Foucault on the Milieu

“To summarize all this, let’s say that the sovereign capitalizes on a territory, raising the major problem of the seat of government, whereas discipline structures a space and addresses the essential problem of a hierarchical and functional distribution of elements, and security will try to plan a milieu in terms of events or series of events or possible elements, of series that will have to be regulated within a multivalent and transform able framework. The specific space of security refers then to a series of possible events; it refers to the temporal and the uncertain, which have to be inserted within a given space. The space in which a series of uncertain elements unfold is, I think, roughly what one can call the milieu… It is therefore the medium of an action and the element in which it circulates. It is therefore the problem of circulation and causality that is at stake in this notion of the milieu… The apparatuses of security work, fabricate, organize, and plan a milieu even before the notion was formed and isolated. The milieu, then, will be that in which circulation is carried out. The milieu is a set of natural givens – rivers, marshes, hills – and a set of artificial givens – an agglomeration of individuals, of houses, etcetera. The milieu is a certain number of combined, overall effects bearing on all who live in it. It is an element in which a circular link is produced between effects and causes, since an effect from one point of view will be the cause of another… Finally, the milieu appears as a field of intervention in which, instead of affecting individuals as a set of legal subjects capable of voluntary actions – which would be the case of the sovereign – and instead of affecting them as a multiplicity of organisms, of bodies capable of performances, and of required performances – as in discipline – one tries to affect, precisely, a population. I mean a multiplicity of individuals who are and fundamentally and essentially only exist biologically bound to the materiality in which they live. What one tries to reach through this milieu, is precisely the conjunction of a series of events produced by these individuals, populations, and groups, and quasi natural events which occur around them.”
(Foucault, Security Territory Population: 11 January 1978, p.20-21)

What I think Foucault is getting after here is the connection between the deployment of security and place in which it is deployed. The territory of the sovereign (the lines on the map) do not exhaust the extent of power’s influence – a further type of power circulates through the place (and which is circular when one tries to explain it causally – i.e. “loopy”) under the guise of security. It is a new level of power analysis that incorporates individuals and bodies together with their “natural” environment as a population controlled in concert with its already given, a priori surroundings: a milieu.

Power is also at work at this diffuse level of the milieu. In general it manifests in common affects like fear, excitement, rage etc. and has a wavy, sonorous quality. A positive attitude, a calmness in the face of anxiety or an expression of joy in a tense situation, can have ripple effects that permeate throughout a place – with the possibility of relieving the milieu from the power of security.


Author: billrosethorn

(Geo)Philosopher, Occupier (until there is a better idea).

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