Foucault News

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

Governing by Affect.
Subjectivity and control in times of post-industrial economy

Workshop, 22–24 June, 2017

Collaborative Research Center
SFB 1171 “Affective Societies”
Freie Universität Berlin



In our networked societies, the ‘social’ and the ‘affective’ are being discovered as central to governing individual behavior. New instruments in marketing, corporate governance, politics and public administration address the individual less as a rationally deliberating, but as a socially and affectively co-dependent actor. Media interfaces are set up to gain and capitalize real-time knowledge of individuals’ affective states and social ties. Behavior is modulated by techniques such as ‘nudging’, social marketing and affective designs – in modern Human Resource Management, on social media platforms, in our ‘smart cities’. Together with the widespread adoption of Big Data technologies, these developments amount to a paradigm shift in governance that is yet to be understood by critical social and political philosophy. Based on a range of interdisciplinary contributions, our workshop will discuss this complex field of phenomena, mapping the challenges of critical social theory in the age of ‘affective societies’.

The goal of this workshop is to analyze these trends specifically with respect to emerging new modes of subjectivation: this is the production and framing of subjectivity based on affective governance.

Given the various shifts in the way human relations are shaped in digitized media and economics, the question becomes pressing: Can the philosophical notion of the subject be re-articulated as a tool for critical analysis? Broadly in line with the late Foucault, this implies:

In what way is governance by affect not merely acting externally upon its individuals, but through them by way of inducing complicit modes of reflexivity? Can we uphold a notion of the subject as addressee and agent of critique? Or is self-reflexive subjectivity being sidelined in the moment when power shifts from producing individ- uals to producing affects and relations?

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