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THE PRACTICE OF DIGNITY: THE CARE OF THE SELF, RELATIONS OF POWER, AND THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT

Despite the publication in the last decade or so of Michel Foucault’s Collège de France lectures, the question of the relationship between the work of the mid-1970s and the analytics of power and the later work on “ethics” and the care of the self remains somewhat vague. Numerous, and highly questionable, biographical accounts have been attempted (c.f. Nehamas in The Art of Living, etc.), but the work of understanding just how the care of the self is already implicated in the analytics of power is only just beginning. This paper attempts to sketch out that relationship by arguing that we cannot fully appreciate some of the more fundamental aspects of the notion of the care of the self without reading them against the backdrop of Foucault’s prior work on power relations in other cases and more generally. It further attempts to show through a reading of Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King’s memoir of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, that even in a notion like the care of the self—often taken to be a kind of retreat from the explicitly political—has deep significance for understanding not simply relations of power, but relations of resistance as well.

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