Society, like the market, needs to be constructed: Foucault’s critical project at the dawn of neoliberalism

History of the Human Sciences 31 (1):74-96 (2018)
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It has been commonplace to equate Foucault’s 1979 series of lectures at the Collège de France with the claim that for neoliberalism, unlike for classical liberalism, the market needs to be artificially constructed. The article expands this claim to its full expression, taking it beyond what otherwise would be a simple divulgation of a basic neoliberal tenet. It zeroes in on Foucault’s own insight: that neoliberal constructivism is not directed at the market as such, but, in principle, at society, arguing that the value of this insight goes beyond the critique of a neoliberal present. The neoliberal rationale rather helps him to reveal a unique historical architecture, a latent approach to the social dissimilar to the one that has long predominated in the human sciences. The inversion of homo œconomicus in neoliberal theory amounted to the unearthing of a ‘social subject of interest’ within civil society. Such a subject, barely recognized by neoliberals who simply instrumentalize it for the sake of the market, demonstrates that the social is not necessarily the natural product of ethical subjects; that society may also need to be constructed.



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Carlos Palacios
Macquarie University