Archive for the ‘Debates’ Category

zamora-engDaniel Zamora and Michael C. Behrent (eds), Foucault and Neoliberalism, Polity Press, 2016

Michel Foucault’s death in 1984 coincided with the fading away of the hopes for social transformation that characterized the postwar period. In the decades following his death, neoliberalism has triumphed and attacks on social rights have become increasingly bold. If Foucault was not a direct witness of these years, his work on neoliberalism is nonetheless prescient: the question of liberalism occupies an important place in his last works. Since his death, Foucault’s conceptual apparatus has acquired a central, even dominant position for a substantial segment of the world’s intellectual left.

However, as the contributions to this volume demonstrate, Foucault’s attitude towards neoliberalism was at least equivocal. Far from leading an intellectual struggle against free market orthodoxy, Foucault seems in many ways to endorse it. How is one to understand his radical critique of the welfare state, understood as an instrument of biopower? Or his support for the pandering anti-Marxism of the so-called new philosophers ? Is it possible that Foucault was seduced by neoliberalism?

This question is not merely of biographical interest: it forces us to confront more generally the mutations of the left since May 1968, the disillusionment of the years that followed and the profound transformations in the French intellectual field over the past thirty years. To understand the 1980s and the neoliberal triumph is to explore the most ambiguous corners of the intellectual left through one of its most important figures.

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A Foucault News exclusive.

Governmentality studies observed
Interview with Colin Gordon by Aldo Avellaneda and Guillermo Vega
September 2015

Full PDF of article

Interviewers’ introduction
Colin Gordon is considered one of the key references of what, in a rather generic although recognizable way, has come to be called “governmentality studies”. He has been involved since the late 1970s in various projects dealing with Foucault’s work and has drawn attention since then to the particularities and advantages of Michel Foucault’s study of “arts of government”. Among his key works we can mention the editing, in 1980, of Power/Knowledge (one of the first compilations and translations in English of Foucault’s work on power) and the co-editing in 1991 – with Graham Burchell and Peter Miller – of The Foucault Effect (TFE). He has also published over the last thirty years many articles and papers about the reception of Foucault in Britain, Foucault and law, the relation between Foucault and Weber, among other topics. And in so doing, he has become one of the most relevant contributors to the reception of Foucault in the Anglophone world.

During the second half of the last year we undertook, with some colleagues and friends, the reading and translation into Spanish of the well-known introductory chapter by Colin Gordon in TFE, “Governmental Rationality. An introduction” (published in Revista Nuevo Itinerario in September 2015). After we finished it, we decided to make contact with its author in order to discuss the possibilities of a Spanish edition. The interview we present below accompanies that translation and is the result of numerous emails we exchanged since February. Our main intention was to present the author’s thoughts about a wide range of topics related to governmentality studies, although we’ve tried to focus particularly on its present situation and its analytical effectiveness.

We thank Colin Gordon for his friendly and continuing cooperation.

Aldo Avellaneda
Guillermo Vega
Facultad de Humanidades,
Universidad Nacional del Nordeste – Argentina

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

DOI: 10.1111/hith.10767

Available on academia.edu. You need to log in


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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