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       mf : As we see it, your appeal carries a “foucauldian” relevance by virtue, above all, of your decision to undertake a struggle that unfolds on several fronts – all of which, incidentally, were addressed by Foucault himself. But how is it possible to make sense of the presence of intellectuals at the side of professionals from different sectors of industry? Does this new modality of political practice also involve a redefinition of intellectual engagement?

       C. Laval : We can say that the Appel des appels movement displaces, rather than taking up, Foucault’s picture of the role of so-called “specific intellectuals” in a given struggle. It has been absolutely verified that the struggles currently underway do not refer to the author of a great work and of a great doctrine who would provide mobilizations and forms of organization with the protection of a justificatory wing. The general intellectuals have become nothing but a sadly and flatly “mediatic” proposition. But the hypothesis of the “specific intellectual” has not received proper historical confirmation. Since the late 1980’s the reigning (wannabe) master  is the Expert who is at the service of the modernization of forms of domination, often recruited from out of the ranks of the militants and “brought around” to act and argue against the “professionals”, who are considered archaic, idle, elitist. The French administrative apparatus is full of these “ex” -communists, -maoists, -autonomes or -trotskyites who have gambled on “democratization”, “new public management”, “new technologies” or “human relations”, and have been able to come up with the noblest of reasons to hop over to the good side, the side of material and symbolic profit. They are the ones who can be found in the “modern” forms of social-democracy, which is to say in the weak and accommodating circles of left-wing neo-liberalism. These little modernizing experts are the ones who have confiscated what there is of “specific” in the professions, in particular by relying on the boom of the social sciences, which they deploy normatively in order to nourish a management that presents itself as “soft”. In a recent meeting of Appel des appels a psychoanalyist spoke, quite correctly, about these “ex-peers”, whom he defined as those former colleagues who have betrayed us…

The organizations of salaried workers, in particular the confederations of unions, do not yet know how, or they have not found the means to bring into life, collectives of contestatary specific intellectuals, that is to say, of professionals who would have been able to structure cooperative groups devoted to the production of critical analyses and counter-discourses within each one of the professional fields. Quite a few attempts have been made, among them one of which I have been a participant for the last ten years – the research institute of the FSU [Fédération Syndicale Unitaire] –, but, for reasons that should be examined seriously one day, we are still far from the target, although we should not despair. We should also look towards the professional associations, the small unions, in particular those in the fields of health, of psychic care, of justice, to ascertain the proliferation of these collectives of specific intellectuals. The union of the magistrates, who are very active participants in the ADA, should be regarded, in my eyes, as the model.

But, to return to the ADA, it is important to underline the two senses in which it is novel. The first regards the fact that those who recognize themselves in the movement are professional intellectuals, or more exactly members of intellectual or intellectualized professions. In this respect, I am not certain that they would recognize themselves within the qualification of intellectuals, even “specific” ones. The second has to do precisely with the fact that these professionals have it in mind not to deny but to reach beyond the “specificity” of their profession and their practices. They experience this specificity as a support and as a point of departure for action, as a possible point of convergence among professions, but also as something that could become a limitation and an obstacle if they were to remain cloistered within a corporative logic. Thus, it is not that they want to abandon the precise locus of their profession for the sake of more general, distant or noble issues. The objective is not only to increase in generality, to gain in universality, to acquire a wider legitimacy, along the lines of a classical schema in the dynamics of social movements; rather, the very practice of their struggle implies that they join those who, at their side, within a different service, another establishment, another social function, experience the same general logic, hear the same words, confront the same devices of power. If the ADA has found resonance, it is because it has posed from the very beginning the question of the general logic of reforms, which it designates as the “ideology of the economic man”. What is important, then, is the dimension of the transversal, rather than that of the specific. In this sense, the ADA is the experimentation of transversal intellectual collectives. The ADA is without a doubt the first manifestation of the collective transversal intellectuals.

       mf : Another plausible point at which your appeal comes into contact with Foucault’s thought (we have in mind above all the analyses of neoliberal governmentality contained in The Birth of Biopolitics) is the relation instituted between the model of human capital and the techniques of normalization. Is it possible to say that, far from encouraging an eclipse of what Foucault called the “psy device”, neoliberalism has “reinvested” the function of normalization, by inscribing it within a rationality that no longer passes through the opposition normal/abnormal, but which responds, rather, to a logic of reinforcement of the enterprise-individual (the self-empowerment model)? In the domain that your research is occupied with, namely that of educational policies, what is the importance of what Robert Castel has called “therapy for the normal”?

       C. Laval : The analysis of the normalization of conducts on the basis of the imperative of competitiveness is of considerable importance today. This  issue creates an opposition, which will no doubt become increasingly pronounced, between  those who accept, as an irreversible given, or even as a natural principle, the neoliberal logic and all cases in which social solidarities are rendered  precarious and jeopardized, along with the questioning of public services; and those for whom, on the other side, the strategic objective is the destruction of the “law of competition” proper to capitalism, to the extent that this generalized “law of competition” is precisely the principle of normalization of individuals, the source of neoliberal subjectivation, under its two forms, performance and unlimited enjoyment. One gets the sense that a good share of the social-democrats, a part of the ecologists and the centrists, will all converge around this axis of adaptation to conditions of globalization that are regarded as unavoidable. This new and umpteenth version of the “third way” is already trying to pass off as an innovation the old-fashioned concepts of “empowerment” and the avatars of “equal opportunity”, trying to make us forget the postulate of competition of all against all which lies at the basis of this sort of purportedly progressive propositions. To force each one to become “competitive”, and above all the most poor, or those who are excluded or handicapped, that is a program against which we revolt, because we are fighting against the constraint of competitiveness. We reject the lure of competition. “We prefer not to”.

This imperative of normalizing adaptation aims to reach every individual, because each one is required to be competitive, because no person is to remain apart from the competition. In this sense, if society is a kind of universal enterprise, it must also be a kind of generalized professional school and a global coaching institute. Robert Castel, whose work is in the lineage of Foucault’s, pointed out the advantages of this “human engineering” that aims to increase the performance of individuals and connected it, incidentally, to neoliberal governmentality. This transformation of the psy field into a vast workshop set to repair, recycle and “reinflate” subjects who are found to be performace-deficient is, precisely, what explains the massive mobilization, of the psy-people in our day, particularly around the Appel des appels.

In the case of education, the evolution in this direction is manifest. The entire educational system is built around the “paradigm” of “lifelong learning” advanced by the OECD and the European Commission. The reforms to the educational system, which follow the principle of employability and professional insertion, aim to endow the future salaried-self-enterprisers with competences fit to be sold at the job market, on the basis of a logic of  “active orientation” that prepares them to take on the task of permanently updating their employability, that is, in Marxist terms, the use value of their work force.


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