I’ll be speaking about ‘Foucault, Porshnev and the Revolt of the Nu-pieds’, at the Historical Materialism conference, to be held in London between 5-8 November 2015. Here’s the abstract:
In his recently published lecture course from 1971-72, Théories et institutions pénales, Michel Foucault provides a two-part analysis. The second half of the course is his most detailed examination of medieval legal codes, examining practices of punishment, ordeal, confession and inquiry. It is a rich and nuanced analysis which will be invaluable in tracking his preoccupations. But it is in the first half of the course that we have the greatest surprise. Foucault spends seven lectures examining the Nu-pieds [bare feet] revolts of 1639-40 in Normandy, and the repression that followed. In his reading of these revolts, Foucault makes extensive use of Boris Porshnev’s 1948 study, translated into French in 1963 as Les soulèvements populaires en France de 1623 à 1648. At the time of the lectures, Porshnev’s Marxist account had been subjected to stinging critique by Roland Mousnier. Foucault steers a course between these two positions, though I would suggest he is closer to Porshnev politically and to Mousnier historical-conceptually. It is also interesting given the proximity of Foucault to Maoism at this time, that his choice of focus is a peasant, rather than worker’s, uprising. Given Foucault is often criticized for talking of the positive, productive side of power, but rarely examining it outside of antiquity; or of never showing how resistance takes place or is even possible, this analysis provides an important corrective.
Between this talk and the forthcoming one in Nottingham, which also looks at Théories et institutions pénales, I’m planning on covering most of the material destined for Chapter Two of Foucault: The Birth of Power. A good example of what I mean with talks that move the writing forward (‘my sabbatical rules‘ #6)…
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