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

Someone said that man’s concrete essence is labor. Actually, this idea was put forward by several people. We find it in Hegel, in the post-Hegelians, and also in Marx, the Marx of a certain period, as Althusser would say.Since I’m interested not in authors but in the function of statements, it makes little difference who said it or exactly when it was said. What I would like to show is that, in point of fact, labor is absolutely not man’s concrete essence or man’s existence in its concrete form. In order for men to be brought into labor, tied to labor, an operation is necessary, or a complex series of operations, by which men are effectively—not analytically but synthetically— bound to the production apparatus for which they labor. It takes this operation, or this synthesis effected by a political power, for man’s essence to appear as being labor.So I don’t think we can simply accept the traditional Marxist analysis, which assumes that, labor being man’s concrete essence, the capitalist system is what transforms that labor into profit, into hyperprofit [sur-profit] or surplus value. The fact is, capitalism penetrates much more deeply into our existence. That system, as it wasestablished in the nineteenth century, was obliged to elaborate a set of political techniques, techniques of power, by which man was tied to something like labor— a set of techniques by which people’s bodies and their time would become labor power and labor time so as to be effectively used and thereby transformed into hyperprofit. But in order for there to be hyperprofit, there had to be an infrapower [sous-pouvoir]. A web of microscopic, capillary political power had to be established at the level of man’s very existence, attaching men to the production apparatus, while making them into agents of production, into workers. This binding of man to labor was synthetic, political; it was a linkage brought about by power. There is no hyperprofit without an infrapower. I speak of “infrapower,” for what’s involved is the power I described earlier, and not the one traditionally called “political power.’’ I’m referring not to a state apparatus, or to the class in power, but to the whole set of little powers, of little institutions situated at the lowest level. What I meant to do was analyze this infrapower as a condition of possibility of hyperprofit. (p.86-87)


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Truth and Juridical Forms, Foucault Citations



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