power & resistance Given his preoccupation with the operations of power, one cannot ignore the charge that resistance in Foucault’s system has remained undertheorised and underdeveloped. While resistance to the discourses of power and knowledge and the mechanisms of their operation is not an issue explored in Foucault’s early work, the subsequent genealogical phase, with its emphasis on systems of domination and exploitation, has not allowed a clear conception of resistance. For Foucault, both the existence and operation of power entail some form of resistance, not as an effect or consequence of the functioning of power, but as a
necessary condition for its operation. He argues that “there are no relations of power without resistances.”2 What distinguishes Foucault’s concept of resistance is that although it is an element of power, it is also the “source of its perpetual disorder.”3 Yet the exercise and resistance of power work in a disruptive rather than a dialectical relation to each other. This means that “power is a two-way process,”4 that is, “resistance to 1
1 Barry Smart, Foucault, Marxism and the Critique (London and New York: Routeldge, 1995) 147. 2 Michel Foucault, “Power and Strategies,” Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon (Brighton: Harvester, 1980) 142. 3 Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Brighton:The Harvester Press, 1982) 147. 4 Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (London and New York: Routledge,1990) 87.
power is ‘heterogeneous’ inasmuch as power is itself heterogeneous.”5 In one sense at least, the insistence on this model rules out a kind of total resistance, revolution for instance, whereby resistance could get a grip on the whole network of which it is part. Foucault holds that “there is no single locus of great Refusal, no soul of revolt, source of all rebellions, or pure law of the revolutionary.”6 As such, social change in the form of e.g. a revolution can only occur if resistances have been strategically manipulated and channelled as to effect a significant rupture in the dominant order: Just as the network of power relation ends by forming a dense web that passes through apparatuses and institutions, without being exactly localized in them, so too the swarm of points of resistances traverses social stratifications and individual unities. And it is doubtless the strategic codification of these points of resistance that makes a revolution possible, somewhat similar to the way in which the state relies on the institutional integration of power relationships.7
This means that for a revolution to take place, there must be a particular historical and political conjuncture when all the contradictions within the social formation would nevertheless merge into a revolutionary ruptural unity. The problem with Foucault’s conception of power and resistance is not that the possibility of resistance is weak due to power having no basis and opposition lacking focus. Rather, it is that the means and the grounds of conceiving and exercising resistance are under-theorised. A key question remains unanswered by Foucault: “Is there or is there not a reason to revolt? Let’s leave the question open.”8 Elsewhere, however, Foucault seems to imply that “no such philosophical motivations or justifications are necessary” or prominent. Those who resist are all “those on whom power is exercised to their detriment, all who find it intolerable.”9 5 Young, White Mythologies, 87. 6 Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin Books, 1990) 95-96. 7 Foucault, History of Sexuality, 96.
What is ruled out here is the argument which would envisage resistance as leading to a better alternative to the system that is resisted. Foucault states that “to imagine another system is to extend our participation in the present system.”10 He is driven to this conclusion by his belief that “there is no guarantee that the state of affairs brought about by resistance will be better than the present, as any social arrangement or definition of community may become oppressive even if it is instituted by acts of resistance against a previous regime.”11 Yet this view fails to address the fact that any oppressive, social formation produced by resistance could itself be resisted in the future. If such are the problems and difficulties of Foucault’s model of power and resistance, surely a postcolonial theory that bases itself on them will be constrained to the extent to which these very models are vague and problematic. This totalised representation of the discourse of power and knowledge disallows a position outside the structures and operations of power: the critique of power can only take place within the discursive parameters that power makes possible. In Foucault’s account, the operation of both power and resistance appear to be processes without subjects in the sense that subjectivity is one of their effects rather than their source. Moreover, since for Foucault the subject is constituted by power, the power it resists can never be outside it; thus in resistance the subject can be said to collude with its own subjection to power. Nonetheless, does not this view conflate all kinds of power? Why should power be represented so monolithically? Is the form of power that “constitutes” subjectivity the same form of power that “the subject” resist? Each of these questions point to the fact that power in Foucault’s critique is a considerably undifferentiated concept. Homi Bhabha’s conception of power overlaps with and even inflates Foucault’s. Both theorists tend to focus on the dominant rather than the resistant discourse. Bhabha distinguishes between colonial discourse and the discourse of the revolutionary struggle.12 The object of his analysis, he declares, is colonial rather than anti-
8 Jon Simon, Foucault and the Political (London and New York: Routledge, 1995) 86.
10 Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice 230.
