignorance, Inequality, and the Urban Question – University of California Press, September 2021, foreword by Loic Wacquant 

Shaking Up the City critically examines many of the concepts and categories within mainstream urban studies that serve dubious policy agendas. Through a combination of abstract theory and concrete empirical evidence, Tom Slater strives to ‘shake up’ mainstream urban studies in a concise and pointed fashion, turning on its head much of the prevailing wisdom in the field.  In doing so, he explores the themes of data-driven innovation, urban resilience, gentrification, displacement and rent control, neighborhood effects, territorial stigmatization, and ethnoracial segregation. 

Slater analyzes how the mechanisms behind urban inequalities, material deprivation, marginality, and social suffering in cities across the world are perpetuated and made invisible. With important contributions to ongoing debates in sociology, geography, planning, and public policy, and engaging closely with struggles for land rights and housing justice, Shaking Up The City offers numerous insights for scholarship and political action to guard against the spread of an urbanism rooted in vested interest.

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Books received – Kristeva, Demoule, Cassirer, Benveniste, Eliade, Ginzburg, Samayoult

Books received – a couple by Julia Kristeva, Jean-Paul Demoule, Ernst Cassirer, Pour Emile Benveniste, Mircea Eliade, Carlo Ginzburg, and Tiphaine Samayoult on Roland Barthes.

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Samantha Rose Hill Reconsiders Hannah Arendt’s Thoughts on Hope, a Year into COVID-19 ‹ Literary Hub

Hosted by Paul Holdengräber, The Quarantine Tapes chronicles shifting paradigms in the age of social distancing. Each day, Paul calls a guest for a brief discussion about how they are experiencing the global pandemic.

On Episode 171 of The Quarantine Tapes, Paul Holdengräber is joined by Samantha Rose Hill. Samantha is the author of an upcoming book on Hannah Arendt. She talks with Paul about her work on Arendt, Walter Benjamin, and more. Then, they discuss how her year of writing, teaching, and researching in quarantine has gone, and Samantha reveals how this time has brought her to question her motto of “embrace despair.”

Samantha and Paul discuss how to think about loneliness in this moment and talk about her Quarantine Journal from last April. Then, Samantha takes Paul back to her first experience entering an archive as a researcher before talking about how she has experienced teaching remotely in the past year.

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