So it is Important to Think

Every so often I revisit the work of Michel Foucault. His theories on power, truth, ethics, problematization and care are central to my own vision of practicing an ethics of care on and offline. Today, I came across Foucault’s “So it is Important to Think.” Here are two passages that I want to ruminate on and remember:

Stupid Institutions think too.

There is always a little thought occurring even in the most stupid institutions; there is always thought even in silent habits. Criticism consists in uncovering that thought and trying to change it: showing that things are not as obvious as people believe, making it so that what is taken for granted is no longer taken for granted. To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy (456).

a fragment of autobiography:

Every time I have tried to do a piece of theoretical work it has been on the basis of elements of my own experience: always in connection with processes I saw unfolding around me. It was always because I thought I identified cracks, silent tremors, and dysfunctions in things I saw, institutions I was dealing with, or my relations with others, that I set out to do a piece of work, and each time was partly a fragment of autobiography (458).

on self-help

Currently I’m (very slowly) reading Micki McGee’s Self-Help, inc. While I am a little disappointed by the lack of serious attention to race in relation to labor and being belabored, I find her book to be a useful introduction to the rise of self-help culture in post Industrial U.S. It’s fascinating to read the larger history of books that I used to see as kid on my dad’s bookshelves (or that he told me about in our many conversations); books like Robert Schuller’s Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do. Schuller was a favorite of my dad’s. I remember him watching Schuller’s Hour of Power, direct from the Crystal Cathedral in California. Ah, the memories!

In the chapter I’m reading right now, McGee is tracing the differences between Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins. While they have contrasting relationships to religion, ethics, values, both Covey and Robbins use them for achieving success in business. Robbins draws upon the tradition of televangelists, developing a system that focuses on personality and mind-power. Covey looks to Ben Franklin (his company is Franklin Covey after all) to develop a rational system based on improving the quality of one’s character. As I remember it, my dad was definitely more of a fan of the Covey approach. Does he have any Tony Robbins books? I don’t know, but I’m sure that he has Covey’s book and that in the 80s/90s, he spent a lot of time and money in Franklin planner stores. Did he still use them in 1997, when the Franklin planner became the Franklin Covey planner? 

Here is a passages that might be useful as I think through the relationship between self-help literature, virtue ethics and Foucault:

Rather than suggesting, as does Stephen Covey, that self-control should govern the self through the ascendance of mind over body (exercising “character,” or, in Covey’s metaphor for early rising,” mind over mattress”), Robbins imagines each of us as the disc-jockeys and film directors of our own lives, programming, rather than suppressing, our impulses. In this sense, Robbins leaves behind the Enlightenment notion of the reasonable creature and moves in the direction of a Nietzschean model of “giving style to one’s life” (McGee 62).

Earlier in the chapter, McGee spends some time discussing how self-help culture involves a turn from the spiritual to the therapeutic and aesthetic and a focus on treating the self as a work of art. I’m interested in thinking through how to read Foucault’s care of self and self-as-stylized against, beside and through this notion.

some experimentin’ with TUMBLR

I hope to continue my series on How I’m using Social Media to Make Trouble with an entry on TUMBLR soon. For now, here’s what I posted there just today:

The image above is my first experiment in a new series of troublemaking/troublestaying-inspired quotation posts. I’ve written about this quote before; it’s one of my favorites and part of my inspiration for linking care with curiosity and troublemaking.

writing day #1: when thinking up writing projects isn’t the problem…

This winter I get to devote a lot of time to writing. So exciting! I should clarify, however. This winter will be dedicated to collecting, shaping, polishing and producing (in a variety of forms and media). I’ve been writing on this trouble blog since May of 2009 and I’ve generated a lot of words, ideas and topics for more in-depth writing. Now I need to do something with those ideas. Okay, I have been doing things with these ideas. I’ve used posts in my teaching, in my few published articles, presentations, and workshops. But I haven’t done enough with shaping them into more coherent, in-depth stories/narratives. And I haven’t engaged with them fully enough to be able to let go of some of them. What does that mean? Maybe I should explore that question in another blog post.

Lately, I’ve been reading Brain Pickings a lot on my Flipboard (I can’t quite articulate why, but something on the site is a little off for me…). A couple of weeks ago, Maria Popova (the creator of Brain Pickings) did an entry on various bits of advice that design graduates gave to current students. The following two seem appropriate for me and my own thinking about how to proceed with my writing projects in 2012:

First: to create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill

Second: Finish What you Start. It May Seem Insignificant, But It Is Very Important That You Do It.

Troublemaker that I am, I have some problems with these pieces of advice (what gets left out when I choose? At what/whose expense am I choosing? Can anything ever really be finished?). But, I also see them as important reminders of the unproductive or damaging limits of making too much trouble–opening too many cans of worms–when thinking, writing, acting. This year I feel a strong need (and desire) to wrap up some projects, develop some thoughtful and tentative conclusions, and to create a few tangible products that I can use in other spaces outside of this blog. While I don’t want to stop questioning and being curious, I want to do more things with those questions and curiosity.

Over the next couple of days, I’m planning to spend some time thinking through which ideas to take up. Here’s one idea that I will write on, and not just because I have to–it’s for a possible workshop in June:

title: Shifting from Branding to Caring: Using Blogs in Feminist and Queer Classrooms to Resist the Online Crafting of a Neoliberal Self

abstract: This paper explores how using blogs in queer/feminist classrooms can provide students with spaces/tools for resisting, rejecting and transforming the neoliberal model of consumer-citizen-as-brand that is increasingly promoted as the primary way in which to cultivate the self online. Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s notion of the care of the self and various feminist and queer pedagogies, I argue that blogs can be used to encourage students to engage in practices of caring for the self and/with/in the midst of others. These practices include: making visible the process of becoming implicated in knowledge, negotiating (without eliminating) the complexity of multiple subjects and one’s own subject positions, making and staying in a state of trouble, and participating in collaborative knowledge production.

