Foucault News

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

Foucault, Governmentality, Context: Contextualised analysis power (27 – 29 October 2014)

PhD School
Enroll no later than
Monday, 15 september, 2014 – 23:45


Mitchell Dean, Professor of Public Governance, CBS/University of Newcastle, Australia,

Michael Behrent, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Appalachian State University

Kaspar Villadsen, Associate Professor, Department of Management, Politics & Philosophy, CBS, Denmark.

Marius Gudmand-Høyer, Post.Doc. Scholar, Department of Management, Politics & Philosophy, CBS, Denmark.

Mads Peter Karlsen, Post.Doc., Institute of Theology, Copenhagen University.

Course coordinator
Kaspar Villadsen & Mitchell Dean

Only PhD students can participate in the course.

A precondition for receiving the course diploma is that the student attends the whole course.


The course will provide the participants with:

a) An updated introduction to key analytical concepts in the Governmentality literature, and the potentials and weaknesses of these concepts will be discussed.

b) Possibilities for supplementing the governmentality approach with other analytical sources will be discussed.

c) Furthermore, a detailed consideration of the current status of governmentality studies and post-Foucauldian studies will be given, in particular in light of recent claims for a crisis of critique.

d) Finally, suggestions will be presented on how to elaborate or move beyond the framework of governmentality by activating concepts of bio-power and sovereignty, reconsidering the social and notions of society, and focusing on international dimensions of governmentality.

In brief, the course aims to provide participants with a thorough understanding of the governmentality framework, that is, its analytical possibilities, its current status, and its possible directions of development.


Over the last 20 years, post-Foucauldian “governmentality studies” have come to growing prominence. These studies have been effective in critically analysing new types of liberal government, in particular by demonstrating ‘the active side of laissez faire’. They describe how the motto of ‘pulling back the state’ has been accompanied by a series of governmental strategies and technologies aimed at shaping institutions and subjects in particular ways. Perhaps most noticeably, they have presented a diagnosis of a proliferation of regimes of enterprise and accounting in new and surprising places. But a wide range of other domains have been subjected to governmentality analysis spanning from genetic screening and risk calculation, new crime prevention strategies, to health promotion by self-responsibilisation. To be sure, the concepts in governmentality studies continue to constitute effective tools for critical social analysis.

Nevertheless, in recent years critical objections have been raised against the governmentality approach. It has been noted by some observers that the Foucauldian and post-structuralist language, originally used for critical academic purposes, seems to be increasingly appropriated by ‘the powers’ that were the object of such critique. Most notably, this point has been voiced (although in different versions) by Zizek, Boltanski, and Hardt & Negri. These thinkers suggest that a post-structural ’politics of difference’ increasingly seems to be an integral part of the ways, in which institutions and companies organise themselves. If modern liberal government has begun to speak for the dissolution of binary essentials, the destabilisation of rigid power structures, the creation of space for the subject’s self-transforming work upon itself, and so on. In light of this development, we need to think of ways to revitalise the Foucauldian concepts of critique/criticism or to push a critical perspective beyond Foucault. A central theme of the PhD course is the search for effective analytical strategies for critique of power (some perhaps less noticed) in the works of Foucault and other writers within and outside the governmentality tradition.

The course gives importance to the need for contextualizing both the concepts that we use for making analysis, both in terms of being aware of how concepts emerge in a particular historical-political context that shape them. We shall hence discuss how to do intellectual history on recent thinkers, including Foucault himself. Foucault’s most intensive reflection on political questions was in the 1970s.  Given that the key source of his reflections here are lectures and interviews, we should attend to this reflection less as elaborated theory and more as a kind of performance in a definite context with specific interlocutors. A Foucault very different from his Anglo-American decontextualized reception as a theorist of omnipresent micropowers emerges if we do so. There are of contemporary events and political currents: European terrorism, state socialism, French Maoism, the Iranian Revolution, the prospects of a Socialist government in France, etc. But there are specific interlocutors including his assistants (Kreigel, Ewald), seminar participants (Pasquino, Procacci, Rosanvallon), colleagues (Donzelot, Castel, Deleuze), auditors, political fractions such as the Second Left and Italian autonomist Marxists.  If statements should be read in terms of what they do as much as what they mean, then the diverse trajectories of these thinkers are also relevant to reading Foucault’s political thought.

