Foucault's concept of illegalism

European Journal of Philosophy 28 (2):445-462 (2020)
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This paper reconstructs Foucault's concept of illegalism and explores its significance for his genealogies of modern punishment and racial formation. The concept of illegalism, as distinct from illegality, plays a double role. It allows Foucault to describe a ruling class tactic for managing inequalities and also to characterize an important vein of resistant subjugated knowledges. The political project of the prison is linked to a new crime policy that does not so much aim to repress illegalisms as to manage them differentially. This practice of differential management, which arises in the 18th century, produces a primary split along class lines between two types of illegalism—an insight that has a certain resonance with Edwin's Sutherland's concept of “white collar crime.” Foucault's investigation of a third category of “infralegal illegalism” sheds light not only on the genealogy of the category of delinquency but also on his genealogy of racial categorization. Finally, Foucault argues that a genuinely radical critique of modern society must address the “need” organized political power has for the illegalisms from which it purportedly seeks to protect society. Against this practice of differentially managing illegalisms, Foucault seeks to reactivate a subjugated problematic that might open up questions about the transformative possibilities of illegalism today.



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Alex Feldman
Pennsylvania State University (PhD)

Citations of this work

Explanation and evaluation in Foucault's genealogy of morality.Eli B. Lichtenstein - 2023 - European Journal of Philosophy 31 (3):731-747.

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References found in this work

Michel Foucault.Didier Eribon - 1989 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic.Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche - 1887 - Oxford ;: Oxford University Press. Edited by Douglas Translator: Smith.
Foucault's Law.Ben Golder & Peter Fitzpatrick - 2009 - New York: Routledge-Cavendish. Edited by Peter Fitzpatrick.
Foucault and law: towards a sociology of law as governance.Alan Hunt - 1994 - Boulder, Colo.: Pluto Press. Edited by Gary Wickham.

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