Spring 2013 Reading Group: Society Must Be Defended

We invite you to join us  this spring as the Foucault Society’s reading group continues our discussion of Michel Foucault’s Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976.  The group is multidisciplinary and open to academics and independent scholars across the NYC area. Our purpose is to develop a critical conversation which enriches our engagement with Foucault and provides a forum for participants to develop our individual research projects.  New participants are welcome.

Reading Group: Spring 2013 Schedule

Friday, March 8:  Lectures 5-6
Friday, March 29:  Lectures 7-8
Friday, April 19:  Lectures 9-10 
Friday, May 10:  Lecture 11
For more information or to register, please email Kevin Jobe and Eric Daffron, Reading Group Coordinators, at foucaultsocietyorg@gmail.com.


Reading Group Description:

Arguably, Foucault’s most groundbreaking course conducted at the Collège de France was his 1975-76 lecture course Society Must Be Defended. What began as a study of the history of ‘the war of races and classes’ as a grid of intelligibility for modern politics, branched into discussions of racism, class, religion, war, politics, the modern state, sexuality, normalization, Nazism, socialism, and biopolitical fate of the human species. Along with selections from Johanna Oksala’s most recent book, Foucault, Politics and Violence (Northwestern University Press 2012), the Foucault Society convenes a re-reading of this remarkable text with the most urgent relevance to current discussions surrounding violence, conflict, and the nature of ‘the political’.
Advancing a Foucaultian conception of ‘the political’ as an agonistic ‘game of truth’ within a specific society, Oksala locates the Society Must Be Defended course within Foucault’s overarching analytics of power/knowledge.  She distinguishes Foucault’s conception of ‘the political’ from Schmitt, Arendt, Zizek, Mouffe, Rawls, and the Habermasians.  Underlining the connection between the field of agonistic social relations (‘the political’) and our corresponding conception of social reality (the ‘ontological’), Oksala makes clear that for Foucault, “Politics is not only a struggle over resources and values. It is a more fundamental battle for truth and objectivity. Politics discloses a world; it becomes essentially a struggle to realize a unique world through the definition of what there is. Is there such a thing as a superior race? What about marital rape? Or pathological sexuality?” [Oksala 2012, 32]
In this way, Oksala allows us to view Society Must Be Defended as part of a larger genealogy of our own current social and political reality, which has been in large part constituted by the concrete relations of war, conflict, domination, opposition, insurrection, insubordination and resistance that have formed the very conception of ‘civil society’ as we know it.  Both elucidating and clarifying Foucault’s insistence that ‘power is everywhere’, Oksala connects Foucault’s analysis of politics and war in Society Must Be Defended to both his concerns with ‘regimes of truth’ and to his later concerns with a critical ontology and governmentality. What results is a Foucaultian conception of ‘the political’ which allows us to re-read Society Must Be Defended not only as a history of ‘the war of races and classes’, but as the very historical, discursive and political constitution of the present: the constitution of social reality as we know it.
 —Kevin  Jobe, Reading Group Director


Foucault, Michel. “Society Must Be DefendedLectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Trans. David Macey. New York: Picador, 2003.

Oksala, Johanna. Foucault, Politics, and Violence. Northwestern University Press. 2012.

Open to the public.   Some prior familiarity with Foucault’s texts will be helpful.
To register, email foucaultsocietyorg@gmail.com.

Updated: April 29, 2013.