This project builds off a lot of my research and thinking about care and its possible practices online. I still need to think through how much I want to use Foucault here (in fact, as I look through this abstract I wonder if it might not be way too ambitious). Here are a few sources on branding that I’ve started reviewing:
Here’s one more bit of advice (and one of my favorite posters). I wish I would have followed it this morning.

Who cares? I do

It seems as if the theme for this summer is self-care and care of the self. I have brought it up several times on this blog, with entries about (feminist ethics of) Care of Self (help) sources,  and personal reflections on my own need for care outside of the academy. It’s also implicit in my thinking through what a troublemaking app might look like. And, it has been a central part of my everyday (or, every other day) practices as I train to run a 5K in September (using a couch to 5K app that I wrote about briefly).

Self-care/care of self brings together many different ideas that I’m thinking about right now, including:

Virtue ethics VE is all about caring for the self; practicing/developing virtue involves cultivating certain attitudes and engaging in specific practices that promote living well (whatever that means…my current manuscript includes an entire chapter on critically thinking through the problems and possibilities of flourishing/living well as ethical goals, and on how living well relates to the good/livable/bearable/unbearable life).

Troublemaking/troublestaying Troublemaking and troublestaying are also about care: paying attention, being curious, caring about the world, and caring for self through self-critique and critical and creative self-reflection. I’ve certainly written about care a lot on this blog. Just check out my care tag.

Foucault Foucault is an important source as I think through my own vision of troublemaking as a virtue and its relation to feminist ethics. Foucault’s later writing on care of the self (and self-writing and technologies of the self) is central to my own imaginings of what an ethics of care that isn’t necessarily careful (or comforting) might look like. Plus, my biggest inspiration for troublemaking as a virtue is Judith Butler; she draws a lot of inspiration for her ethical projects from Foucault.

Feminist ethics of care One key tradition within feminist ethics is a feminist ethics of care. I am interested in positioning my own vision of feminist ethics beside/in relation to (but not necessarily within) this tradition. I aim to trouble and rethink what care could me and how it might connect with making and staying in trouble (yes! as a troublemaker, I like putting things together–like care and trouble–that seem to be radically opposed).

Self-help literature/products Self-help books and products (smartphone apps, websites, etc) are promoted as ways to care for your Self. In some ways, I was raised on self-help speak. Not by my mom; she liked to tell family stories and talk about literature, American history and art. But by my dad. An ordained Lutheran pastor with an MBA (and a PhD in church history with a dissertation on Finnish radicals, unions and copper mining in the upper peninsula of Michigan–what an interesting mix, huh?), he didn’t just read self-help books (a couple favorites: The Power of Positive Thinking, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff) he used their slogans to shape our family traditions. Every Christmas he would ask us to go around the table and answer: What 3 things did you accomplish this year? What 3 things do you want to accomplish in the upcoming year? I must confess that I liked this tradition, which ended a few years before my mom died, even as I dislike self-help books and their simplistic, business-oriented frameworks. I am not interested in using self-help logic (framework/language) in my articulation of troublemaking as a form of (self)care. However, I do need to come to terms with how self-help literature has shaped my thinking by engaging with it directly. Plus, I like making trouble for self-help (by disrupting it, playing with it, uprooting it) because I see its production of easy, soundbite answers that encourage us to stop thinking and just start doing as having seriously harmful effects for critical and creative thinking, feeling and engaging.

Blog writing/blogging For some time now, I have been interested in reflecting on how blog writing contributes to the development of moral/ethical selfhood. Based largely on my own experiences as a blogger, I see blog writing and engaging to be important ethical practices that encourage us to make/stay in trouble, and to be curious, critical and creative. These practices can also enable us to care for our selves–for example, writing/engaging on my blog has played a central role in my efforts to grieve/process/cope with my mom’s death in 2009. What would it mean to think of a blog (or blogging) as more than a space for superficial confession–a dumping ground for every thought and feeling that you might have, but as a critical and creative space that enabled you to engage in ethical practices that contributed to your own health and well-being?

I am in the process of researching/writing a chapter for my manuscript on care and troublemaking. One focus of this chapter will be on putting Foucault and his care of self into conversation with a feminist ethics of care (and also explicitly and/or implicitly bringing in the above resources). Right now, I’m especially interested in devoting attention to what Foucault’s care of the self is. Here are some sources that I will review in the next few days (or weeks, everything seems to take longer in the summer–especially when it is August 1st and I haven’t started prepping for the one class that I’m teaching this fall):

  1. Foucault, Michel. “Self-writing” in Ethics
  2. Foucault, Michel. “Technologies of the Self” in Ethics.
  3. Foucault, Michel. “The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom” in Ethics.
  4. Crampton, Jeremy W. “Part II: Technologies of the Self” in The Political Mapping of Cyberspace. (includes a section entitled: “Resistance: blogging as self-writing”)
  5. Fletcher, Peter. “Why I’m Interested in Self-Writing
  6. Theory Teacher’s Blog. “The Ethics of Teaching: Some Small Advice for New Teachers”
  7. Heyes, Cressida. “Foucault Goes to Weight Watchers” in Hypatia (excellent article. wish I could get the image of Foucault at Weight Watchers out of my head…)
Note: When I first started writing this entry, I had planned to give a brief introduction to the topic of Foucault and care of the self and then a close reading of “self-writing.” That will have to wait for later. For now, I’m glad that I was able to articulate some of my thoughts about influences for my chapter.