Active Intolerance: An Introduction

  • Perry Zurn
  • Andrew Dilts


At a press conference on February 8, 1971, Michel Foucault announced the creation of Le Groupe d’information sur les prisons (the Prisons Information Group [GIP]). Reading aloud what would retrospectively be dubbed the GIP manifesto, Foucault presented the GIP as an activist organization committed to amplifying the voices of those with first-hand knowledge of the prison, thereby creating a space for articulations and assessments from below. As the manifesto states:

We plan to make known what the prison is: who goes there, how and why they go there, what happens, what life is like for the prisoners and, equally, for the supervisory staff, what the buildings, diet, and hygiene are like, how internal regulation, medical supervision, and the workshops function; how one gets out and what it is, in our society, to be one of those who has gotten out.1

The GIP planned to do this by letting “those who have an experience of prison speak.”2 It was the GIP’s mission to honor and circulate subjugated knowledge about the prison.


Political Prisoner Black Panther Party Immigration Detention Hunger Strike Revolutionary Action 
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  1. 1.
    GIP, “(Manifeste du GIP)” (1971), FDE1, no. 86, 1043. Most of the GIP documents (like this one) were written collaboratively. We cite their location in Dits et Écrits for ease of reference, but we emphasize that the ascription of many of these texts to Foucault as author is problematic at best and a misattribution at worst.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Foucault, “(Sur les prisons)” (1971), FDE1, no. 87, 1043.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Daniel Defert, “Le Moment GIP,” Une vie politique: Entretiens avec Philippe Artières et Eric Favereau (Paris: Seuil, 2014), 56.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    For more on the role of the GIP in Foucault’s life and thought, see Didier Eribon, Michel Foucault (1989; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), esp. Chap. 16; David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault: A Biography (New York: Pantheon, 1993), esp. Chap. 11; and James Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), esp. Chap. 6.Google Scholar
  5. 10.
    See Marcelo Hoffman, “Foucault, the Prisoner Support Movement, and Disciplinary Power,” Foucault and Power: The Influence of Political Engagement on Theories of Power (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 15–46; Richard Wolin, “Foucault and the Maoists: Biopolitics and Engagement,” The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution, and the Legacy of the 1960s (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 288–349; and Julian Bourg, “Part One,” From Revolution to Ethics: May 1968 and Contemporary French Thought (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2007).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Foucault and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, “Enquête sur les prisons: brisons les barreaux du silence” (1971), FDE1, no. 88, 1045.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    See Brady Heiner, “Foucault and the Black Panthers,” City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action 11.3 (2007): 320, 330; Edmund White, Genet: A Bibliography (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1993), Chap. 18.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Le Mouvement de libération des femmes (the MLF) (founded in 1970), Le Front homosexual d’action révolutionnaire (the FHAR) (1971–1976), Le Groupe d’information sur les asiles (1972-present), and Le Groupe d’information et de soutien des immigrées (1972-present). For general information on this collaboration, see Daniel Defert, “L’émergence d’un nouveau front: les prisons,” FGIP-AL, 323 and 326, and “Le Moment GIP,” Une vie politique, 63–65. For more on the question of women in French prisons at the time, see Anne Guérin, “Et les femmes?” Prisonniers en révolte: Quotidien carcéral, mutineries et politique pénitentiaire en France (1970–1980) (Paris: Agone, 2013), 301–329. For additional material on FHAR, see Didier Eribon, “Resistance and Counterdiscourse,” Insult and the Making of the Gay Self (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 310–318; Frederic Martel, The Pink and the Black: Homosexuals in France since 1968 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999); as well as the works of FHAR leader, Guy Hocquenghem, including Homosexual Desire (1972; Durham: Duke University Press, 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 15.
    Foucault, “Je perçois l’intolérable” (1971), FDE1, no. 94, 1072; Daniel Defert, “Sur quoi repose le système pénitentiaire?” (1971), FGIP-AL, 129; Foucault, “Le grand enfermement” (1972), FDE1, no. 105, 1170.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Foucault, “(Sur les prisons),” 1044; GIP, “Préface” (1971), Enquête dans 20 prisons, FDE1, no. 91, 1064.Google Scholar
  11. 17.
    Foucault and Vidal-Naquet, “Enquête sur les prisons: brisons les barreaux du silence,” 1045; Foucault and Antoine Lazarus, “Luttes autour des prisons” (1979), FDE2, no. 273, 808.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    See Gayatri Spivak’s famous critique of Foucault, and precisely this work, in “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, ed. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 66–111.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Serge Livrozet is the author of several books, most famously De la Prison à la révolte (1973; Paris: L’Esprit frappeur, 1999), for which Foucault wrote the preface. See “Préface” (1973), FDE1, no. 116, 1262–1267.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    A significant exception to this trend is Nicolas Drolc’s recent documentary, Sur les toits-Hiver 1972: mutineries dans les prisons françaises (Les Mutins, 2013).Google Scholar
