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 entire mode of production depends on certain irregular features that are to be subordinated rather than calculated and that are to be made increasingly productive. Hierarchical surveillance, then, is only one side of bon dressement. The rest of chapter 2 is concerned with the new technology of sanction and punishment that accompanies hierarchical surveillance. Power for Foucault is more than control or the ability to determine the actions of another. The relations of power in capitalist production also include the power to punish and monitor those who are out of control. (p.318)


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


On Foucault, Foucault

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