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Marcelo Hoffman: Foucault and the Political Party (Abstract of the conference "Historicizing Foucault" in Zurich, presentation on March 20, 2015)

Until March 19, 2015, when our conference Historicizing Foucault begins in Zurich, we will consecutively publish the abstracts of the accepted presentations. Marcelo Hoffman, author of Foucault and Power, will talk about "Foucault and the Political Party" in the panel Foucault and Politics on March 20, 2015.

The theme of the political party in Michel Foucault's analyses has failed to elicit the kind of elaborate attention that has been bestowed on his analyses of other core political concepts. This lack of attention no doubt reflects Foucault's lack of an elaborate analysis of the party. He never theorized the party at much length, and his discussions of it tended to occupy a place on the margins of his analyses. But the party figured as a recurrent theme in his Collège de France courses from the late 1970s to early 1980s, even as these courses addressed remarkably diverse topics across a vast expanse of time and space. What is more, Foucault announced his intention to conduct research on the party and encouraged his auditors to do likewise. Toward the end of his life, Foucault even began to read the writings of prominent French Socialist Party (PS) leaders for the purpose of producing a whole book on the PS. This paper takes Foucault's disparate reflections on the party seriously. Taken together, these reflections point to new ways of thinking about the party, highlighting dimensions of it not usually accentuated. Foucault did not emphasize the party as a representative body contending for the exercise of political power through an ensemble of formal activities so much as the party as an organization for the production of subjectivity through an interplay between practices of the self and techniques of power. What intrigued him about this organization was its capacity to appeal not only to the broad masses but also to its own internal skeptics and critics. The core problem is that Foucault seems to explain the enigmatic appeal of the party by pointing to the freedom of its rank and file members to have their conducts conducted. This explanation falls short of considering the party as an organization for conducting the conduct of its cadres and leaders. Beyond this problem, Foucault conflates the party with political organization. Frantz Fanon's account of the "organic party" and Alain Badiou's affirmation of "politics without party" help us tease out and remedy these limitations.

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