Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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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Madness in Civilization: from the Bible to Freud, from the Madhouse to Modern Medicine by Andrew Scull
Reviewed by Salley Vickers, The Telegraph, 29 Mar 2015

I doubt whether many people other than social science students read Michel Foucault these days. Andrew Scull, whose review of Foucault’s The History of Madness in 2007 took the French philosopher to task for historical inaccuracies, references his most famous work, Madness and Civilization, in the title of his own book (a sly corrective?). As the subtitle of Madness in Civilization suggests, Scull’s book is as epic as Foucault’s in its aim to consider “the encounter between madness and civilisation over more than two millennia”. This not inconsiderable undertaking encompasses the ancient civilisations of Greece, China and Persia, the art and writings of the Renaissance, the First World War poets and brain imaging, to name just a few of Scull’s subjects.

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Emanuele Leonardi, Review of Dardot & Laval’s The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, Theory Culture & Society, Nov 13, 2014

Link to full review

The review highlights how the new book by Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval can be interpreted as a twofold contribution. On the one hand, it represents much-needed commentary to the lectures delivered by Michel Foucault at the Collège de France in 1978/1979, entitled Birth of Biopolitics. On the other one, it provides a compelling analysis of neoliberal governmentality in the era of capitalist financialization – which is also the epoch of a fully deployed crisis of Fordism. Whereas in the first part the authors elaborate a multifaceted and plural image of liberalism and a convincing reading of the emergence of neoliberal rationality, the second section assembles a critical genealogy of ‘entrepreneural governance’. This latter refers to a ‘neo-subject’ which functions according to a regime of ‘jouissance of oneself’ – whose deployment accounts for the incorporation of the shareholder logic and for the self-entrepreneur’s socio-clinical pathologies.

Keywords: Entrepreneural governance, Foucault, Liberalism, Neoliberalism, Neo-subject.

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Review by A. Janae Sholtz of Marcelo Hoffman, Foucault and Power: The Influence of Political Engagement on Theories of Power, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2014.09.25

Hoffman makes several signature claims. As his central thesis, he proposes the relationship between Foucault’s political and militant activities and his analysis of power as a dialectic interplay, which provides a more refined and discriminate view of the various permutations of power throughout the development of Foucault’s philosophy. The book consists of a detailed examination of the different models of power identified by Foucault (war and governmental) and an analysis of the interrelations between the different modalities of power (disciplinary, biopolitical and governmental) as they relate to specific instances of activism and desire for militant intervention. Hoffman clearly challenges readings of Foucault that demarcate his thinking according to the break with one theory of power in lieu of another. Hoffman conducts a nuanced and precise study of how subsequent iterations of power bear the residuals of predecessor accounts or are informed by them in significant ways. Thus he proposes a continuum where conceptions of power bleed into one another rather than operate as discontinuous breaks.

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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Blackhat’: Techno-thriller hacks into Michael Mann’s directorial signatures, By Peter Suderman — Special to The Washington Times – – Friday, January 16, 2015

The cinematic world of Michael Mann, the director behind “Heat,” “Collateral,” “The Insider” and “Miami Vice,” might look more or less like ours on the surface, but in fact it’s an alternate universe with unique rules and customs.

It’s a world in which the top three buttons of any men’s shirt are useless and designer sunglasses are always at hand. It’s a world of ultramodern architecture and eerie neon urban vistas, a world in which no human ever says “hello” or “goodbye” while on the telephone, and in which the most powerful form of communication between two individuals is the glower, the glance, the look that is at one mysterious and perfectly telling.


The alpha-hacker at the center of it all is Nicholas Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), a convict with the legendary ability to penetrate practically any computer security system. When we first encounter him, he’s in prison, listening to high-end headphones and reading Foucault. He wears his hair long, in a lionlike blonde mane, and his biceps look like chiseled marble. He gets into trouble with the prison guards. Then he does some push-ups, just because.

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Michel Foucault, Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling: The Function of Avowal in Justice, Fabienne Brion and Bernard E. Harcourt (eds.), Stephen W. Sawyer (tr.), University of Chicago Press, 2014, 344pp., $35.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780226257709.

