For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Power, labour power and productive force in Foucault’s reading of Capital"

by Feldman, Alex J (2019)


This article uses Foucault’s lecture courses to illuminate his reading of Marx’s Capital in Discipline and Punish. Foucault finds in Marx’s account of cooperation a precedent for his own approach to power. In turn, Foucault helps us rethink the concepts of productive force and labour power in Marx. Foucault is shown to be particularly interested in one of Marx’s major themes in Capital, parts III–IV: the subsumption of labour under capital. In Discipline and Punish and The Punitive Society, Foucault offers a genealogy of the forms of labour power (Arbeitskraft) and productive force (Produktivkraft). One of his central problems is to understand how labour power is converted in productive force and how, prior to that, productive subjects who can properly bear and dispose of their labour power are formed. Foucault’s reading of Capital resonates with those currents of Marx interpretation today that seek to repoliticize the concept of productive force and to offer a materialist account of subject formation

Key Passage

The key to the articulation of surveilling and punishing will be found in the conjunction of two problems: the problem of a new management of illegalisms and the problem of disciplining bodies to produce and direct the productive force. What, then, are the disciplines? The 17th century marks ‘a discovery of the body as object and target of power’.30 This ‘discovery’ has both a philosophical and a technological or techno-political register. The philosophy pole aims to explain the body as a machine. The technology pole aims to rationalize a certain practice of intervening upon the body – to produce a logos about a techneˆ. The privileged object of these technologies is the body as a sphere of forces. Their goal is corporeal docility and utility or an increase in usefulness and a decrease in resistance or recalcitrance (‘docility’ can also mean ‘teachability’). More precisely, this double-sided goal is achieved through a splitting of the power of the body. (p.312)


Foucault, Marx, Discipline, Punishment, Labour Under Capital, Cooperation, Productive Force, Resistance


On Foucault, Foucault, Critical Management Studies, Marx

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