Frieder Vogelmann, Reading Practices: How to read Foucault?, Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy Issue 2, 2016
Review of: Daniel Zamora and Michael Z. Behrent, Eds. (2016), Foucault and Neoliberalism. Cambridge: Polity Press, 152 pages; and Mitchel Dean and Kaspar Villadsen (2016), State Phobia and Civil Society. The Political Legacy of Michel Foucault. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 196 pages.
Does Foucault have sympathies for neoliberalism? Is his analysis of it therefore rather an “apology” (Becker, Ewald and Harcourt 2012: 4) than a critique? Is his theoretical and political antistatism complicit in the neoliberal dismantling of the welfare state? Such are the questions that have sparked a lively discussion in the last year, mostly on various web blogs but also in journals (Hansen 2015) – and in books, as the two under review here.
Set off by Daniel Zamora’s interview with the strange title “Can We Criticize Foucault?” in the journal Ballast (an English translation appeared in Jacobin), the bold and sweeping accusations that not only had Foucault himself been at least uncritical, if not supportive of neoliberalism, but also that “Foucault scholasticism” (Behrent 2016 : 54) is therefore implicated in the neoliberal strategy and that this constitutes Foucault’s “political legacy”, (Dean and Villadsen 2016) seem to have touched a sensitive spot within current Foucaultian scholarship. Although Johanna Oksala (2015) is fundamentally right in her assessment that “this debate itself seems misguided,” there is something to learn from this misguided debate because it brings out two questions mostly left unattended by all its participants (but see Erlenbusch 2015): How do weread Foucault? And how does Foucault read (neoliberals like Gary Becker, for example)? By way of reviewing first the English edition of Daniel Zamora’s Critiquer Foucault (2014), and second Mitchell Dean’s and Kaspar Villadsen’s monograph State Phobia and Civil Society (2016), I will argue that the questions of how we read Foucault and how Foucault reads are not sufficiently addressed.