Ethical identification of the subject, and “techniques of the self” in the works of Michel Foucault

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We are used to the image of an individual as getting into the social reality created before and without him; however, Michel Foucault questions the genealogy of the modern subject, and states that within a ready-made social reality an individual is not given even to himself. Foucault considers processes and practices of individual self-identification, and modes of subjectivation , i. e. the ways, by which an individual seeks and finds his place in an already and completely configured system of social relations. Foucault develops a specific conceptual tool - “techniques of the self” as sets of representations and practices, by which an individual changes oneself and integrates into some ethical systems (of knowledge, rules of behavior, power relations). “Techniques of the self” are purely social, they do not constitute any ethical identity; on the contrary, they provide a socially determined self-identification. Foucault’s “techniques of the self” let us conceptualize the coincidence of the seemingly anonymous processes of governing and individual self-definition; these techniques serve as indicators of individual ethical normalization. Identification of the “techniques of the self” in subjects’ actions helps to define the governing processes not as a violent submission, but as a basic state of the social interaction systems. In order to verify the heuristic potential of the “techniques of the self” concept, the author considers ancient and early Christian models of subjectivation, which Foucault opposed as two ethical models of subject’s access to the “truths”. With the ancient ethical “techniques of the self”, a subject is a full-fledged ethical agent; with the early Christian techniques, he is to accept one’s ontological inability to establish the righteousness based only on one’s personal experience. For example, such an opposition helps to explain differences between tutorship forms and self-control goals.

About the authors

Yu V Yatsutsenko

Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia

Author for correspondence.

Sociology Chair


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Copyright (c) 2016 Yu V Yatsutsenko

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