The SHC network funded a one-day Foucault Symposium at the University of Helsinki, June 28, 2013. The conference was organized by Johanna Oksala and Jemima Repo, and it provided the multidisciplinary audience with a wide variety of topics relating to Michel Foucault’s work: genealogy, freedom, critique and biopolitics.
The conference was opened up by an intriguing keynote speech by Béatrice Han-Pile (University of Essex) with the title Foucault, Normativity, and Critique as a Practice of the Self, which emphasized, first of all, the need to distinguish between epistemic and ethical normativity in Foucault’s work. Regarding the first topic, Han-Pile interestingly connected Foucault’s interest in historical explanation with the Kantian question concerning conditions of possibility, thus pointing towards interesting connections between Foucauldian archealogy and the (Kantian) transcendental framework. In the second part of her talk, Han-Pile focused on the implications of Foucault’s philosophy of history, especially the question of historical critique. While renouncing the ideas of absolute foundation and universal teleology with a single normative ideal, Foucault was still able to hold on to the idea of critique as a historically bound, context-dependent reflection that works against all forms of domination and suppression. This critique, Han-Pile pointed out, was to be understood as the movement of freedom as such, which balances between the processes of self-examination and self-distanciation.
Han-Pile’s keynote was followed by Mika Ojakangas’s presentation Plato and Biopolitics, which argued for the need to locate the Foucauldian notions of biopower and biopolitics already in Ancient Greek thought, namely, the political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Arguing against both the Arendtian division between oikos and polis in Greek thought as well as Foucault’s own historical narrative on the birth of biopower in Early Christian thought, Ojakangas argued for the explicitly racist, misogynic and eugenic elements in Aristotle’s Politics and especially in Plato’s Laws, which he considered as one of the founding texts of the biopolitical tradition of the West. Ojakangas’ paper was followed by Sergei Prozorov’s Biopolitics of Stalinism: Ideas and Bodies in the Construction of Socialism, which, against Foucault’s own remarks on the biopolitics of “Stalinism”, argued for the unique character of Soviet governmentality with a special focus on the transition from the explicit “class struggle” of the Bolshevik constitutions of the 1930s to the politics of “enemy of the state” promoted by Stalin from the late 1930s onwards. The last two papers were presented by Jemima Repo and Lauri Siisiäinen. Unfortunately, Martin Saar had to cancel his presentation.