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Child in the BalanceZombies and Consciousness
Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power opens with a stunning suggestion: just as the humans in the Hollywood movie, "The Matrix," we too may be altogether deluded in our understanding of the human situation. More precisely, we may be deluded in what we take as reality as a direct result of the trust that we place in the expert knowledge and technologies that we count on to explain to us those human realities--psychology.
Psychology, Derek Hook's fascinating challenge runs, through its practices and the concepts that justify its practices, may be functioning, not so much as the guardian discipline that safeguards human well-being (as we trust that it does), but as the power broker that constructs and sustains the systems of domination and oppression that preserve the conditions of well-being for some (those in power) and deny those conditions to others (those who are disempowered). The technologies of psychological expertise are complex, multifaceted and elaborate; therefore we may not readily recognize that the specific forms of understandings and experiences that they function to construct and maintain support not simple "reality," but a certain ideology, an ideology that buttresses the status quo of power relations, while helping the latter to maintain the illusion that the structural violences that plague the system are unfortunate aberrations attributable to individual deviance, rather than fundamental, predictable, and perhaps even desired aspects of the system.
In this book, Hook launches his analysis of the secret collusion between science and politics from the groundbreaking work of philosopher Michel Foucault, whose detailed genealogical studies of the institutions of modern societies reveal that attitudes about normalcy and deviance, whether in discourses about sexuality, criminality, or mental health, do not represent, as we suppose and the sciences imply, timeless truths that the sciences "discover" through their professional diagnostic practices, but attitudes and prejudices that have developed over time in response to particular historical factors, including political interests. Foucault set out to show that knowledge, in any age, is intricately tied up with power, which collusion he indicates by the collapsed notation "Power-Knowledge" (pouvoir-savoir). This collusion is not easily seen because the sciences' claim to "objectivity" effectively masks it.
Hook draws Foucault's findings to their logical conclusions and then plots where this line of audacious thought might go from here. What emerges is a compelling line of analysis. If the goal of the social sciences is to understand and transform social relations for the sake of lessening and relieving human suffering, then the notion that psychology is part and parcel of the ideological structures that shape the modern consciousness with certain understandings (about which behaviors are normal and desirable, and which are deviant and requiring corrective), which cause some people to suffer and others to profit, should give us pause as to whether we should count on that discipline to help in diagnosing and treating modern problems, let alone dismantling the ideological structures that they ostensibly critique, but secretly support.
In Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power, Hook sets out to trace the series of complex links between psychology and power, to delineate and then extend, into other arenas of thought and power, Foucault's manifold contributions to "the work of critique," i.e. the historical and discursive analysis of asymmetrical relations of power and knowledge. Hook elucidates Foucault's critical legacy in terms of three analytical frameworks--critical discursive critique, genealogy, and heterotopology. Hook is not interested solely to expose the compromised foundations of psychology, but he offers Foucaultian analytics as an alternative methodology for exploring and possibly averting the discipline's collusion with power. He recommends that an analytics of power be turned back upon the discipline by researchers in the qualitative psychology tradition to open alternative lines of conceptualizations and to expose novel critical orientations that might cast new light on psychological questions regarding deviance and abnormality or notions of place-identity.
Hook advances a series of methodological pragmatics that might help in the execution of these tasks. Then he applies Foucaultian conceptual motifs to grapple with a specific psychological problem, analyzing psychological forces ("affects"), not as the simple outcome of power, but as "conduits" or "conductors" of power. Hook tests the methodology, by applying the analytics of affect to the subject of racism. This leads him to some compelling insights. For one thing, though we may argue that our modern systems are an improvement over the crude ideological dramaturgy of earlier political orders, that does not mean that our systems are not better suited to "discipline" the subjectivities of their citizenry and install distinctive technologies of affect. Questions about which political forms are more effective in structuring the parameters of desirable subjectivity, suggests Hook, may only help to mask the subtleties of the ways in which knowledge colludes with power. And do not, asks Hook, questions about political forms "underestimate the extent to which our everyday subjectivities are already technologies?" (p. 254). Hook concludes that what we most need to appreciate is the extent to which "our subjectivities are always already informed by techniques and strategies, by multiple rules, codes, and habituated patterns of being--never simply our own--that mobilize assumptions of what is positive, that become intuitive, automatic" (p. 254).
For Foucault fans, Hook's new book is a wonderful and long-awaited "good read." It is one of those books you read very slowly, underlining copiously, and jotting comments in the margins--Yes! and Brilliant insight! I admit I was a little disappointed, however, when Hook did not close the book with the obvious, if catastrophic, conclusion: that psychology's truths, developed in response to specific historical situations and compromised by their service to power, need a radical overhaul; that everything we believe to be "abnormal," "criminal" or "deviant" needs to be freshly assessed, as do our confident ideas about our systems of "justice" and our "mental health" services. One needs only look to the U.S. public education system, not to mention their prison gulag network, to appreciate that certain kinds of power/knowledge systems create certain kinds of subjectivities with predictable character traits, foreseeable talents and flaws, and (perhaps predicted) potential for success in the society. Moreover, this brilliant book not only gives us a new understanding of how racism and other affects come to proliferate across populations, but it helps us to see that the very things that come to be named grave "problems" to be aggressively addressed in a society--petty theft, alcoholism, drug use--are arbitrary and power-driven, and might be seen otherwise--poverty, racism, and lack of universal healthcare.
© 2011 Wendy C. Hamblet
Wendy C. Hamblet, Associate Professor of Liberal Studies, North Carolina A&T State University.