FOUCAULT, FIELDS OF GOVERNABILITY, AND THE POPULATION–FAMILY–ECONOMY NEXUS IN CHINA

TitleFOUCAULT, FIELDS OF GOVERNABILITY, AND THE POPULATION–FAMILY–ECONOMY NEXUS IN CHINA
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsTHOMPSON, MALCOLM
JournalHistory and Theory
Volume51
Pagination42-62
ISBN Number0018-2656
Keywordsarticle, biopolitics, Capital, China (1900-1949), China (1900–1949), Chinese history, Cultural Characteristics - history, Economics - history, family, Family - ethnology, Family - history, Family - psychology, Family Characteristics - ethnology, Family Characteristics - history, Family Planning Policy - economics, Family Planning Policy - history, Family Planning Policy - legislation & jurisprudence, family reform, Foucault, History, Markets, Michel, Michel Foucault, Mortality Rates, national economics, Peoples Republic of China, Philosophers, Population Dynamics - history, Population growth, Public administration, RACE, Race Relations - history, Race Relations - legislation & jurisprudence, Race Relations - psychology, Rationality, Rationalization, Reform, Reforms, Social Change - history, Social policy, Twentieth Century
Abstract

It was only in the early twentieth century that China discovered that it had a population, at least if a population is understood not as a simple number of people but instead in terms of such features as variable levels of health, birth and death rates, age, sex, dependency ratios, and so on—as an object with a distinct rationality and intrinsic dynamics that can be made the target of a specific kind of direct intervention. In 1900, such a developmentalist conception of the population simply did not exist in China; by the 1930s, it pervaded the entire social and political field from top to bottom. Through a reading of a series of foundational texts in population and family reformism in China, this paper argues that this birth of the Chinese population occurred as a result of a general transformation of practices of governing, one that necessarily also involved a reconceptualization of the family and a new logic of overall social rationalization; in short, the isolation of a population–family–economy nexus as a central field of modern governing. This process is captured by elaborating and extending Foucault's studies of the historical emergence of apparatuses (dispositifs) into a notion of fields of governability. Finally, this paper argues that the one-child policy, launched in the late 1970s, should be understood not in isolation from the imposition of the “family-responsibility system” in agriculture and market reforms in exactly that period, but as part—mutatis mutandis—of a return to a form of governing that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century.; It was only in the early twentieth century that China discovered that it had a population, at least if a population is understood not as a simple number of people but instead in terms of such features as variable levels of health, birth and death rates, age, sex, dependency ratios, and so on—as an object with a distinct rationality and intrinsic dynamics that can be made the target of a specific kind of direct intervention. In 1900, such a developmentalist conception of the population simply did not exist in China; by the 1930s, it pervaded the entire social and political field from top to bottom. Through a reading of a series of foundational texts in population and family reformism in China, this paper argues that this birth of the Chinese population occurred as a result of a general transformation of practices of governing, one that necessarily also involved a reconceptualization of the family and a new logic of overall social rationalization; in short, the isolation of a population–family–economy nexus as a central field of modern governing. This process is captured by elaborating and extending Foucault's studies of the historical emergence of apparatuses ( dispositifs ) into a notion of fields of governability. Finally, this paper argues that the one‐child policy, launched in the late 1970s, should be understood not in isolation from the imposition of the “family‐responsibility system” in agriculture and market reforms in exactly that period, but as part— mutatis mutandis —of a return to a form of governing that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century.; It was only in the early twentieth century that China discovered that it had a population, at least if a population is understood not as a simple number of people but instead in terms of such features as variable levels of health, birth and death rates, age, sex, dependency ratios, and so on-as an object with a distinct rationality and intrinsic dynamics that can be made the target of a specific kind of direct intervention. In 1900, such a developmentalist conception of the population simply did not exist in China; by the 1930s, it pervaded the entire social and political field from top to bottom. Through a reading of a series of foundational texts in population and family reformism in China, this paper argues that this birth of the Chinese population occurred as a result of a general transformation of practices of governing, one that necessarily also involved a reconceptualization of the family and a new logic of overall social rationalization; in short, the isolation of a population-family-economy nexus as a central field of modern governing. This process is captured by elaborating and extending Foucault's studies of the historical emergence of apparatuses (dispositifs) into a notion of fields of governability. Finally, this paper argues that the one-child policy, launched in the late 1970s, should be understood not in isolation from the imposition of the "family-responsibility system" in agriculture and market reforms in exactly that period, but as part-mutatis mutandis-of a return to a form of governing that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century. Adapted from the source document.; It was only in the early twentieth century that China discovered that it had a population, at least if a population is understood not as a simple number of people but instead in terms of such features as variable levels of health, birth and death rates, age, sex, dependency ratios, and so on-as an object with a distinct rationality and intrinsic dynamics that can be made the target of a specific kind of direct intervention. In 1900, such a developmentalist conception of the population simply did not exist in China; by the 1930s, it pervaded the entire social and political field from top to bottom. Through a reading of a series of foundational texts in population and family reformism in China, this paper argues that this birth of the Chinese population occurred as a result of a general transformation of practices of governing, one that necessarily also involved a reconceptualization of the family and a new logic of overall social rationalization; in short, the isolation of a population-family-economy nexus as a central field of modern governing. This process is captured by elaborating and extending Foucault's studies of the historical emergence of apparatuses (dispositifs) into a notion of fields of governability. Finally, this paper argues that the one-child policy, launched in the late 1970s, should be understood not in isolation from the imposition of the "family-responsibility system" in agriculture and market reforms in exactly that period, but as part–mutatis mutandis–of a return to a form of governing that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century. ; It was only in the early twentieth century that China discovered that it had a population, at least if a population is understood not as a simple number of people but instead in terms of such features as variable levels of health, birth and death rates, age, sex, dependency ratios, and so onas an object with a distinct rationality and intrinsic dynamics that can be made the target of a specific kind of direct intervention. In 1900, such a developmentalist conception of the population simply did not exist in China; by the 1930s, it pervaded the entire social and political field from top to bottom. Through a reading of a series of foundational texts in population and family reformism in China, this paper argues that this birth of the Chinese population occurred as a result of a general transformation of practices of governing, one that necessarily also involved a reconceptualization of the family and a new logic of overall social rationalization; in short, the isolation of a populationfamilyeconomy nexus as a central field of modern governing. This process is captured by elaborating and extending Foucault's studies of the historical emergence of apparatuses (dispositifs) into a notion of fields of governability. Finally, this paper argues that the one-child policy, launched in the late 1970s, should be understood not in isolation from the imposition of the family-responsibility system in agriculture and market reforms in exactly that period, but as partmutatis mutandisof a return to a form of governing that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century.