9 Simon, Foucault and the Political, 86; Michel Foucault, Language, CounterMemory, Practice, ed. Donald F. Bouchard (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977) 86.
12 Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, (London and New York: Routledge, 1994) 110.
11 Simon, Foucault and the Political, 87.
colonial discourse, asserting that the latter “requires an alternative set of questions, techniques and strategies in order to construct it.”13 Similarly to Foucault, Bhabha rejects the dialectic of the Self/Other in favour of a conception of otherness as the same’s difference from itself. Bhabha also produces a totalised representation of colonial discourse, according to which natives can only resist from within discursive space and only with the tools that it makes available. Most importantly, he insists that the resistance of the colonised is “not necessarily an oppositional set of political intentions,” thus downplaying colonial subjectivity and agency. Bhabha emphasizes the possibility that anti-colonial discourse “may be historically co-present with,” even “intervene in,” colonial discourse, although this is a somewhat contradictory claim for Bhabha to make given his acceptance of Foucault’s paradigms of discourse and knowledge/power (he exposes himself to criticism for not considering this possibility of the overlap and copresence of colonial and anti-colonial discourses, a possibility that he opens and closes at the same time). Indeed, Bhabha, immediately shifts his focus to colonial discourse not only because anti-colonial discourse requires a different set of questions and techniques to construct it, but also because to accept a resistant native subjectivity as such would go against his main thesis, which cannot accept intervention from a space outside the structures and operations of colonial discourse. Consistent with Bhabha’s totalised representation of colonial discourse is his conception of Otherness. For Bhabha, colonial Otherness is not constituted through a binary of “Colonialist Self” and “Colonised Other.”14 Rather, it is formed by the Self’s splitting and multiplying, a concept that “turns on the idea of Man as his alienated image, not Self and Other but the Otherness of the Self inscribed in the perverse palimpsest of colonial identity.”15 In other words, sameness slips into Otherness, but it remains an Otherness that has nothing to do with any Other. The Other must be seen as 13 Homi Bhabha, “The Other Question: Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism” 155. 14 Bhabha, Homi. “Remembering Fanon: Self, Psyche and the Colonial Condition,” in Franz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (London: Pluto Press, 1986) xix. 15 Bhabha, “Remembering Fanon,” xix.
“the necessary negation of a primordial identity—cultural or psychic—[because it is] never simply an It-Self, a font of identity, truth or misrecognition.”16 The problem with Bhabha’s mode of representing Otherness is that he relegates the objective existence and difference of the colonised to the mere status of Western Man’s alienated image or his “dark reflection.” Similar problems stem from Bhabha’s conception of native resistance. Although Bhabha criticised the early Said for implying that colonial power is entirely possessed by the coloniser, he does not suggest that the colonised possesses it too. This is one of the binary oppositions that Bhabha inherits from Foucault: the only alternative to a singular agency possessing power is nobody possessing it. Bhabha, like Foucault, affirms that power is exercised in a variety of ways and through multiple channels, but never in the possession of a particular agent. Subversion of colonial power and its loss of authority and control occur non-intentionally through the ambivalence and inner dissension of colonial discourse itself. Resistance is therefore the name of an agency without a subject. Bhabha’s “agency” takes place at the moment of enunciation; it is “a process of circulation rather than a fixed point.”17 In this way, the coloniser’s strategies for maintaining power are thwarted by the ambivalence that results from the coloniser’s attempt to fix the colonised as an object of knowledge. Bhabha’s account of the operation of colonial power and the strategies of colonial discourse does not allow a conception of the native subject as existing on its own outside the structures of colonial power, nor does it allow the possibility that existing native knowledge and discourse may overlap with or impinge upon the operation of colonial power and knowledge. The native subject is constituted within colonial discursive boundaries. He returns to the possibility that discourses of native knowledge and resistance may be historically co-present with and intervene in colonial discourse; a possibility that he has affirmed but never pursued or brought to bear upon his analysis of colonial discourse. Through the concept of the hybrid, Bhabha argues that 16 Bhabha, “Remembering Fanon,” xviii. 17 Homi Bhabha, “Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism,” The Politics of Theory, ed.,Francis Baker and Peter Hulme (Colchester: University of Essex, 1983) 200.
