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Governmentality

What is important for our modernity—that is to say, for our present times, is not the making of society into a state, but what I call the “governmentalization” of the state. (Foucault cited in Koveker, 2004, p. 3; our translation)2

As Fitzsimons (2002) argues, the concept of education for human capital cannot be understood without the discursive shift that Foucault

(1991) entitles governmentality. As Foucault describes it, governmen- tality is an outgrowth of an explosion of literature on ways of governing in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. At the heart of much of this emerging discussion was a desire to distance the concept of governing from the role of the prince, or king, who controlled a principality or territory, yet remained separate from and above it, concentrating his energy on retaining control of this land and property. If governing as a prince involves separating one’s self from the governed, the new art of government involves governing from within— as part of the entity being governed. La Mothe Le Vayer, writing for the French Dauphin in the seventeenth century describes three forms of government.

There are three fundamental types of government—each of which relates to a particular science or discipline: the art of self-government, connected with morality, the art of properly governing a family which belongs to economy, and finally the science of ruling the state which concerns politics. (Flynn, 1994; Foucault, 1991, p. 91)

This inclusion of politics with other types of power emphasizes the continuity of those who govern with the population being governed. Government in this literature, writes Foucault, is part of a process of introducing “economy” or the management of individuals and of assuring the prosperity and financial stability of the extended “family” that makes up any society.

The metaphor of government as the head of household in a family is quite different from that of a medieval or early Renaissance prince ruling a territory. In the earlier model, the prince is essentially separate from what he is ruling while subsequent to this discursive shift, heads of governments form an integral part of what is being governed. The prince is concerned with land and wealth (gold, money, etc.) but has minimal concern with knowing about or managing the people who live in that territory. In contrast the ruler or government, when seen metaphorically as the father of a family, both governs and is one of those being governed, and is responsible for maximizing the entire population’s prosperity and well-being. Pufendorf (cited in Foucault, 1991, p. 94) writes,

Sovereign authority is conferred upon them [the rulers] only in order to use it to attain or conserve what is of public utility. The ruler may not have concern for anything advantageous for himself unless it also be so for the state.

A key element in the transformation of a state from a sovereign territory to a disciplinary society is the emergence of the concept of population. As Foucault writes,

[Population] does not mean simply a numerous human group, but living beings penetrated, compelled, ruled by processes, by biological laws. A population has a birth rate, a death rate, an age curve, an age pyramid, a degree of morbidity, a state of health, a population may perish or may, on the contrary, expand. (Foucault in Curtis, 2002)

It is this discursive shift that makes possible our contemporary understanding that the purpose of the state is to safeguard and increase public prosperity and security; and in order to do so, it is necessary to know about a territory’s inhabitants in as much detail as possible.

 
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