Month: December 2014

Foucault and Neoliberalism–Some helpful links

An und für sich announced it will host a roundtable discussion on Foucault and neoliberalism occasioned by Daniel Zamora’s interview at Jacobin critiquing Foucault as a proto-neoliberal. Like the biannual Heidegger affairs, this seems to be something that has gone on every few years since Maoist critiques of Foucault in the mid-70s when, aghast, someone discovers Foucault wasn’t a Marxist (as he makes clear in Discipline and Punish and elsewhere he thinks capitalism is the result of power/knowledge shifts he is analyzing, such as disciplinary and bio-power, not the latter’s cause). AUFS says the writers will respond to Daniel Zamora’s original interview at Jacobin and include Verena Erlenbusch (Memphis), Gordon Hull (UNCC), Thomas Nail (Denver), and Johanna Oksala (Helsinki). In addition to the helpful links on the AUFS announcement page, there’s (via Stuart Elden) Étienne Balibar on Foucault’s La société punitive and his relation to Marx, with a response from Judith Butler (audio files). as well as the recent (October 2014) special issue of Foucault Studies on “Ethnographies of Neoliberal Governmentalities” and, before that, the 2009 special issue of FS on “Neoliberal Governmentalities,”

Introduction PDF
Michelle Brady 5-10
Ethnographies of Neoliberal Governmentalities: from the neoliberal apparatus to neoliberalism and governmental assemblages PDF
Michelle Brady 11-33
Fixing Non-market Subjects: Governing Land and Population in the Global South PDF
Tania Murray Li 34-48
Neo‐Liberalism, Police, and the Governance of Little Urban Things PDF
Randy K. Lippert 49-65
The Grassroots and the Gift: Moral Authority, American Philanthropy, and Activism in Education PDF
Katharyne Mitchell, Chris Lizotte 66-89
Resisting the lure of the paycheck: Freedom and dependence in financial self-help PDF
Daniel Fridman 90-112

The 2009 issue:

Foucault and the Invisible Economy PDF
Ute Tellmann 5-24
A Genealogy of Homo-Economicus: Neoliberalism and the Production of Subjectivity PDF
Jason Read 25-36
Neoliberalism, Governmentality, and Ethics PDF
Trent H. Hamann 37-59
The Work of Neoliberal Governmentality: Temporality and Ethical Substance in the Tale of Two Dads PDF
Sam Binkley

Stuart Elden on Foucault and Neoliberalism

Here. I had been rounding up a post on this but never got around to it, and Stuart makes excellent and helpful points (with the modesty to suggest his views are revisable once the book referenced in the Zamora interview is published). Daniel Zamora’s original interview at Jacobin got picked up quickly by two “libertarian” sources at Reason and at, of all places least likely to see a reference to Foucault, the Washington Post in the form of Daniel Drezner’s piece on “Why Michel Foucault is the libertarian’s best friend.” First, from Stuart Elden:

Foucault’s mode of reading texts often makes it look like he is agreeing with arguments, when he is really trying to reconstruct them, to understand their logic, and so on. To suggest there is some sympathy to neoliberalism is one thing, to claim he was a neoliberal/libertarian or other labels is quite another. Compare these lectures’ tone to those on early Christianity and late antiquity in the next two courses – does this mean Foucault was also a Christian and a stoic?

This should be obvious, though of course I’ve heard from those who think somehow Foucault was converting to Catholicism late in life, so I guess this first warning about reading Foucault–not to confuse him with his sources–is sometimes just completely missed. It’s also notable that Zamora tends to paint Foucault by way of quoting from some people formerly in his orbit, though the actual quotations that would address this from Foucault’s own writings–he wasn’t exactly shy on giving his stances–are notably missing.

In any event to state the obvious: Foucault could not be a friend of neoliberal libertarianism for one reason: libertarians see all power at the level of the state, and thus any diminishment of the state increases the freedom of individuals both in the market and in their conduct. This is the core of libertarian thinking. But of course Foucault’s notions of discipline and governmentality put the lie to this: you could get rid of the state and power would still have you within its grasp, so to speak. Libertarianism is the child-like dream that if you get rid of mom or dad (or the paternalist state) you will suddenly be free. Perhaps that’s why in North America libertarianism tends to be a phase for teenage males. In any case, it’s not a fantasy that could survive any reading of Foucault, including the Birth of Biopolitics lectures that are central to these claims.

via Foucault and Neoliberalism – a few thoughts in response to the Zamora piece in Jacobin | Progressive Geographies.

Derrida’s other modus operandi

Revising an essay on Derrida, I came across this passage, which mirrors formally claims made all the way back in 1963 about Foucault’s History of Madness, where he argued that far from displacing any conceptions of madness, Foucault had to assume an everyday, common understanding of it in order to perform its history. Whatever the validity of this claim, here he is in 1999 discussing Heidegger on death in his Death Penalty lectures (he makes a similar claim in Aporias, but this is much clearer):

My hypothesis today is that all alleged pre-comprehensions [note well, of course, that this is the terminology for how Heidegger enters all hermeneutic circles, such as famously at the beginning of Sein und Zeit] of the meaning of the word “death,” like all refined semantic or ontological analyses that purport to distinguish, for example, the dying (Sterben) of man or of Dasein (only Dasein dies says Heidegger) from the objective forms of animal perishing or ending…must rely, even as they deny it, on so-called common sense, on the alleged objective and familiar knowledge, judged to be indubitable, of what separates a state of death from a state of life [and so on]. (238/324)

What Derrida is critiquing, following Levinas, is a certain knowledge or calculability of the moment of death, and he argues that far from questioning any presuppositions on the matter, Heidegger must presuppose a certain definition in order for his phenomenology of death to get underway. Thus whereas Derrida is most known for his method of finding a certain indecidability or impasse that nevertheless requires a decision of reading, praxis, etc., he also time and again looks to identify, in quite classical fashion, a certain presupposition that is nevertheless denied, whether in Foucault (madness or in a later essay, power), or Heidegger (death, Being as presence), or Levinas (I’m thinking of his discussion of the Other as human, while otherness, of course, would be foreign to any such label), or a host of others, and which is something like a historical presupposition or historical a priori, that is, some trope that winds itself through a given onto-theological tradition that a given thinker claims to be critiquing. By isolating a trope, then tying it back to a given tradition, Derrida’s “deconstruction” can then get underway. This, by the way, isn’t that far from Heidegger’s move in SZ to identify an everyday notion of time that then is repeated–he believes–in figures such as Aristotle and Hegel, though both would claim to operate without a pre-given hypothesis or supposition about time.

But nevertheless it is striking–at least to me–that this way of reading by Derrida is not pressed home more: identify a place where an author must get underway with a certain definition (to identify the mad that one is doing a history of [even as one says there can be no history of the mad], to do a phenomenology of that which we call death [while claiming it is the possibility of impossibility], etc.) and then only circles back to reify that definition at a more convoluted, “philosophical” level (the whole stuff on nonsense and history in Foucault; the distinction between death and perishing in Heidegger); and so on.