Reviewed by Todd May, Clemson University, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 13 January 2015

This volume consists of six lectures, preceded by an inaugural lecture and followed by three interviews, that Michel Foucault delivered in 1981 at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium at the request of its School of Criminology. That fact has bearing on the lectures themselves. In these lectures (six of which were transcribed from videotapes, and the inaugural lecture from the manuscript), Foucault offers a rough genealogy of practices of what in French is called aveu, and is translated here as avowal.[1] Near the end of the final lecture, Foucault considers the role of avowal in recent penal practices, and it is clear that his interest is in good part giving an account of how avowal came to have the place it does in those practices.

For those who have read the recently released Collège de France lectures On the Government of the Living, some of the material will be familiar. Other parts harken back to Foucault’s first Collège de France presentations, Lectures on the Will to Know. However, the structure of these lectures is, to my mind, unique in Foucault’s corpus. Rather than focusing on a period of several hundred years, as was his normal practice, he covers a broad sweep from Homeric Greece to the present. In that sense, the Louvain lectures are not a genealogy in the sense many of us have come to identify in Foucault’s work. Rather than showing how the intersection of particular practices give rise to something that had not previously existed (madness, sexuality, the normal, etc.), the lectures trace changes over nearly three millenia in the way subjectivity was constituted in particular practices through the changing nature of avowal. As with his standard genealogies, Foucault is interested here in the relation of subjectivity and truth. Moreover, that interest is focused on the way certain forms of subjectivity are constituted by certain practices of truth. However, whereas in other works the focus is on the emergence of those forms of subjectivity as historical novelties, here the focus is on the changing nature of a particular type of practice: that of avowing. To put the point another way, whereas in the genealogies the focus is on new emergences, in the Louvain lectures it is on the evolving character of a particular practice.

[1] The editors note that they prefer the term avowal to the more commonly used confession, since the former has a wider use, which better reflects the variety of uses in the lectures.


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Jamie Melrose. Foucault’s archaeology: science and transformation, Review of Foucault’s archaeology: science and transformation , by David Webb, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2013, 181 pp., £65 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-7486-2421-8, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, December 2014


Extract from review

At root, David Webb’s Foucault’s Archaeology: Science and Transformation is an attempt to firm up ‘commonplace’ (Dews 1995, 39) claims about Michel Foucault’s association with the history of science. Webb has set out to ensure Foucault’s notion of archaeology in The Archaeology of Knowledge (AoK) is put in its proper intellectual context. He contends that Foucault should be unambiguously placed alongside thinkers in the French tradition of the history of science (or historical epistemology) such as the pioneering figure of Gaston Bachelard and the philosophers of science and mathematics, Jean Cavaillès and Michel Serres. Through a close reading, Webb propounds that AoK is a specific response to a problematic present in Bachelard, Cavaillès and Serres, and acknowledged by Foucault at the end of AoK‘s precursor The Order of Things (1966): how does one move beyond ‘the impasse in which thinking had been caught in modernity … the disappearance of man’ (7–11). How should man’s finitude affect critical inquiry?
In Foucault’s Archaeology, Webb gets right to it. Structurally, the book starts with a background section, spelling out AoK‘s link to Bachelard, Cavaillès and Serres, before Webb comments on AoK chapter by chapter. He then provides a concise closing remarks section. Foucault’s Archaeology is mainly exposition, so familiarity with AoK is somewhat expected, as well as an acquaintance with Heidegger, who pops up at regular intervals in the book. Indeed, more so than Foucault’s three compatriots, it is arguably Heidegger who is writ largest throughout Foucault’s Archaeology. There are several points of consideration of the relationship of Heidegger’s phenomenology to Foucault’s discursive account of historical experience (9 and 10, 34–37, 114–116). Webb notes the overlaps (and differences) between Heidegger’s temporal but primary ontology and Foucault’s account of the temporal but fundamentally constitutive discursive rendering up of the intelligible. Webb’s phraseology is also quite involved in Foucault’s Archaeology. It makes no concession to idioms other than those of Foucault, Bachelard, Cavaillès, Serres or Heidegger.

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