Foucault and Freedom: On the Constitutional Efficacy of Practice

Adam Michiels


Throughout Foucault’s work we see the development of two distinct types of subject: the disciplinary subject and the aesthetic subject. The former is constituted entirely by disciplinary practices while the latter plays a role in its own constitution vis-à-vis practices of freedom and care of the self. In this paper I examine Foucault’s conception of freedom by providing an account of how a disciplinary subject is formed, how that subject makes a transition to an autonomous, aesthetic subject, and finally, how that subject relates both to itself and to its foundation in an overarching system of power-relations. Through mapping and ordering the processes found throughout Foucault’s works, I show with greater clarity the common aspects of the two polarized conceptions of how a subject is constituted and further illuminate the relationship between freedom, the subject and Foucault’s idea of power-relations. Drawing on the work of Christoph Menke, I argue that critique is the first autonomous act of a subject and acts as the tether between disciplinary subjectification and the self-constitution of practices of the self. Following from this, I establish a common link between the two subjects, conceptualized as constitutional efficacy, and show how it provides us with the meaning and nature of freedom in Foucault’s work: the main practice of freedom is the ongoing process of trying to raise one’s constitutional efficacy to an equivalent level of disciplinary practices.


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University of Victoria