Foucault News

Activity relating to the work of French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

David Newheiser, Foucault, Gary Becker and the Critique of Neoliberalism, 13, 2016,
Theory, Culture & Society September 2016 vol. 33 no. 5 3-21

doi: 10.1177/0263276415619997

Although Foucault’s 1979 lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics promised to treat the theme of biopolitics, the course deals at length with neoliberalism while mentioning biopolitics hardly at all. Some scholars account for this elision by claiming that Foucault sympathized with neoliberalism; I argue on the contrary that Foucault develops a penetrating critique of the neoliberal claim to preserve individual liberty. I show that the Chicago economist Gary Becker exemplifies what Foucault describes elsewhere as biopolitics: a form of power applied to the behaviour of a population through the normalizing use of statistics. Although Becker’s preference for indirect intervention might seem to preserve the independence of individuals, under biopolitics individual liberty is itself the means by which populations are governed indirectly. In my view, by describing the history and ambivalence of neoliberal biopolitics, Foucault fosters a critical vigilance that is the precondition for creative political resistance.

biopolitics critique economics Foucault neoliberalism normalization power

See also video of author presenting paper

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