Power as Sumbolon: Sovereignty, Governmentality and the International

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While Foucault was concerned with power throughout his entire work, it is in the 1970s that it receives his most explicit treatment. As a way of summarizing his manifold contributions to problems of the relation of sovereignty and governmentality, I propose the figure of the sumbolon, which he himself used in his lectures during that decade. This figure and its “rule of halves” prevent us from reducing his analysis of power to one of liberal or economic government. This provides us with a framework for both how the international domain is approached in these investigations and how we might remain loyally unfaithful to his approach to the international and to power more broadly. I indicate three ways we might enact this ethos: by identifying a liberal international dispositif alongside Foucault’s diplomatic-military one associated with reason of state; by the comparative investigation the question of limits and their fecundity in reason of state and liberalism, in both domestic and international domains; and by viewing sovereignty not simply as grounded in a “right of death” but as the very condition of a biopolitics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFoucault and the Modern International : Silences and Legacies for the Study of World Politics
EditorsPhilippe Bonditti, Didier Bigo, Frédéric Gros
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2017
ISBN (Print)9781349950980
ISBN (Electronic)9781137561589
Publication statusPublished - 2017
SeriesThe Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy

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