Reading through Security, Territory, and Population, I’m reminded of a line in David Graeber’s Commoner article about the post-operaisti:
[O]ddly, all of the speakers [Bifo, Lazzarato, Negri, and Ravel] in question subscribed to the theory that history should be conceived as a series of complete conceptual breaks, so total, in fact, that it’s hard to see how this would be possible. In part this is the legacy of Marxism, which always tends to insist that since capitalism forms an all-encompassing totality that shapes our most basic assumptions about the nature of society, we simply cannot conceive what a future society would be like. (Though no Marxist, oddly, seems to think we should have similar problems trying to understand past societies.) In this case, though, it is just as much the legacy of Michel Foucault, who radicalized this idea of a series of all-encompassing historical stages even further with his notion of epistemes: that the very conception of truth changes completely from one historical period to the next. Here, too, each historical period forms such a total system that it is impossible to imagine one gradually transforming into another; instead, we have a series of conceptual revolutions, of total breaks or ruptures.
Foucault addresses this silly claim directly in STP, as he has elsewhere, both explicitly and implicitly:
So, there is not a series of successive elements, the appearance of the new causing the earlier ones to disappear. There is not the legal age, the disciplinary age, and then the age of security. Mechanisms of security do not replace disciplinary mechanisms, which would have replaced juridico-legal mechanisms. In reality you have a series of complex edifices in which, of course, the techniques themselves change and are perfected, or anyway become more complicated, but in which what above all changes is the dominant characteristic, or more exactly, the system of correlation between juridico-legal mechanisms, disciplinary mechanisms, and mechanisms of security. In other words, there is a history of the actual techniques themselves.
It’s hard to know what to make of Graeber’s insistence that Foucault insists on complete historical fissures when he clearly doesn’t and instead notes how different elements combine in different ways in different times and spaces. Like Graeber’s seeming half-understanding of Lazzarato’s work on immaterial labor, it might just be an instance of not reading closely enough. But I also can’t shake the feeling that arguments against the locating of epochal transformations, especially phantom ones, are often a plea for recognizing continuity and that changing appearances aside capital remains essentially the same. And all the guarantees and, um, security that come with that.