Foucault News

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

Mark Olssen, Review of Foucault’s New Materialism: A Review of Thomas Lemke’s The Government of Things, Social Forces, 2022;, soac037, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soac037

I first wrote on Foucault as a complexity materialist in the 1990s and have continued to write on the subject (see Olssen 1996, 1999, 2008, 2015, 2017, 2021). In that Thomas Lemke’s book, The Government of Things: Foucault and the New Materialisms (New York University Press, 2021), supports my view for a materialist reading of Foucault, it constitutes a welcome addition to the literature. Lemke firstly outlines and critiques three “new” materialist approaches: that of Graham Harman’s Object Orientated Ontology (OOO); Jane Bennett’s “Vital Materialism,” and finally, Karen Barad’s “agential realism.” All three share a concern with “the productivity and dynamism of matter” (p. 4). Lemke’s criticisms of these approaches are insightful. OOO is seen as inadequate for representing nonhuman objects in isolation which translates into “an extreme form of subjectivism” (p. 14) and “essentialism” (p. 8) incapable of resolving the “theoretical tension between relationalism and foundationalism” (p. 8. Jane Bennett’s “vibrancy of matter” thesis is unsatisfactory for failing to theoretically articulate the ways in which matter is “vibrant,” or “active” (see Lemke, Chap. 2). This relates to what Bennett refers to as “thing-power,” to “nonhuman things,” and the “force of things” (Bennett 2010). It is unclear whether such a “force” is postulated as internal to “things” or as emerging from contingent relations in historically engendered configurations.
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