- Foucault with Marx by Jacques Bidet
Jacques Bidet's recent work is a significant contribution to the surge of interest in the ways in which Karl Marx's and Michel Foucault's thought overlaps. In Foucault with Marx, Bidet seeks to form a theoretical framework that contains the two eponymous figures. Bidet rightfully argues that most scholarship that strives to open a dialogue between Marx and Foucault merely results in monologues where Foucault mobilizes categories of race and gender while Marx focuses on class analysis. While any comparative study runs the risk of descending into banality, Bidet's refreshing attentiveness to both the Foucauldian and Marxist projects allows for a singular encounter that locates the two in what Bidet calls a "general theory of modern society" (4). The central concern of Bidet's book is to construct a "metastructural edifice" that is able to sustain an extended encounter between Foucault and Marx. That metastructure, Bidet writes, is the "fiction" that the notion of the "modern social 'structure'" presupposes: "that is to say, that [the structure] produces as the real condition of its existence" (6). Bidet's metastructure is not a preexisting foundation upon which modern society is built; rather, the metastructure only appears after the fact as a precondition of society.
Bidet's second chapter is perhaps the most foundational section of the book. Here, Bidet begins to develop the coordinates of the metastructure he forms in opposing Marxist "property-power" to Foucauldian "knowledge-power."1 Bidet argues that property-power—the concept that power emanates from the holders of capital—provides an incomplete picture of how power functions in society. Foucault's theory of knowledge-power, "the other pole of power and domination within modern society," serves as a necessary supplement to Marxist theory (59). Whereas property-power is centered around the concentration of capital, knowledge-power is focused on individuals who possess intellectual competencies of various types, from university professors to office [End Page 119] administrators. While there are undoubtedly members of the capitalist class who find themselves leading various institutions, Bidet is interested in demonstrating how knowledge-power and its immense organizational capacities enable forms of capitalist domination in the first place.
Though it seems at times that Bidet simply wants to identify aspects of the social world that Marx does not account for, the conclusion of his second chapter makes clear that Bidet aims to read Foucault and Marx against one another. Bidet uses Foucault's notion of knowledge-power to redraw the lines of class struggle. He argues, for instance, that to practice Marxism today requires a new understanding of social class, one that finds its enemy not only in the power wielded by exploitative capital, but also in modern techniques of domination that exceed capitalist relations. Very much in the lineage of post-Marxist thinkers such as Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Étienne Balibar, Bidet recasts the concept of class struggle by loosening some of the subjectivizing mechanisms in orthodox Marxism. Bidet argues that the relations of domination to which knowledge-power gives rise only become perceptible by and through the intellectual activities of those who wield it. Foucault's notion of the "specific intellectual" thus serves as a more refined version of Antonio Gramsci's organic intellectual. For Bidet, specific intellectuals produce new kinds of subversive knowledge through their direct contact with knowledge formed in the disciplines they practice. By introducing the notion of the specific intellectual and relating it to the theory of class struggle, Bidet broadens Marxism's social and political concerns.
If Chapter Two highlights a weakness in Marxism and compensates for it by adding Foucault's insights to the equation, Bidet's third chapter pinpoints where Foucault's thought is lacking and returns to Marx in search of a solution. In this chapter, Bidet's objective is to overcome the contradiction between Foucault's nominalist and Marx's structuralist systems. By placing both in a larger political theory, Bidet seeks to account for a greater "diversity of forms of social subversion" than either system could provide on its own (124). Bidet...