The Real Effects of Rationality

Symposium 25 (1):135-159 (2021)
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Two critical reviews of Discipline and Punish inspired an exchange between Foucault and some prominent historians in 1978. In the texts from this exchange, Foucault addresses their criticism that, by focusing on unrealized plans and programs, such as Bentham’s Panopticon, his book lacks a sense of historical reality. Foucault replies, first, that the true aim of his book is to explore the emergence of a new type of penal rationality, not to insist that the Panopticon itself has been realized. Second, he holds that types of rationality can produce distinctive sorts of effects, regardless of whether the plans and programs to which they are attached are ever fully achieved. This paper seeks to clarify Foucault’s underlying account in these responses of rationality and its efficacy. It also takes up and develops Foucault’s suggestive distinction between two different types of effects: “effects in the real” and “reality effects.”



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Alex Feldman
Pennsylvania State University (PhD)

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