The question as to how narratives as implements
might contribute to the making and re-making of a nation and its society is not
something new. As African poet and socialist Leopold Sedar Senghor once
characteristically pointed out, narrative was a vital ingredient in the
building of a nation. He defines the nation as a “communion of souls”1,
collectivist in nature, rather than simply an aggregate of individuals.
Benedict Anderson would play on the same concept and call the nation an
while Jean-Ernest Renan would touch upon this quality and dub it as
Across all three definitions, one glaring similarity appears: all put stock on
the idea that it is the people that make a nation and establish it. Jumping off
from this, the social function of narratives then becomes clear: it is to
foster a sense of and instill an awareness of communion amongst the people. The
State, in a Foucaldian sense, therefore is an institution of power that
legitimizes itself by continuously fostering this sense of communality upon
which the survival and sustainment of a nation is premised upon. In its
endeavor to manufacture the sentiment of communion, the narrative proves itself
to be a necessary tool that gives the State power. This paper seeks to shed
light on the power relations between state and people, particularly in the context
of the Philippines, (inspired by Michel Foucault’s philosophy regarding power),
the use of narratives (inspired by Jean-François Lyotard’s discussion of the metarécits and petit récits in The
Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge) as manifestations of power
(Foucauldian perspective), and the necessity of a grand historical narrative in
fostering communion geared towards the building of a nation.
Establishing power in a country like the Philippines
arguably has never been (and still proves to not be) an easy feat to
accomplish. Aside from the archipelagic terrain that makes for a challenge when
trying to centralize bureaucratic operations, 384 years under three major
colonial powers has put it in the position of the “decolonized”, defined by its
constant attempts to assert itself as a legitimate national presence after the
departure of its colonizers. On top of that, it must be recognized that the
Philippines is, as Homi K. Bhabha points out, an entity of hybridity4 as
a result of the anxiety its colonial past has produced. Due to the diversity of
culture it already has (as displayed by the various indigenous groups that
populate it) as well as the cultures of its colonizers that have been
incorporated and appropriated into its own, the idea of unifying such a sundry
populace and being aware that the odds are stacked unfavorably against this
desire for unification is a legitimate concern. The surfacing of a governing,
political body therefore would make sense to proceed from this. And for that
reason, so emerges the state.
As appealing an entity the state is, understanding
it in the Foucaldian sense of power and relations proves to be a challenge.
According to Sawyer, Foucault “consistently pushed the state to the periphery
of his investigations in order to gather a fresh perspective on its place in
the generation, deployment and maintenance of power”5.
For the purpose of this paper, however, we will attempt to give a definition to
it based on remarks given by the philosopher himself across his lectures given
at Collège de France during January 10 and 31 in 1979. To begin with, he says, “The state is at once
that which exists, but which does not yet exist enough6.”
“The state is not a cold monster,” he adds, “it is the correlative of a
particular way of governing7.” “The
state is not a universal nor in itself an autonomous source of power. The state
is nothing else but the effect, the profile, the mobile shape of a perpetual
stratification (étatisation) or statifications,
in the sense of incessant transactions which modify, or move, or drastically
He then ends it by saying, “The state is nothing else but the mobile effect of
a regime of multiple governmentalities.9” From
all of these remarks, we can say that: (1) the state is not a fixed, coherent
body and is dependent on a process (statification) or multiple processes
(statifications) in order to maintain itself; (2) the state is not an object,
but a body and it does not stand outside or determine the deployment of power,
but is rather embedded in, as well as tied to, other possibly larger networks
of power; and lastly, (3) the state can only be understood within the basis of
what it does and not what it is, and it is through examining power
relations and investigating where it emerges that this can be done.
Upon relating the state to the nation, the misguided
notion that it is that which assert itself as a dominant institution of power
is already glaringly problematic. In a supposedly democratic society where
power is stressed to be something afforded to the people, to willingly subject
one’s self to the authority of the self seems to be contradictory. But
according to Foucault, this consensual subordination is precisely what happens
and is what legitimizes the presence of the state. This, he says, is a
manifestation of the power technique known as the pastoral power – unlike with
sovereign power that has visible figures of authority blatant in their exercise
of power and therefore prone to resistance, it is more subtle and appeals to
the subjects desire for “salvation” in the form of security, order, structure,
etc., which are promised provided they acquiesce to surrender10.
So as to bestow these perceived benefits and administer rights that the
subjects can enjoy, it is then necessary for the nation to be established in
order to grant the state’s subjects the privileges of citizenship. Seeing as
the very backbone and foundation of a nation is its people, the state
recognizes the need for communion amongst the populace. A tool then is required
by the state to evoke communality and create unity. This is now where narrative
Leopold Sedar Senghor. Nationhood and the
African Road to Socialism, 1962, p. 24.
Benedict Anderson. “Introduction.” Imagined Communities: Reflections on the
Origin and Spread of
Nationalism, 2006, p. 6.
Jean-Ernest Renan. “What Is A Nation?”. Becoming
National: A Reader, 1966, p. 41-55.
discriminatory effects of the discourse of cultural colonialism, for instance,
do not simply or singly refer to a ‘person’… or to a discrimination between
mother culture and alien culture…the reference of discrimination is always to a
process of splitting as the condition of subjection: a discrimination between
the mother and its bastards, the self and its doubles, where the trace of what
is disavowed is not repressed but repeated as something different—a
mutation.” Homi K. Bhabha. The Location of Culture, Routledge, 1994.
5 Stephen W. Sawyer. “Foucault and
the State.” La revue Tocqueville,
vol. 36, no. 1, 2015, pp. 143.
6 Michel Foucault. Birth of Biopolitics. Palgrave
Macmillan, 2008, p. 4.
7 ibid. p. 6.
8 ibid. p. 77.
9 ibid. p. 77
10 Michel Foucault. “The Subject
and Power.” Michel Foucault: Beyond
Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 1983, pp. 208-226.