Archive for the ‘PhD theses’ Category

McGarry, Michael (2013) “To read, write, and cast accounts”: Foucault, Governmentality and Education in Upper Canada/Canada West, Doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto

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Contributing to the work of philosophers of education who have been examining issues of economy and emancipation, this dissertation employs a set of critical lenses drawn from Foucault’s investigation of governmentality to trace correspondences between economic liberalism and public schooling in Upper Canada/Canada West, the historical antecedent of present day Ontario. The analysis adheres to Foucault’s advice that philosophical critique involves a question asked of the present but answered in history. Thus through a Foucauldian genealogy it is argued that a series of transformations in the deployment of governmental power occurred in Upper Canada/Canada West that entailed the entry of an economic rationality into deliberations over the creation of a school system.

To support this argument evidence is presented that demonstrates how race, biopolitics, and the burgeoning science of political economy combined in the first half of the nineteenth century to form the conditions of possibility for governmental control of schooling. In particular, it is illustrated how these conditions favoured a pedagogy based in Locke’s epistemology, and were legitimized by the providential status accorded political economy. This pedagogy, which was promoted as mild and so conducive to student engagement, and the authority of political economy are revealed as integral to the methods of instruction and curriculum of the province’s common schools, and indicative of the legacy of economic liberalism that persists, albeit transformed, in Ontario education to this day.

The result of this critical analysis is a redescription or, in Foucault’s terminology, a “countermemory” of Ontario educational history that challenges the presumed naturalism of the ideals characteristic of economic liberalism, such as autonomy, accountability, entrepreneurialism, and consumer choice. The dissertation contends that these ideals are active in local educational regimes long legitimized by economy, and dangerously aimed at fostering political consent by manipulating subjects into locations of restricted agency.

Providing insight into the historical role played by liberal governmentality and economy in the local context contributes to the study of Foucault and the philosophy of education, and also suggests a change in approach to questions regarding the corporatization or marketization of education. Instead of viewing economy as either a necessary component of schooling or a contemporary affront to educational ideals, it is proposed that it be re-evaluated according to its persistent, but contingent, historical correspondence with liberal government and its institutions.

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Stephen John Kelly, Governing civil society: How literacy, education and security were brought together, PhD Thesis, Queensland University of Technology, 2015

This study investigates the representation and deployment of the categories literacy, education and security in government policy. Each of these categories is the foci of significant inquiry and occupies distinct spaces in academic literature. Taken independently, questions about education, literacy and security generate academic, political, public and private debate over concerns about the material effects of government policy and intervention. The question of how human subjects and civil society are discursively and non – discursively produced, are shared by investigations in education, literacy and security. The study questions how the categories of security, education and literacy, can be thought about together as related elements of a whole – of – government strategy in the production of civil society.

The key focus of this study was to examine the deployment of literacy and education by the Australian Government when expressing concerns about the security of the nation and its geopolitical interests. A Foucauldian conceptualisation of discourse and governmentality was used to form the theoretical basis for the analysis of political texts, while Foucault’s conceptions of genealogy and archaeology informed the epistemology and research design. The primary analytical focus was on texts selected from 1995 – 2007, although texts from the beginning of the Enlightenment, starting with Hobbes’ Leviathan in 1651 to the emergence of human security in 1994 were used to establish a network of relations and continuities in political discourse. Three key discursive fields are identified in the analysis: human capital, national identity and the government of human security. These fields are examined for the way dispersed government practices can be connected by a whole – of – government strategy. In addition key political statements were examined at length for whether they drew together realms of government activity into an intelligible statement about the role of government. In staging an analysis of diverse practices and key texts , the study was concerned to identify an emergent relationship between education, literacy and the government of security. The analysis questioned how representations of “problems” in political discourse produced consequences for human subjects and the nature of civil society. The examination of texts was concerned about the government of human life through the formation of cultural and geographical spaces; containment of uncertainty and complexity; the management of population through distribution of risk across social fields and the discursive and non – discursive responses to situations of perceived crisis. Assumptions about the nature of rule, liberalism, national identity and the effects of globalisation are examined for their use in government strategies that deploy constructs of literacy, education and security.

The study argues that the categories of education and literacy have been used in diverse ways in the production of national, social, economic and geopolitical security interests. As dialogue about security has intensified, rationalizations about the national interest have engaged notions of security leading to the legitimation, proliferation, re – contextualisation and implementation of a diverse set of policy instruments, incorporating literacy as a cultural and political tool engaging notions of capability, economic productivity, and cultural capital. The analysis suggests that government apparatuses have been strategically used in order to contain the rise of complex social forces and protect a set of homogenous cultural values. The purposes of education and uses of literacy are seen as instruments for the inscription of a coded set of values understood to be synonymous with neoliberal civil society. The incorporation of education and literacy into a whole – of – government security strategy can be seen as a feature of biopolitical government interested in governing the conduct of diverse and unpredictable populations.

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Självskapelseetik bortom Foucault: En rättviseteori för ett mångkulturellt, liberalt och demokratiskt samhälle

The English title:

An Ethics of Self-creation Beyond Foucault: A Theory of Justice for a Multicultural, Liberal and Democratic Society.

This recently submitted thesis is written in Swedish but includes an extensive English summary at the end and can be downloaded from this University of Gothenburg link

This thesis develops a normative theory of justice centered on the concept of subjectivation. The concept originates from (late) Foucault and is connected to his writing on ethics. Foucault did not himself elaborate on the subject in any great detail. This thesis, however, does, creating a theory of justice for a multicultural, liberal, democratic, society on the basis of subjectivation.

