Mitchell Dean, Michel Foucault’s ‘apology’ for neoliberalism. Lecture delivered at the British Library on the 30th anniversary of the death of Michel Foucault, June 25, 2014, Journal of Political Power, Volume 7, Issue 3, 2014, pages 433-442

Further info

This lecture evaluates the claim made by one of his closest followers, François Ewald, that Foucault offered an apology for neoliberalism, particularly of the American school represented by Gary Becker. It draws on exchanges between Ewald and Becker in 2012 and 2013 at the University of Chicago shortly before the latter’s death. It places Foucault in relation to the then emergent Second Left in France, the critique of the welfare state, and, more broadly, the late-twentieth-century social-democratic take-up of neoliberal thought. It indicates three limitations of his thought: the problem of state ‘veridiction’; the question of inequality; and the concept of the economy. It also indicates how these might be addressed within a general appreciation of his thought.

Clare O'Farrell:

Peter Gratton adds some further thoughts to the discussion.

Originally posted on PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR:

Here. I had been rounding up a post on this but never got around to it, and Stuart makes excellent and helpful points (with the modesty to suggest his views are revisable once the book referenced in the Zamora interview is published). Daniel Zamora’s original interview at Jacobin got picked up quickly by two “libertarian” sources at Reasonand at, of all places least likely to see a reference to Foucault, the Washington Post in the form of Daniel Drezner’s piece on “Why Michel Foucault is the libertarian’s best friend.” First, from Stuart Elden:

Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on. To suggest there is some sympathy to neoliberalism is one thing, to claim he was a neoliberal/libertarian or other labels is quite another. Compare these…

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Clare O'Farrell:

A really useful and informative post by Stuart Elden on the history of the reception of Foucault’s lectures on neoliberalism, in the light of recent activity on this front. He comments ‘Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on’.

Originally posted on Progressive Geographies:

FoucaultI’ve been away, but several people have been sending me links to a recent string of articles on Foucault’s supposed sympathies to neoliberalism. The start of the debate – in English at least – was the translation of an interview with Daniel Zamora at Jacobin. The interview relates to a book entitled Critiquer Foucault: Les années 1980 et la tentation néolibérale which has just been published. Clare O’Farrell rounds up the key pieces at Foucault News.

The book is a collective work, edited by Zamora. I’ve not read it yet, and suspect that very few of those commenting on it have either. Anything said now is necessarily provisional.

The first thing that struck me was the question – is this news? Foucault’s 1979 lectures on neoliberalism – the misnamed The Birth of Biopolitics – have been widely available for a decade. They were first published in French…

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Ahmad Mohammed Bani Salameh, Foucault’s Descending Individuation: The Unprivileged Under Panoptic Gaze in Shakespeare and Godwin, Dirasat: Human and Social Sciences, Vol 41, No 3 (2014)

Further info and link to full PDF


This paper presents new critical insights into two selected literary works from the English literature, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, in light of Michel Foucault’s “descending individuation” in Discipline and Punish. Through the lens of this theory, this study illumines these writers’ scathing critique of “descending individuation” in their cultures in which surveillance of individuals goes in an inverse relationship with their socio-economic statuses-namely, the lower one’s social and economic station is, the more liable s/he becomes to panoptic gaze. This paper shows these authors’ dissatisfaction with the flawed justice system of their culture, because surveillance, usually a disciplinary law-enforcement strategy, could backfire if enforced in a descending, prejudiced fashion.


Foucault, Descending, Individuation, Disciplinary, Surveillance, Godwin, Shakespeare

The recent interview with Daniel Zamora on neoliberalism is causing quite a stir in the English language world at least.

Brian Doherty, Concerned Leftists Rediscover Michel Foucault Might Not Have Been As Anti-Market as They’d Like on the reason.com site

Daniel W. Drezner, Why Michel Foucault is the libertarian’s best friend, on the Washington Post online site.

Élisabeth Roudinesco: The Living Thought of Michel Foucault
, Verso Books site, 13 November 2014
Élisabeth Roudinesco, author of Lacan: In Spite of Everything, Jacques Lacan & Co. and Madness and Revolution, among many otherson the writing of Michel Foucault, written for Le Monde in May:

Thirty years after his death, Michel Foucault (1926–1984) is famed the world over. Author of a very rich body of teachings whose scope ranges from his critique of norms and institutions to the history of prisons, medicine, madness and sexuality, this philosopher-historian has enticed liberals, social-democrats, erudite scholars and rebels of all persuasions. Each of these different groups, respectively, sees him as an ardent defender of the invention of the self, an unstinting reformist, a sumptuous commentator on ancient Greek and Roman texts, and a brilliant militant for minorities’ causes. In sum, Foucault’s work is more than ever on the order of the day, as demonstrated by the publication of the lectures he gave at the Collège de France between January and April 1981 with regard to subjectivity and freedom.

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kelly-politicsMark G. E. Kelly, Foucault and Politics. A Critical Introduction, Edinburgh University Press, Nov 2014

Further info

A clear and critical account of Foucault’s political thought: what he said, how it’s been used and its influence today

This book surveys Michel Foucault’s thought in the context of his life and times, utilising the latest primary and secondary materials to explain the political implications of each phase of his work and the relationships between each phase. It also illustrates how his thought has been used in the political sphere and examines the importance of his work for politics today.

One of the most prominent theorists in the contemporary humanities and social sciences, Foucault is known as a radical thinker who disturbs our understanding of society. He also presented a moving target, continually changing his concerns and his apparent position. So, until now, comparatively little attention has been given to his politics.

Key Features

  • Engages with Foucault’s entire corpus, from his first works right up to his posthumously published Collège de France lectures and the unabridged version of the History of Madness
  • Looks at the theoretical reception of Foucault’s thought and how it has been applied to real-world problems
  • Student-friendly text boxes highlight and explain key ideas

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