Foucault’s Genealogy of Racism

Theory, Culture and Society 28 (5):34-51 (2011)
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Abstract

This paper argues that Foucault’s genealogy of racism deserves appreciation due to the highly original concept of racism as biopolitical government. Modern racism, according to Foucault, is not merely an irrational prejudice, a form of socio-political discrimination, or an ideological motive in a political doctrine; rather, it is a form of government that is designed to manage a population. The paper seeks to advance this argument by reconstructing Foucault’s unfinished project of a genealogy of racism. Initially, the paper situates the genealogy of racism within the context of Foucault’s work. It belongs to a period of transition between the mature and the late part of Foucault’s work, more specifically a period of transition from discipline to governmentality. The paper proceeds by reading closely key passages from the 1976 lectures at Collège de France in which Foucault proposes to rethink racism as a form of biopolitical government. While Foucault’s genealogy of racism remains an incomplete project, lacking for example any substantial treatment of European colonialism, the paper proposes to expand the Foucauldian analysis by linking it to the pan-German discourse between 1890 and 1914. Finally, the paper reflects on some of the implications of the Foucauldian analysis, in particular attempts to understand and counter contemporary forms of racism. Foucault’s genealogy of racism, in short, shows us the constructedness of our racialized world and challenges us to develop new and more effective strategies to change it.

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