The basic principle of the theory is that a just society is one in which everyone has equal opportunity to engage in active subjectivation. This is related, but not synonymous, to Foucault’s ethics, which is sometimes summarized in a clichéd manner by referring to his statement that we should turn our life into “a piece of art”. I argue that the opportunity to engage in active subjectivation is what ought to be equally distributed in society. Active subjectivation is best understood in relation to its opposite, passive subjectivation. The latter refers to an identity that is molded, subjugated and constituted by power relations external to the subject; the former to an identity-formation attained by the subject’s conscious and active work on itself.

The thesis is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the foucaultian ethic and how it is related to its archaic predecessors. This part also develops a critique of Foucault’s version of the ethic of self-creation. In the second part I surpass the foucaultian ethics, creating my own version of the ethic of self-creation. The third and last part is devoted to the questions of group-based rights and organization of education, and tries to explicate how these issues could be handled by a state that affirms the ethic of self-creation.

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Wouter Mensink ‘Subject of innovation, or: how to redevelop the patient with technology’. PhD thesis, University of Leiden, The Netherlands, 2012.

Pdf of thesis on University of Leiden library site

Author’s blog


People are shaped in many ways: as subject of scientific inquiry, as part of a political category or in relations with others. Alternatively, they shape themselves. Michel Foucault examined such ways of ‘subjectivation’: the manner in which the human ‘subject’ is formed. He is most famous for his work on the role of surveillance in society. Contemporary critics argue that the surveillance he describes was only possible in the industrial era, in which people were often confined to closed spaces: schools, factories or hospitals. With the coming of the information era, however, the surveillance model is said to be defunct. People are much more distributed, to name just one distinction.

One way of assessing the value of Foucault’s work for present-day questions is to examine how ‘subjectivation’ relates to technology. His work on neoliberalism provides a starting-point. We do need to look further though, for example at Bruno Latour’s work. He claims that technologies are to people what ‘plug-ins’ are to the internet. The web is personalised by installing different plug-ins, add-ons or apps. Similarly, our subjectivity is shape by the technologies with which we engage. Question is how this turns out in practice.

In order to take such a practical angle at these philosophical questions, this study examines the case of healthcare innovation. It articulates how patients are shaped in relation to technology. Technology is placed in a particular context when it is drawn into a discussion about innovation. The Dutch Electronic Health Record and the Personal Healthcare Budget are political designs that aim to foster innovation. Both policies started mid-1990s and were nearly abolished in 2011. What happened over the course of these one and a half decades?

Apart from these two policies, the study also covers other innovation-related developments in Dutch healthcare: the so-called Diagnosis Treatment Combinations, functional description techniques for health insurances, the Quality-Adjusted Life Years calculation and medical chat rooms.

It ends by examining the possibilities of democratising healthcare innovation, by investigating the example of ‘Living Labs’. These are local or regional platforms in which people are in some way involved in innovation processes. Just like for the different policies, the crucial question is: which role is attributed to the patient?

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Arun Anantheeswaran Iyer, Knowledge and Thought in Heidegger and Foucault: Towards an Epistemology of Ruptures, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA PhD, Summer 2011

Download here

This dissertation shows how Martin Heidegger and Michel Foucault, by questioning the very understanding of the subject-object relationship on which all epistemology is grounded, challenge two of its most cherished beliefs: 1. Thought and knowledge are essentially activities on the part of the subject understood anthropologically or transcendentally. 2. The history of knowledge exhibits teleological progress towards a better and more comprehensive account of its objects. In contrast to traditional epistemology, both Heidegger and Foucault show how thought and knowledge are not just acts, which can be attributed to the subject but also events which elude any such subjective characterization. They also show us how the history of knowledge exhibits ruptures when the very character of knowledge undergoes drastic transformation in the course of history. The dissertation concludes by hinting at how these new accounts of thought and knowledge have the potential to shake the very foundations of epistemology and lead us to a new framework for discussing the most basic questions of epistemology, towards an epistemology of ruptures.

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Picard, E. Kezia (2010) A radical relational agency: Foucault, complexity theory and environmental resistances. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.
Page with link to pdf of thesis

The aim of this thesis is to examine a radical relational agency, applied to contemporary environmental resistances, that incorporates both the thought of Michel Foucault and complexity theory. While Foucault’s thought, following from his argument that power is a relation, implies a relational agency, it does not, however, account for the agency of nonhumans and environments. Because power is a relation and not a possession, it can no longer be viewed as an attribute of individual subjects. Similarly, a relational agency is defined as an aspect of power relations. Complexity theory, on the other hand, acknowledges that humans interact with nonhumans and environments, but does not acknowledge that all relations are relations of power. In addition to Foucault’s explanation of power relations, complexity theory explicitly describes the processes of self-organization through which individual and diverse agents interact and change can emerge. Thus, a radical relational agency is defined as an aspect of the power relationships between many diverse agents. Change, according to both Foucault and complexity theory, happens nonlinearly. As a result, it often occurs unpredictably. However, change within complex systems is also limited by previous historical emergences. In this sense, both possibility and risk are inherent in the relationships between humans, nonhumans and environments. Indeed, I argue that a radical relational agency occurs because there are both possibilities and risks generated within ecological relations and relations of power. Therefore, I argue that any environmental action must account for the unpredictability inherent to the complex interactions between humans, nonhumans and environments.

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