Professor of Philosophy at The European Graduate School / EGS.
Mathieu Potte-Bonneville (b. 1968) is a contemporary French philosopher who specializes in the work of Michel Foucault. Potte-Bonneville is one of the directors of the Portail Michel Foucault Archives (“Michel Foucault Archives Portal”), which offers online digital records and bibliographical resources on this critical thinker. Potte-Bonneville was the President of the Assemblée collégiale du Collège international de philosophie (“Assembly of the International College of Philosophy”) from 2010 to 2013. He is also a lecturer at the École Normale Supérieure in Lyon, which is one France’s prestigious schools for humanities studies. Additionally, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville was a professor of philosophy at the Jean Jaurès College in Montreuil in the suburbs of Paris until the end of 2011. He also teaches an intensive media philosophy summer seminar at The European Graduate School / EGS.
Born in Thiers in Puy-de-Dôme, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville did his graduate studies at the University of Paris III (the Sorbonne Nouvelle) before completing his agrégationin philosophy (a competitive exam for recruiting professors, and often the gateway to PhD studies) and passing with top honors in 1991. His dissertation was defended in 2003 at the University of Lille III and was chaired by the French post-structuralist and Marxist philosopher Pierre Macherey. Potte-Bonneville’s thesis was entitled Michel Foucault, pensée des crises, pensée en crise (“Michel Foucault: Crisis Thinking, Thinking in Crisis”). Mathieu Potte-Bonneville has held a number of notable positions over the years. From 1992 to 1996, he was Attaché d’Enseignement et de Recherche (“Education and Research Administrator”) at the University of Grenoble II. From 1996 to 2000, Potte-Bonneville was a high school teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis on the outskirts of Paris. In addition, Potte-Bonneville is one of the co-founders of the political and cultural quarterly journal Vacarme (“Din”) and is a regular contributor to the radio show La Grande Table (“The Big Table”) on the national radio station France Culture.
Mathieu Potte-Bonneville’s research interests include the transformations of contemporary critical thought, the epistemology of the humanities, normativity and social change, as well as the analysis and comparison of various theories of action. More precisely, his research focuses on a systematic comparison of various “theories of practice” that surfaced in post-structuralist French thought in the 1980s. One of Potte-Bonneville’s aims is to contribute to the philosophical and political understanding of the concept of “use” as it manifests itself in various contemporary debates.
In 2004, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville published the book Michel Foucault, l’inquiétude de l’histoire (“Michel Foucault: the Anxiety of History”). There he describes how Foucault’s thoughts proceed by ruptures rather than linearly, the more common form in other historians’ work. According to Potte-Bonneville, Foucault’s thought constantly renews and re-invents its methods. For instance, Foucault went from a structuralist archeology of knowledge (see The Archaeology of Knowledge) to one redefined as a post-structuralist Nietzschean genealogy (see Discipline and Punish). Other examples can be seen in Foucault’s evolving concepts for analyzing discourse, starting with epistemes, then shifting to dispositifs (“arrangements”), and finally problematizations towards the end of his life. As Potte-Bonneville points out, what is at work here is not the elaboration of a system, but rather the underscoring of an undervalued concern. That is, the articulation of a need for an analysis of historical norms by identifying the crises from which they stem, over and against explanations of normative practices that defend these as natural. As part of this approach, Potte-Bonneville shows us Foucaut’s consistent attempt to eliminate any reference to the constitutive subject and instead argues for the active opening-up of the self in order to see the gap that is there and from which thinking becomes possible. Potte-Bonneville’s book presents a study of two phases in Foucault’s work. On the one hand, there is the description in Foucault’s 1972 book Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (“History of Madness”) of the birth of the asylum. On the other hand, there is his 1984 examination of Greek subjectification in Histoire de la sexualité, tome 2: L’usage des plaisirs (“The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure”). Potte-Bonneville explains that in these two phases we can see two instances of Foucault inventing of a new form of critique. That is, a kind of critical thinking which, instead of appealing to reason and principles, allows itself so-called mistakes that open itself to a singular stance in the game of knowledge and power. In this exposed and precarious position, each of these two books draws its power of intervention in what Foucault himself referred to as an “ethic of discomfort.” Indeed, as Potte-Bonneville points out, Foucault’s critical thought also represents a certain politics of uncertainty.
In 2007, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville co-wrote, together with with the French historian and president of the Michel Foucault Centre, Philippe Artières, a book entitled D’après Foucault: Gestes, luttes, programmes (“According to Foucault: Gestures, Struggles, Programs”). Here they examine the scope of influence of Foucault’s research. Was he a historian or a philosopher, a cultural theorist or an intellectual engaged in the struggles of his time? Because the trajectory of Foucault’s thought challenged such labels throughout his career, a contemporary reading of his work forces us to adopt a double look. Indeed, we must pay attention as much to the details of his arguments as to the forms of his critical interventions into the order of both discourse and public space. Potte-Bonneville and Artières’s book, therefore, naturally adopts two voices, and is situated between history and philosophy. The work brings together a series of reflections whose aim is to shed light, through a return to Foucault’s work, on his possible contribution to contemporary debates. The authors do this by acknowledging Foucault’s contribution to the understanding of an era which already differs from his. Some of the key questions explored here include: How did Foucault transform such gestures as teaching and writing, adding the requirement of their examination, but also the importance of anonymity and laughter? What contribution can Foucault’s works make to contemporary legal transformations as they pertain to the struggle for civil rights or the eruption of riots, or to the renewal of an ethics that does not hide in the invocation of normative principles? And how can we extract new horizons from our reading of Foucault? According to the two authors, we must first refer to a political history of writing and to a politics of uses and users. Critical readers as much as disciples of Foucault’s thought, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville and Philippe Artières successfully attempt to re-invent here, vis-à-vis Foucault’s insights and practices, a kind of fidelity without nostalgia, both in theory and in practice.