The course requires the submission of a paper that deals with conceptual problems or analytical designs in relation to Foucauldian inspired/governmentality studies. Furthermore, papers that apply Foucauldian concepts to empirical problems in a variety of domains are welcomed. It is also possible to participate on the basis of an abstract stating the theme of the PhD project. An abstract should be approximately 1 page, whereas a paper should be approx. 5 pages. In both cases, the PhD student should state his main analytical challenge/concern at his/her current stage in the project.

Papers/abstracts must be in English. Deadline for submission is 17 October 2014.

Teaching style 

The course will use lectures given by specialists in the field, roundtable discussions, and presentation of papers from PhD students.

Participation in the course requires a paper with an outline of PhD project or parts of the project. See more details above.

Lecture plan

Monday 27 October
10:00-12:30: Kaspar Villadsen: Analytical approaches in governmentality studies

12:30-13:30: Lunch

13:30-16:00: Mitchell Dean: Concepts and signatures of power in Foucualt

16:00-17:00: Kaspar Villadsen & Mitchell Dean: Papers from PhD scholars

Tuesday 28 October
10.00-12.30: Michael Behrent: Foucault and the context for his thought on power.

12:30-13:30: Lunch

13.30-15.00: Kaspar Villadsen: Technologies and organisations in Foucault

15.00-17.00: Kaspar Villadsen, Michael Behrent & Mitchell Dean: Papers from PhD scholars

Wednesday 29 October 
10:00-11:30: Mads P. Karlsen: Foucault’s Maoist militancy

11:00-12:30: Mitchell Dean: Foucault and neoliberalism

12.30-13.30: Lunch

13:30-15:00: Marius Gudmand-Høyer: Dispositive analysis: the key concept in Foucault?

15.00-16.00: Kaspar Villadsen, Mitchell Dean, Michael Behrent: Papers from PhD scholars

16:00-17:00: Kaspar Villadsen & Mitchell Dean: Concluding discussion and evaluation

Course literature 

Behrent, M. (2009) “Liberalism Without Humanism: Foucault and the Free Market Creed”, Modern Intellectual History, 6: 539-568.

Behrent, M. (2010) “Accidents happens: François Ewald, the ‘antirevolutionary Foucault”, and the intellectual politics of the French welfare state”, Journal of Modern History 82 (3): 585-624.

Dean, M. (2013) The Signature of Power: sovereignty, governmentality and biopolitics. Sage: London, chapters 2.3.4.

Dean, M. (2014) “Rethinking neoliberalism”, Journal of Sociology 50 (2): 150-163.

Dean, M. (2010) Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Societies (2nd edition). London: Sage (especially Introduction to Second Edition and chapter 1).

Foucault, M. (2007) Security, Territory, Population. New York: Palgrave Macmillan (especially lecture 1 & 5).

Foucault, M. (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan (especially lecture 12).

Deleuze, G. (1990) “Postscript on Control Societies”, in: G. Deleuze: Negotiations 1972-1990. New York: Columbia University Press

Karlsen, M.P. & Villadsen, K. & (2008) “Who Should Do the Talking? The proliferation of dialogue as governmental technology”, Culture & Organization, 14(4).

Karlsen, M.P. & Villadsen, K. (2014) “Investigate ‘The Intolerable’: Foucault’s Maoist inspirations”, New Political Science (forthcoming).

Mirowski, P. (2012) Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: how neoliberalism survived the financial meltdown. London: Verso, chs 2, 3.

Raffnsøe, S. & Gudmand-Høyer, M. The Dispositive, Unpublished article.

Villadsen, K. (2011) “Modern Welfare and ‘Good Old’ Philanthropy”, Public Management Review, 13(8): 1057–1075.

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