Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Sanders, G. Help for the soul: Pastoral power and a purpose-driven discourse, Journal of Cultural Economy, Volume 5, Issue 3, August 2012, Pages 321-335

This paper attempts to collapse the oft-reified demarcation between economistic ideologies and personal programs for self-improvement. In doing so, one can see the symbiotic relationship that exists between what are ostensibly distinct and separate social arenas. I argue that the porosity between discourses of self-improvement, religion, and capitalist expansion is achieved largely through techniques of ‘pastoral power’. Foucault conceptualized pastoral power to represent the circulation of productive micro-power among individuals. Pastoral power is especially effective in a neoliberal era marked by the retrenchment of the state apparatus in securing the good and welfare of the citizenry and the emphasis on the individual to secure her own happiness and wellbeing. By examining one specific case, the popular and influential Purpose-Driven Life program, one can see pastoral techniques at work: the valorization of highly individualistic subjects who are desirous of novelty and fulfillment; the tutelage of the good and charitable shepherd who is concerned with the salvation of each individual member of the flock; and the situational context that situates all of them.

Author keywords
commodification; personhood; self-help; theory; value

One thought on “Help for the soul: Pastoral power and a purpose-driven discourse (2012)

  1. dmfant says:

    see Tanya Luhrmann’s related work on being trained to “hear” God:

    Click to access web

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