For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Truth and Juridical Forms" in Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984: Power

by Foucault, Michel (2001)

Key Passage

In feudal society and in many societies that ethnologists call “primitive,” the control of individuals is based on local insertion, on the fact that they belong to a particular place. Feudal power was exercised over men insofar as they belonged to a manor. Local geographic inscription was a means of exercising power. Power was inscribed in men through their localization. In contrast, the modern society that formed at the beginning of the nineteenth century was basically indifferent or relatively indifferent to individuals’ spatial ties: it was not interested in the spatial control of individuals insofar as they belonged to an estate, a locale, but onlyinsofar as it needed people to place their time at its disposal. People’s time had to be offered to the production apparatus; the production apparatus had to be able to use people’s living time, their time of existence. The control was exerted for that reason and in that form. Two things were necessary for industrial society to takeshape. First, individuals’ time must be put on the market, offered to those wishing to buy it, and buy it in exchange for a wage; and, second, their time must be transformed into labor time. That is why we find the problem of, and the techniques of, maximum extraction of time in a whole series of institutions.In the example I referred to, we saw this phenomenon in its compact form, its pure state. The workers’ entire living time, from morning to night and night to morning, was bought once and for all, at the cost of a recompense, by an institution. We encounter this phenomenon in other institutions, in closed pedagogical institutions that would open little by little in the course of the century, reformatories, orphanages, and prisons. In addition, a number of diffuse forms take place, especially from the moment it was realized that those prison factories were unmanageable, that one had to go back to a type of labor in which people would come in the morning, work, and stop working in the evening. We see a subsequent proliferationof institutions in which people’s time, though it was not really extracted in its entirety, was controlled so that it became labor time.During the nineteenth century, a series of measures aimed at eliminating holidays and reducing time off were to be adopted. A very subtle technique for controlling the workers’ savings was perfected in the course of the century. On the one hand, in order for the market economy to have the necessary flexibility, the employersmust be able to lay off workers when the circumstances required it; but, on the other hand, in order for the workers to be able to start working again after an obligatory period of unemployment, without dying of hunger in the interval, it was necessary for them to have reserves and savings— hence the rise in wages that weclearly see begin in England in the 1840s and in France in the 1850s. But when the workers had money, they were not to spend their savings before their time of unemployment came around. They mustn’t use their savings whenever they wished, for staging a strike or having a good time— thus the need to control theworker’s savings became apparent. Hence the creation, in the 1820s and especially the 1840s and 1850s, of savings banks and relief funds, which made it possible to channel workers’ savings and control how they were used. In this way, the worker’s time— not just the time of his working day but his whole lifespan— could actually be used in the best way by the production apparatus. Thus, in the form of institutions apparently created for protection and security, a mechanism was established by means of which the entire time ofhuman existence was put at the disposal of the labor market and the demands of labor. This extraction of the whole quantity of time was the first function of these institutions of subjugation. It would also be possible to show how this general control of time was exercised in the developed countries by the mechanism of consumption and advertising. (p.80-81)


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Truth and Juridical Forms, Foucault Citations



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