Foucault, Gary Becker and the Critique of Neoliberalism

Theory, Culture and Society 33 (5):3-21 (2016)
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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. Following Foucault, I show that the Chicago economist Gary Becker exemplifies what Foucault describes elsewhere as biopolitics: a form of power applied to the behavior 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.



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David Newheiser
Australian Catholic University

Citations of this work

Financial Neoliberalism and Exclusion with and beyond Foucault.Tim Christiaens - 2019 - Theory, Culture and Society 36 (4):95-116.
On the Limitations of Michel Foucault’s Genealogy of Neoliberalism.Tim Christiaens - 2023 - Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy 31 (1/2):24-45.
The political technology of the ‘Camp’ in historical capitalism.John Welsh - 2021 - Contemporary Political Theory 20 (1):96-118.

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References found in this work

The Subject and Power.Michel Foucault - 1982 - Critical Inquiry 8 (4):777-795.
Homo sacer.Giorgio Agamben - 1998 - Problemi 1.
The passion of Michel Foucault.Jim Miller - 1993 - New York: Anchor Books.

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