  15. 28.
    See “What Is an Author?,” ELCP, 113–138, and Speech Begins after Death, ed. Philippe Artières (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  16. 32.
    See, for instance, Foucault, “Against Replacement Penalties,” EEW2, 459–61; Foucault, “Le grand enfermement,” 1164–1174; “Alternatives to the Prison: Dissemination or Decline of Social Control?” Theory, Culture & Society 26.6 (2009): 12–24; “Pompidou’s Two Deaths,” EEW2, 418–22. Commenting on the legislative abolition of the death penalty in France in 1981, anti-death penalty attorney Robert Badinter recounts Foucault as stating, “Yeah, accomplishing [death penalty] abolition is pretty good but also easy; now the essential thing to do is get rid of prisons.” Quoted in Robert Nye, “Two Capital Punishment Debates in France: 1908 and 1981,” Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques 29.2 (2003): 223n37.Google Scholar
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    “Prisoners’ Demands,” Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity, April 3, 2011, See also Keramet Reiter, “The Pelican Bay Hunger Strike: Resistance within the Structural Constraints of a US Supermax Prison,” South Atlantic Quarterly 113.3 (Summer 2014): 579–611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 42.
    For more on the CAP, see Anne Guèrin, Prisonniers en révolte, and Christophe Soulié, Liberté surparoles: Contribution à l’histoire du Comité d’action desprisonniers (Bordeaux: Editions Analis, 1995).Google Scholar
  19. 46.
    Audrey Kiefer, Michel Foucault: Le GIP, l’histoire et l’action (Ph.D. diss., Université de Picardie Jules Verne d’Amiens, 2003), 91–92.Google Scholar
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    On the demands of thinking with incarcerated thinkers, see especially Tom Kerr, “Writing with the Condemned: On Editing and Publishing the Work of Steve Champion,” in Demands of the Dead: Executions, Storytelling, and Activism in the United States, ed. Katy Ryan (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2012), 74–88; Joy James, The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings (Albany: SUNY Press, 2005); Dylan Rodríguez, Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the U.S. Prison Regime (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004); Ryan, ed., Demands of the Dead; Eric Stanley and Nat Smith, eds., Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).Google Scholar
  21. 49.
    The notion of “abolition-democracy” comes from W. E. B. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction, in which he identified a post—Civil War model of democratic theory and practice focused not simply on the “negative” abolition of chattel slavery, but on its “positive” abolition. For applications of Du Bois’s insight in critical race theory and prison abolition, see Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004) and Angela Davis, Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005).Google Scholar
  22. 50.
    Such an approach can be found at the intersection of anti-racist and trans* liberation movements. See CR-10 Publications Collective, ed., Abolition Now! 10 Years of Strategy and Struggle against the Prison Industrial Complex (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2008); Stanley and Smith, Captive Genders; Elias Walker Vitulli, “Queering the Carceral: Intersecting Queer/Trans Studies and Critical Prison Studies,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 19.1 (2012): 111–123; Ryan Conrad, ed., Prisons Will Not Protect You (Lewiston: Against Equality Publishing Collective, 2012); Spade, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law; Beth E. Richie, Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation (New York: New York University Press, 2012); Liat Ben-Moshe, Che Gossett, Nick Mitchell, and Eric A. Stanley, “Critical Theory, Queer Resistance, and the Ends of Capture,” Death and Other Penalties: Philosophy in a Time of Mass Incarceration, ed. Geoffrey Adelsberg, Lisa Guenther, and Scott Zeman (New York: Fordham University Press, 2015), 266–295.Google Scholar
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    See the introduction to Sarah Tyson and Joshua Hall, Philosophy Imprisoned: The Love of Wisdom in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2014).Google Scholar
  24. 55.
    For important works that center the voices of incarcerated persons see also Joy James, ed. Imprisoned Intellectuals: America’s Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion (New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishing, 2003); Joy James, ed., The New Abolitionists: (Neo)Slave Narratives and Contemporary Prison Writings (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2005); Stanley and Smith, eds. Captive Genders; Adelsberg, Guenther, and Zeman, eds. Death and Other Penalties; Ayelet Waldman and Robin Levi, eds. Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives from Women’s Prisons (San Francisco: McSweeney’s Books, 2011). For more prison writings, especially those by currently or formerly incarcerated persons, see the bibliography from the Prison and Theory Working Group at Scholar

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© Perry Zurn and Andrew Dilts 2016

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  • Perry Zurn
  • Andrew Dilts

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