For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Spotting the Primacy of Resistance in the Virtual Encounter of Foucault and Deleuze"

by Checchi, Marco (2014)


Foucault’s intuition that resistance comes first challenges the theses of the co-originality of power and resistance or the superiority of power over resistance. In order to transform this intuition into the concept of the primacy of resistance, the article uses Deleuze’s ontology and in particular the idea of the virtual. According to Deleuze, resistance displays a privileged relation with the virtual, understood as the ontological region animated by all the potentialities that might be or might have been actualised. As such, resistance is presented as a creative and affirmative force, provoking reactions and forcing power to change. Nietzsche’s divide between active and reactive forces serves to set up a qualitative distinction between resistance and power. Power relations are therefore understood as the interplay of the creative affirmation of resistance and the subsequent reaction of power. The primacy of resistance allows us to elaborate a dynamic model of power relations whose mechanism evokes Tronti’s interpretation of Marxism structured upon the primacy of labour and workers’ struggle over capital.

Key Passage

On several occasions, this operational tie between power and resistance is presented as referring also to a relation of co‐originality.  Such a thesis could have passed unchallenged if we would not take into consideration a minor interview of 1982 in which Foucault surprisingly steps back from his research on the subject to give once again some insights into the nature of resistance. [...]If there was no resistance, there would be no power relations.   […] So resistance comes first, and remains superior to the forces of the process; power relations are obliged to change with the resistance.  So I think that resistance is the main word, the keyword, in this dynamic.Obviously, such a quotation does not entirely reject the concept of co‐originality.  Nevertheless, it does demand a refinement of the concept.  Why does resistance come first? It is hard to decipher with absolute certainty the reason that brings Foucault to affirm the superiority of resistance.  However, what is perhaps held to be crucial for the primacy is the capacity of resistance to oblige power relations to change.   Power tends to crystallize the existent.   Even though it remains active and productive, it keeps reiterating its exercise until the forces that resist it oblige power to modify its action.  In principle, power is static in the sense that it does not need to do anything different to conserve a specific relation of force and the configuration that this relation determines.  In order to illustrate this point, it suffices to think of the working time in a factory.  Workers are demanded to be punctual at the beginning of their shift.  Their punctuality is backed by a specific power relation between the workers and the management.   If everybody is always punctual, the management (power) does not need to take any action in these regards: the initial regulation has been sufficiently crystallized and no further intervention is needed.  But let us assume that from one moment on, half of the workers take the habit of arriving few minutes later than the time they were expected to start.  At that point, management is obliged to take action, enforcing for instance punitive measures for the workers who are not punctual: power has been obliged to change.  Before the actual emergence of this specific resistance, any additional regulation would have been pointless and unnecessary.   Therefore, it is only at the very moment when resistance increases or decreases its intensity, that power is obliged to change and to adapt it accordingly.  Therefore, resistance is the dynamic and active (in the Nietzschean sense of “active force” that I will present later) element in power relations and this confers to it its primacy over power.   (p.199)


Resistance, Active Forces, Power Relations, Deleuze, Labour, Tronti


On Foucault, Foucault

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