Rethinking Michel Foucault: The Political Circle of Parrhesia and Democracy

7 May, 2014
12:30 - 2:00pm

The SDN continues the series Conversations on Democracy with this special lunch time presentation by Professor Henrik Bang.

Henrik is Professor in Governance at the ANZSOG Institute for Governance, University of Canberra. He has come to UC from the University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science. Henrik writes extensively within the fields of governance and political participation, and has contributed significantly to the international debate with his concepts of Everyday Makers, Expert Citizens, culture governance and policy-politics. 



Michel Foucault has become an exemplar in the disciplines of philosophy, sociology, history, linguistics and literary criticism. Ironically, he has never made much of an impact upon the political discipline, to which he first of all belongs, and in which he deserves a prominent position as one of the best political theorists and researchers of all time. In particular in his later strings of lectures from 1978 to 1984 he develops an empirical and normative approach to studying the political as governmentality. This is founded on the argument that where there is obedience there cannot be parrhesia – that is, a political authority who dares boldly to speak the truth on what has to be done even in face of death, and without commanding or having any intention to dominate anyone’s political existence. From 1970 until his death in 1984, Foucault held the Chair of History of Systems of Thought at the Collège de France, which ought to have contained the word ‘political’ too. What he developed, but never had time to finish, was a conception of political authority as founded on nothing but the acceptance and recognition of difference. Breaking with the modern dichotomizations of conflict and consensus, power and resistance, illegitimacy and legitimacy and so on, he tried to develop a political approach to studying political authority and political community as being each other’s circular foundation within the political authority relationship: political authorities could not communicate and perform as political authorities unless laypeople in the political community would accept and recognize themselves bound by their politically communicated messages. From this presumption that a minimal degree of cooperation is necessary to the existence of a political authority relationship he began to develop a normative model of the intrinsic circularity of parrhesia and democracy: there can be no exercise of good parrhesia without a democratic community dedicated to the pursuit of equal freedom, and vice versa. This is particularly significant and relevant to take note of in a situation characterized by increasing hatred of politics, demonization of politicians, and anti-politics. 

Location: Seminar room 226, John Woolley Building (enter via Manning Road)

Contact:Adele Webb
Phone:(02) 93513210