“On Being Subject to Conscience” by Monica Mueller (Portland State University)

While examining a technique of power, Michel Foucault critiques pastoral power that becomes particularly effective when it gains the ability to subject an individual through one’s self-knowledge and conscience. Rather than thinking of power as some quantifiable thing to be analyzed or exchanged, Foucault reads power as effected through relations, including the relationship of being subject and subjected to norms. This notion of relations of power in a social political world is influenced by Martin Heidegger’s treatment of the “call of conscience” in Being and Time. According to Heidegger, one feels, or hears the silent “call of conscience”, during an experience of the uncanny. Both accounts employ a relational account of conscience, yet conscientious reflection and action is an individuated affair. Hannah Arendt identifies conscience as an effect of one’s discourse in thinking. She derives this conception from the Socratic admonition to always be in harmony with oneself. Harmony is challenging given the discordant voices at stake in narratives of identity. The objective of this paper, however, is to investigate the “call” of conscience as discourses of power relations in order to invite the critical reflection required for conscientious resistance to oppressive norms.