"One of the things that I find most irritating in a lot of so-called Foucault literature is authors taking concepts of Foucault like ‘biopower’ and just applying it as if they knew what it meant today. All the hard work by Foucault and his research kind of disappears. Foucault developed his ideas like biopower based on research up to around the year 1840, showing that these concepts were partial responses to and clarifications of historical situations. And so to go 150 years later and think you can take the same concepts for a really quite different historical situation seems to me a total betrayal of everything he ever did. I think that much of Foucault-studies is in that vein. That means that people are very reluctant to think for themselves and they are very reluctant to figure out to how to do an inquiry in the present in a way that opens us to new problems and new possibilities.
That seems to me very much in the spirit of what John Dewey called inquiry, and think it is very much in the spirit, in the global sense, of what anthropology is perhaps one of the better-suited disciplines to undertake. When we learn languages and go to other places it is very hard to maintain the illusion that you really know what is going on, as opposed to some political scientist or economist. So, that sort of ethics of discomfort and of inquiry Foucault gave us excellent examples of, but he didn’t provide a method or theory of how to do it today. That’s the challenge in my own small way that I try to take up. I tend not to read too much of the Foucault literature although some of my students read and tell me about it and I continue to stay away.”
- Paul Rabinow, in an interview at Figure/Ground Communication