Foucault News

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

The Neoliberalism Controversy and Saint Foucault
Professor Mitchell Dean

Copenhagen Business School

PDF flyer

Tues 15 December 2015
3pm – 5pm

Room 116
Sir Llew Edwards Building (14)
The University of Queensland
St Lucia campus

There is currently something of a controversy concerning Michel Foucault and neoliberalism, sparked by a book of that title, edited by Daniel Zamora and Michael Behrent (Polity, 2015). The book has already achieved notoriety in its earlier French form, but it chimed with the recent claim by François Ewald, that Foucault had made an “apology of neoliberalism” in the late 1970s. Here I argue that this controversy signals the end to a rather de-contextualized and ahistorical view of Foucault as a felicitous combination of activist and radical critic of mainstream knowledge and institutions who somehow became the most influential figure in the humanities and social sciences. I offer some reflections both on the habitus and persona of high-status intellectuals and on the social and political contexts in France during a moment of historic rupture with the post-war settlement. I argue that it is possible to identify Foucault’s affirmative views on neoliberalism as an ideal set of principles of social organization, as a language of critique of the welfare state, and as an element of actual political forces within the French Left of the 1970s. I conclude by suggesting that the current discussion might signal a change of Foucault’s status today from “unsurpassable horizon” of critical thought to acknowledged classical thinker, with strengths and limitations, and a series of problems that might not be our own.

Mitchell Dean is Professor of Public Governance at the Copenhagen Business School. He is author of, among others, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (Sage, 1999/2010), The Signature of Power (Sage, 2013), and, with Kaspar Villadsen, State Phobia and Civil Society: the Political Legacy of Michel Foucault (Stanford University Press, 2015). He has published extensively in international journals and describes his work as at the nexus between political and historical sociology and political theory and philosophy.

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