native knowledge transgresses the limits of colonial discourse and subverts its authority. Bhabha defines hybridity as “a problematic of colonial representation… that reserves the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other ‘denied’ knowledge enters upon the dominant discourse and engages the basis of its authority.”18 Hybridity is thus the articulation of both colonial and native knowledge and discourse. Although this represents a discursive condition of colonialism insofar as both are produced by colonial power, Bhabha claims that hybridity enables native resistance by destabilising and undermining the very structures that produce it in the first place: “If the effect of colonial power is seen to be the production of hybridisation [this in turn] enables a form of subversion… that turns the discursive conditions of dominance into the ground of intervention.”19 In this light, Bhabha’s claim for native resistance proves problematic. Since Bhabha dismisses an “intentionalist” account of agency, he is left with no other option than to stress that the operation as well as the subversion of colonial power and knowledge occur “outside the conscious control of the subject.”20 Consequently, the loss of colonial authority and the subversion of colonial power and knowledge turn out to be an effect of the discursive conditions and operation of colonial discourse itself, rather than an agential effort on the part of a native subject that knows what it is doing. In other words, though the native may be the unconscious agent of the change that occurs within colonial power structures, “hybridity” (as the locus of this change) remains a kind of agency without a subject. For at the moment of hybridity, native knowledge and discourses enter upon the dominant discourse unaware and the resulting change is wholly unintentional. So far, none of the issues Bhabha has articulated, whether in terms of ambivalence or hybridity, can be accorded the political status of resistance. For resistance implies a conscious, native subject who observes the ambivalence and slippages in the discourse of the coloniser, and consciously uses them in order to desta-
bilise the coloniser’s position and control. The question is: how can Bhabha account for “strategies of subversion” or “grounds of intervention” in the absence of a conscious, native agency? What, if at all, could be their political status? What sense does Bhabha’s analysis of strategies, interventions and subversion make without positing a subject-as-agent (in the full sense in which these terms have been theorised elsewhere by Lacan et al.)? In the absence of a clear differentiation between forms of politics and political analysis, Bhabha’s account of resistance seems to lodge political intervention and strategies of subversion within the very act of analysing and understanding colonial discourse at present. What is shown and emphasised is Bhabha’s own subjectivity and agency as interpreter when he attempts to signal his own resistance. This is obvious in Bhabha’s assertion that “when the words of the master become the site of hybridity… then we may not only read between the lines but even seek to change the often coercive reality that they so lucidly contain.”21 Surely then “what such a reading reveals are the boundaries of colonial discourse” enabling an active “transgression of these limits”22 with regard to Bhabha’s own “space.” On the whole, however, Bhabha’s intervention and attempted subversion are neither an effect of the failure of colonial power, nor an active resistance on the part of a colonised. Rather, it is the strategy and agency of the conscious writing (andtheorising) subject. In certain respects, Bhabha’s desire to displace native subjectivity and agency is also a desire to replace them with his own subjectivity (evinced in the repeated interpolation of the first person plural pronoun). If the problem of agency and intentionality constituted the original grounds of Bhabha’s complaint against Said, his own account of native agency and resistance remains problematic with hardly any political advance on what he has criticised in Said’s representation. In fact, Bhabha himself remains vulnerable to his own criticism of Said. In his insistence that “there is no knowledge, political or otherwise, outside representation”23 he ends up constructing “the World according to the Word.” This Word,
18 Bhabha, Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, (London and New York: Routledge, 1994) 114.
21 Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 121, emphasis added.
19 Bhabha, The Location of Culture 112.
23 Benita Parry “Signs of Our Time: Discussion of Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture,” Third Text 28-29 (1994): 9.
