Heroes and cowards: genealogy, subjectivity and war in the twenty-first century

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

143 Downloads (Pure)


From the wars of Ancient Greece to the collapsing Islamic State in the present, the same, apparently timeless protagonists appear and their stories told and re-told: the heroes, cowards and other combatants. This article proposes a framework which combines a Foucauldian genealogical approach with his conception of the subject as both constituted in relation to code-oriented moralities, and creatively self-formed in relation to ethics-oriented moralities (1984, pp. 5, 25), to understand how it is possible to speak meaningfully of heroes and cowards in the age of the drone and the jihadist. Section one will explore the applicability of Foucauldian genealogy as the methodological basis for understanding present combatants in the context of war. The second section will assess Foucault’s ‘modes of subjectivation’ and ‘practices of the self’ (1984, p. 28), as a means of analysing the emergence of the subject of war over millennia, with emphasis on the ethical dimension of subjectivity that can be applied to heroes and cowards. Then the third section will use insights from Homer and Augustine to begin to illustrate how Foucault’s genealogical approach and his conception of ethical subjectivity combine to enable heroes and cowards to be meaningfully spoken of and better understood in the domain of war today. The purpose of such a study is to set out the basis on which political genealogy after Foucault can provide a nuanced conceptualization of subjectivity in modern war, as those subjects are formed, claimed, valorized and criticized by competing entities in contemporary political discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15
Pages (from-to)50-63
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Early online date27 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • WNU
  • war
  • genealogy
  • Foucault
  • subjectivity
  • drone
  • soldier
  • jihadist


Dive into the research topics of 'Heroes and cowards: genealogy, subjectivity and war in the twenty-first century'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this