Critique as a challenge to what is

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault developed “a history not of the prison as an institution, but of the practice of imprisonment”. Those working in the prison system who read his critique found themselves with no possible room for initiative; it looked as if they were totally locked into a system where they had little influence. Asked to comment, Foucault said …

“… it seems to me that ‘what is to be done’ ought not to be determined from above by reformers, be they prophetic or legislative, but by a long work of comings and goings, of exchanges, reflections, trials, different analyses. If the social workers you are talking about don’t know which way to turn, this just goes to show that they’re looking, and hence are not anaesthetised¬† or sterilised at all — on the contrary.

“The necessity of reform mustn’t be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce or halt the exercise of criticism.¬† …. critique doesn’t have to be the premise of a deduction which concludes: this then is what needs to be done. It should be an instrument for those who fight, those who resist and refuse what is. Its use should be in processes of conflict and confrontation, essays in refusal. It doesn’t have to lay down the law for the law. It isn’t a stage in programming. It is a challenge directed to what is.”

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Politics and the study of discourse.

In The Foucault effect: studies in governmentality,

edited by G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.