20 Young, White Mythologies, 152.
22 Bhabha, The Location of Culture, 67.
however, is almost exclusively the coloniser’s. As previous commentator’s have noted, “everything outside colonial culture is treated [by Babha] with remarkable fuzziness.” Moreover, the “hybridity” of coloniser and colonised is theorised largely by “tracing the vicissitude, or the mutations in European culture.”24 In view of Foucault’s and Bhabha’s claims, Said’s conception of native agency and native resistance is more elaborate than that of Foucault’s and more useful than Bhabha’s. Although Said neglects both the evidence of native agency and resistance in Orientalism, he explains the reasons behind it: “What I left out of Orientalism was the response to Western dominance
which culminated in the great movements of decolonisation all across the Third World.”25 However, after Orientalism, Said started to be more concerned with the question of resistance. It may be recalled that the issue of resistance was the reason that ultimately induced Said to part company with Foucault, after disagreeing with him on what must be done to oppose neo-colonialism and neo-colonial oppression. Foucault’s work is not geared towards producing a politics, and Said seems to be impatient with him because he does not “commit himself to descriptions of power and oppression with some intention of alleviating human suffering, pain or betrayed hope.”26
24 Anita Loomba, Colonialism/ Postcolonialsim (London and New York: Routledge, 1998) 179.
25 Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994) xii.
26 Edward Said, The World, the Text and the Critic (London and Boston: Faber
For Said, Foucault’s “power” is “passive” and “sterile.” Indeed, for Foucault, power is irreducible: any claim that it serves interests beyond itself is dismissed as “functionalist” or “teleological.” Said argues that Foucault’s passive view of power is ascribable to his rejection of the role of classes, “the role of insurgency and rebellion” in the societies Foucault discusses.27 In order to go beyond Foucault’s limitations, Said moves to a position that enables the possibility of critique. Said affirms the “vulnerability of the present organisation of culture” and points out that “the discursive analysis of power is premised on the recognition that if power is constructed by humans, it follows that it is neither invincible nor impervious to dismantling.”28 In other words, Said states that however saturating the hegemonic systems are, they are not unassailable or omnipotent. Foucault, in contrast, is too pessimistic to accept that alternative methods or modes could escape the totalising embrace of discursive power. “Power,” he argues “is co-extensive with the social body; there are no primal spaces of liberty.” Foucault even suggests that any proposed alternatives to the existing hegemony or oppression would still be filtered by the dominant discourse. The alternative, for Foucault, are “only the inventions of our civilization and result from our class system.”29 He therefore plays down even the very idea of a social formation based on principles of justice because the very idea of justice has been “invented and put to work in different societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against power.”30 Foucault’s argument here seems to give the discourse of power and knowledge too much credit by subscribing to an over-totalised and undifferentiated conception of power. As Said writes: The disturbing circularity of Foucault’s theory of power is a form of theoretical overtotalization superficially more difficult to resist others because, unlike many others, it is formulated, reformulated and borrowed
to use in what seems to be historically documented situations … Foucault’s archaeologies … make not even a nominal allowance for emergent movements, and none for revolutions, counter-hegemony, or historical blocs.31
For Foucault, while power thus assumes a certain “singularity,” it is too mercurial, elusive and defuse to provide a target for assault. Yet, for Said, even when Foucault does admit the possibility of resistance, he seems unwilling “to take seriously his own ideas about resistance to power.”32 It is therefore the totalising aspect of Foucault’s conception of power and his “lack of interest in the forces of effective resistance” which forms the basis of Said’s disagreement with him.33 Another no less significant point of disagreement is the related question of individual subjectivity and agency. Foucault does not deny entirely individual agency; he just claims that the agent is itself constituted by power. This leads to downplaying the role of individual subjectivity and individual agency, for if everything is produced by power (including itself) then the term cancels itself out, rendering any talk of an individual subject or agent meaningless.34 Said rejects these premises and asserts the necessity of individual agency: “Unlike Michel Foucault to whose work I am greatly indebted, I do believe in the determining imprint of individual writers upon an otherwise anonymous collective body of texts constituting a discursive formation like Orientalism.”35 In view of his politics of anti-colonial resistance, the categories of individual subjectivity and agency are too crucial for Said to be dismissed or deflated, mainly because they are closely related—as has been widely noted—to a resurgent humanism, via a “move to reclaim human dignity and active historicity for the colonial and post-colonial subjects,” a move which is 31 Introduction to Theodor W Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E.B. Ashton (New York: Seasbury Press, 1973) 17-18. 32 Said, The World, the Text and the Critic, 246. 33 Said, “Foucault and the Imagination of Power,” 151.
