Archive for the ‘Debates’ Category

Mitchell Dean, Foucault must not be defended, History and Theory, Volume 54, Issue 3, pages 389–403, October 2015

DOI: 10.1111/hith.10767

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This paper responds to and comments on many of the themes of the book under consideration concerning Foucault and neoliberalism. In doing so, it offers reflections on the relation between the habitus of the intellectual and the political contexts of action and engagement in the case of Foucault, and the strengths and weaknesses of his characterization of his work in terms of an “experimental” ethos. It argues that it is possible to identify his distinctive views on neoliberalism as a programmatic ideal, as a language of critique of the postwar welfare state, and as an element within actual political forces such as the French “Second Left” of the 1970s. It examines the legacy of Foucault in “governmentality studies” and argues for attentiveness to the different intellectual positions, and their potentially divergent political consequences, within this school of thought. It concludes by suggesting that the discussion currently taking place, and in part inaugurated by this book, might signal a change of his status in the humanities and social sciences today from “unsurpassable horizon” of critical thought to acknowledged classical thinker, with strengths and limitations, and a series of problems that might not be our own.



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Editor: See Colin Gordon’s response from the comments section of this blog post below.

Michel Foucault’s Iranian Folly
Jeremy Stangroom on Michel Foucault’s political naiveté, TPM Online (The Philosopher’s magazine)

Everywhere outside Iran, Islam serves as a cover for a feudal or pseudo revolutionary oppression… The Left should not let itself be seduced by a cure that is perhaps worse than the disease.”

Foucault, unfortunately, was precisely seduced by the popular uprising in Iran, which he claimed might signify a new “political spirituality”, with the potential to transform the political landscape of Europe, as well as the Middle East.

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Guest – Colin Gordon, Oxford, UK
[Editor:Foucault’s birthday was 15 October 1926]

Your site’s taste in posthumous birthday offerings is duly noted.

Mr Stangroom is a promising parrot – good at recycling other people’s smears; but short on forensic and reading skills – checking allegations against evidence. Or perhaps one should say he is a talented manipulator of evidence, like the American authors he relies on. The second text he quotes – including the words on the rights of women – is not Foucault’s manifesto for Iranian government, it is a summary of comments by a senior Shi’ite cleric, forming part of Foucault’s newspaper reports on ideas current in Iran at the time of an uprising which mobilized overwhelming popular support – a fact which at the time impressed many international observers besides Foucault. Foucault stated more than once before the fall of the Shah’s regime that there were disquieting aspects to the agenda for Islamic government and that he did not find its assurances about human and minority rights entirely reassuring. He did not endorse a Khomeini regime, either before or after the fact. He did not recommend ‘political spirituality’ as an elixir for the West. He did, on the other hand, refuse to treat all contemporary manifestations of Islam with uncomprehending or a priori contempt – a position which continues to earn comments such as these from some philosophers and other trolls.

By the way, the first text Stangroom has managed happens to open with a mistranslation. Foucault did not write that the Iranian situation could be understood as a great joust – he wrote that it seemed at that point in time to be tied to (‘semble être suspendue à’) the highly visible public confrontation between two personal figures, Shah and Khomeini. Anyone who bothers to read Foucault’s reports will find that they contained a broad and nuanced picture of the sociopolitical, economic and cultural background and components of the uprising, a shrewd analysis of the unfolding conflict, and an accurate assessment of the survival prospects of the regime – at a time when the New Left’s renowned middle eastern expert, the late Fred Halliday, was predicting it could stay in power for decades.

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Forum: Foucault and Neoliberalism, History and Theory, Volume 54, Issue 3, October 2015.

1. Introduction (pages 367–371)
Matthew Specter

2. Can the critique of capitalism be antihumanist? (pages 372–388)
Michael C. Behrent

3. Foucault must not be defended (pages 389–403)
Mitchell Dean

4. Neoliberalism through Foucault’s eyes (pages 404–418)
Serge Audier

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Just in case you missed it: This post, Searching for Foucault in an Age of Inequality posted yesterday on Foucault News was the latest entry in the neoliberal debate.

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Searching for Foucault in an Age of Inequality

Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins and Alexander Arnold on Critiquer Foucault: Les Années 1980 et la tentation néolibérale, Los Angeles Review of Books, 18 March 2015

JACOBIN RECENTLY PUBLISHED an interview with a little-known sociologist that provoked a wave of reactions. A young Belgian scholar named Daniel Zamora claimed that the philosopher Michel Foucault — a major contributor to radical thought of the last 30 years — not only helped bring about the success of free-market ideology, but also is significantly responsible for the left’s inability to oppose it. Immediately after the interview’s publication, many scholars and intellectuals rushed to Foucault’s defense. Supporters claimed that although Foucault was never a rank-and-file socialist, he never abandoned his radical commitments or embraced the ideology, neoliberalism, often associated with the rise of the modern right. Zamora did not back down. Five days after the release of his interview he published another piece in Jacobin raising the stakes. Foucault, he said, “actively contributed” to the “destruction” of the welfare state and “in a way that was entirely in step with the neoliberal critiques of the moment.” Again, Foucault’s defenders refuted Zamora’s arguments as based on weak, ahistorical, and ideologically driven readings of the philosopher’s works.

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Mark G. E. Kelly, Foucault and Neoliberalism Today, Contriver’s Review, March 2015

Late last year, a PhD student in Belgium, Daniel Zamora, published a smallish edited collection of essays in French called “Criticising Foucault” (Critiquer Foucault). An interview he gave in relation to the book was translated into English for the Leftist journal Jacobin and then widely shared on social media. This interview contains some interesting and worthwhile discussion, but the strapline of the English translation (absent in the French original) focuses on an allegation that Michel Foucault had an “affinity” for neoliberalism, and indeed it is this claim of Zamora’s that leads the subsequent interview. The interviewer sets up the claim that Foucault was a neoliberal as something new and shocking, but it has been aired in Foucault scholarship for a decade at least (not least in articles now reprinted in Zamora’s collection). Despite this, search online for “Foucault” and “neoliberalism” and it’s now this interview that pops up first.

It is not so much that I have a specific gripe with Zamora—whose work I have not read, though I have read other work in his collection—but rather that I want to contradict both the likely impression that the allegation of neoliberalism against Foucault is some new scandal, and also that there is substance to that claim. And I won’t do the latter full-frontally, through point-by-point refutation. I will leave that to future scholarly work. I find these allegations almost entirely without merit and, here, I will explore the political motives and effects.

The first time I encountered the accusation that Foucault was a neoliberal was at a conference in London in 2004. The accuser was an American graduate student from Harvard’s history program, Eric Paras, who would go on to publish a reading of Foucault, entitled Foucault 2.0, which cherry-picked the most extreme moments in Foucault’s output and assembled them to make him into a figure of wild contradictions.

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Foucault and neoliberalism. A pop-up online reading group.

This is a tumblr blog run by Jason Wilson with invitations to read various texts on Foucault and neoliberalism in live sessions on google hangouts.

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