Back in Melbourne and the winter is setting in. It’s time to wrap a blanket over my knees and sit at the computer and write. Currently I’m expanding the paper I presented at Transsomatechnics into a chapter. Expanding conference papers this way really demonstrates how slack a scholar I am. And how ridiculous it is to have to make concrete definitions of terms, to begin with. For example, defining subjectivation. Despite having planned the chapter already, ’scheduling in’ the requisite glosses in the correct places, in the paper itself I wrote just whatever I thought subjectivation means. It’s difficult enough parsing the distinction between ’subjectivation’ and ’subjectification’, without realising that a) the Bifo essay I rely on to define Foucault’s development of subjectivation is referenceless, in that beautiful slack Continental fashion; b) Judith Butler talks about subjectivation in The Psychic Life of Power, but, in a move that must have caused who knows what domestic dispute, assigns an argument about identity politics, differentiation and rights to Foucault when her own partner Wendy Brown made it, neglecting to footnote Brown at all. Well done. Here is what I have so far on subjectivation. If anyone can offer insight, please do:
Subjectivation is the Foucauldian term I use to describe a technique of power which forms subjects who are able to think of themselves as autonomous individuals, but simultaneously produces subjection. This technique of power
“applies itself to immediate everyday life which categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him.” (”The Subject and Power”, 212)
Rather than, as with governmentality, dealing with the management of the population on a mass scale, this technique of power is intimately imbricated within the practices of everyday life. To call this form of power subjectivation is also to follow the anti-humanist claim that the ‘human’ does not pre-exist the practices that form subjects (of the law, of the state, of capital, of medicine and so on.) Franco Berardi writes,
“The subject does not pre-exist history, it does not preexist the social process. Neither does it precede the power formations or the political subjectivation that founds autonomy. There is no subject, but subjectivation, and the history of subjectifying processes is reconstructed through the analysis of epistemic, imaginary, libidinal and social dispositifs modeling the primary matter of the lived.”
What Berardi refers to as subjectivation here are the multiple and performative points of contact whereby bodies become identifiable and categorisable. This could be thought of as a similar hermeneutic to the Althusserian concept of interpellation, whereby the state and/or capitalism bring subjects into being through hailing. But distinct from Althusser, Foucault maintains that subjectivation is not entirely oppressive, but that it also encompasses our own production of ourselves in relation to institutions. Thus, subjectivation might also be enabling of resistance to capital, or the state, in the same breath as we understand it to be a technique of either.
In “The Subject and Power,” Foucault implies that the newest modes of subjectivation as processes of individualization and differentiation. These contemporary modes of subjectivation are borne out of the political conditions of contemporary liberal democracies, in which formal rights and recognition are assumed to accrue only in relation to a specific (and wounded) category of identity. These multiple identity categories interface with biopolitical social apparatuses (or what Foucault calls dispositifs) in ways that are constantly mutating, along with the regulative regimes which recognise and manage them as categories of personhood. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, woman, migrant, refugee, indigenous or Aboriginal: these are some of the categories that could be cited in this context. ‘Transsexual’ or ‘transgender’ (with their different genealogies referencing relationships to medicine and politics) are two others.