29 Foucault, “Power and Strategies,” 142; 143.
34 “The ethno-political choice we have to make everyday is to determine which is the main danger. … My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous. … If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do. So my position leads not apathy but to a hyper-pessimistic activism.” Michel Foucault, “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress,” The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986) 343.
30 Foucault, “Power and Strategies,” 150.
35 Said, Orientalism, 23.
and Faber, 1983) 247. 27 Said, The World, the Text and the Critic, 244. 28 Edward Said, “Foucault and the Imagination of power,” Foucault: A Critical Reader, ed. David Hoy(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1986) 154.
at the very “heart of resistance movements.”36 After all, “history is not a homogeneous French-speaking territory, but a complex interaction between uneven economies, societies and ideologies,” and Said is interested in foregrounding the subjectivity and agency of non-Western subjects in relation to their own cultures and histories as well as to the West’s colonial and imperial discourses.37 Said not only rejects any totalised, all-inclusive system or discourse that ultimately has no space from which to mount critique and resistance; he is also not interested in “the dominant inside/outside model of conventional politics.”38 He postulates that subjects can resist from a position inside as well as outside the operations of power: the sense that subjects can resist from a different power position, for one can be outside power in the sense of being part of another form of power. This is why Said does not claim a straightforward, simplified, oppositional kind of resistance. He cautions about “hasty projections of a decolonised future in which Orientalism or imperialism will cease to influence the representation of the self or the other.”39 Moreover, Said acknowledges that “Otherness” is a discursive construct, but his “insistence on empirical Others who are historically constituted rather than ontologically given” also implies that “the ‘Other’ is invocable if not definable.”40 This means that native subjects are constituted not exclusively by colonial discourse, but also in relation to their (own) native knowledge and discourse—which overlap with and impinge upon the operations of colonial power and knowledge. From this point of view, Bhabha’s principle mistake is that he writes as though there was nothing else in the life of the colonised but the colonialist, which is what the latter would perhaps like to think. Said, in contrast, does not only affirm the existence of native knowledge and discourse, but he also argues that they have their own power and integrity:
It has been the substantial achievement of all of the intellectuals, and of course of the movements they worked with, by their historical, interpretive and analytic efforts to have identified the culture of resistance as a cultural enterprise possessing a long tradition of integrity and power in its own right, one not simply grasped as a belated, reactive response to Western imperialism.41
What we see here is that the “Other” inhabits different cultural and material locations. While the Otherness of the Other is constituted within the parameters of colonial discourse, the Other nevertheless exists within its own history and culture. To deny this fact would mean that the native subject is a colonial discursive product and nothing more (a spectre, in fact, of colonialism and its adjunct post-colonialism), one that comes into being only upon its entry into the history and discourse of the West. Although Foucault nowhere denies the possibility of resistance, his models of power and knowledge attenuate his own critical stance by defining resistance as a function of power, and thus as being always in some sense complicit with it. This has serious ramifications for conceiving and mobilising resistance as a practical effort to introduce a new social order. Foucault’s rejection of the dialectic of ideology and individual consciousness inevitably diminishes the effectual, political status of subjects-as-agents. For his part, Bhabha proffers a Foucauldian description of colonial discourse, and his strategies can still be identified as operating within systems that have already been demarcated by Foucault; however, Bhabha’s resistance claims are in turn undermined by his dispensing with political intentionality and any awareness of a latent “imperialism” on the part of the native subject. In contrast, Said offers a subtler account of post-colonial experience which extends beyond the historical forms of Western “civilisation” and encompasses the internally heterogeneous “subjectivity” and “agency” of contemporary emancipation struggles.
36 Peter Childs and Patrick Williams, An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theory (London: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1997) 86. 37 Said, The World, the Text and the Critic, 222. 38 Young, White Mythologies, 86. 39 Said, Orientalism, 145. 40 Said The World, the Text and the Critic, 220.
41 Said, Culture and Imperialism 250.
Published on Sep 2, 2011
Essay on native power and resistance published in VLAK 2 (May 2011) by the late Ali Daghman, graduate of Charles University Prague, killed i...