Tim Christiaens, The entrepreneur of the self beyond Foucault’s neoliberal homo oeconomicus, European Journal of Social Theory
First Published July 25, 2019
In his lectures on neoliberalism, Michel Foucault argues that neoliberalism produces subjects as ‘entrepreneurs of themselves’. He bases this claim on Gary Becker’s conception of the utility-maximizing agent who solely acts upon cost/benefit-calculations. Not all neoliberalized subjects, however, are encouraged to maximize their utility through mere calculation. This article argues that Foucault’s description of neoliberal subjectivity obscures a non-calculative, more audacious side to neoliberal subjectivity. Precarious workers in the creative industries, for example, are encouraged not merely to rationally manage their human capital, but also to take a leap of faith to acquire unpredictable successes. It is this latter risk-loving, extra-calculative side to neoliberal subjectivity that economists usually designate as ‘entrepreneurial’. By confronting Foucault with the theories of entrepreneurship of the Austrian School of Economics, Frank Knight, and Joseph Schumpeter, the Foucauldian analytical framework is enriched. Neoliberal subjectivation is not the monolithic promotion of utility-maximizing agents, but the generation of a multiplicity of modes for entrepreneurs to relate to oneself and the market.