Colonial Subjectification: Foucault, Christianity and Governmentality

Article excerpt

Foucault's concept of pastoral power is envisioned as a technique of power developed from the medieval period and carried through into modern political rationalities. As such, it is an old power technique-which originated in Christian institutions-in a new political shape.1 Importantly, Foucault distinguishes between two aspects of this pastoral power: its ecclesiastical institutionalisation and its function. While its institutional aspect has diminished since the eighteenth century, its function has not, in that it has been dispersed outside this initial institutional framework.2 The importance and repercussions of this distinction have been recognised by and utilised in, for example, education studies,3 but have not been central to the use of Foucault in cultural studies-an absence which is part of the general non-existent relationship between cultural studies and religion, which this special issue addresses.

This article has a twofold aim, namely to trace such a dispersion historically and contextually, and to discuss the theoretical implications of this function of pastoral power and dismantle some of Foucault's own presuppositions. The historical context is the former Danish colony of Greenland, which was colonised in the early eighteenth century. The colonisation was intended to lend financial support to the Lutheran mission to the Catholic Norsemen, who had settled in Greenland around the eleventh century, but had not been heard from since the fifteenth century.4 When the missionary Hans Egede and his family arrived, there were indeed no Norsemen to be found, only the indigenous population, which then became the target of the mission. The reason I have chosen a colonial setting to highlight this feature of Foucault's work is that the massive social upheavals in colonised indigenous communities illustrate how crucial the social foundation of Lutheran subjectification is, and how deeply the capillaries are rooted. Nothing less than a near annihilation of indigenous society would do.

The reason this particular colonial setting lends itself well to an analysis of pastoral power and its functions is mainly because of its state-controlled mission, its origins in the early eighteenth century, and the frantic documentation activity of the Danish colonisers. Furthermore, the colonisation seemed to occur in a number of bursts: the initial stage in the eighteenth century (roughly speaking), with its semi- systematised racialised missionary politics; an intensification of control, exploitation and institutionalisation in the nineteenth; and the fragmentation and governmentalisation of the Greenlandic people in the twentieth century. This development makes it possible to trace the progression of ideas and practices of racism, institutionalism and policy within Greenland and Denmark. It is particularly the two first stages that concern me here in that I trace the movement from institutional pastoral power to functional pastoral power in Greenland and in Foucault's work. I do so particularly through the concept of the household.


Simply named 'Governmentality', Foucault's essay was originally one of the lectures from the Security, Territory, Population lecture series held at the Collège de France in 1977-78.5 This lecture was subsequently published as a discrete essay in Aut Aut in 1978 and later reprinted in the anthology on governmentality, The Foucault Effect, which was published by a number of Foucault's co-workers.6 The separate publication of the essay makes it easy to overlook the place of pastoral power within the genealogy of governmentality and its central place in the power structure of governmentality as a whole.7 The 'Governmentality' essay focuses primarily on the differences between sovereignty and governmentality and does not therefore draw out pastoral power for special emphasis. This setting aside of pastoral power-in one essay-has generated a common understanding of pastoral power as a purely religious form of power, over, against and distinct from governmentality, which is understood as secular. …


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.