A post-welfarist regime of the social

The ‘social’ is no longer the diverse sector that is subject to the ineluctable logic of bureaucratic rationalization under the aegis of the welfare state. Rather, the social is reconfigured as a series of ‘quasi-markets’ in the provision of services and external to the state, and the forms of ‘natural liberty’ on which they depend, to one of constructing centres of agency and activity, of making them durable, and of implanting continuous relations of authority. These centres are then placed under the discrete and indirect surveillance of regulatory authorities in order to normalize, stability, and optimize activities, identities and power relations.

A post-welfarist regime of the social [Dean, Governmentality, 2nd edition: 200-3]  Continue reading “A post-welfarist regime of the social”

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PhD Exam Reading List

Area 1: Non-linear Historical Materialism Continue reading “PhD Exam Reading List”

Christian Marazzi, “Financial Entropy: The Struggle Within and Against Empire”


Presented November 18, 2010 at “Empire: A Retrospective”, The University of Pittsburgh.

  • The Context: A tension within Empire between its aspirations and the processes by which is pursues them.
  • The First Point: The Colonization of Spheres of Life
  • The Second Point: Financial Capitalism and the Overproduction of the Commons

The full summary can be viewed as a pdf here, or you can read it below. Continue reading “Christian Marazzi, “Financial Entropy: The Struggle Within and Against Empire””

Toward the Abolition of a Liberal Foucault

Question: Is Foucault a liberal, albeit an extreme or idiosyncratic one? (No.)

Let’s begin with a dominant American reading of Foucault that paints him as a liberal humanist.  Todd May calls this the ‘prodigal son’ view.[1] As the story goes, Foucault’s  ‘middle period’ (Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, Volume 1) was characterized by strong anti-humanism that made his concepts of power subjectless and totalizing.  Recognizing the error of his ways, Foucault then makes a break from these theories with his later work (History of Sexuality, volumes 2 and 3) and softens his anti-humanist stance to include ‘ethico-aesthetic subjectivity’ as form of ethical self-creation that resists the normalizing impulse of subjectivization.  For liberals, Foucault’s ‘ethical turn’ acts as a bridge between all of his other work – brokering the seemingly incongruous relationship between archaeology and genealogy, providing a thread to trace through a discontinuous chain of problematizations, and suggesting a mechanism that serves as a foundation for critical scholarship.

On its face, accepting Foucault as a liberal feels like a recuperative move meant to reassure those who don’t want to take seriously the implications of his work.  If Foucault couldn’t work through his theories of power and in the last analysis had to recant in favor of the more familiar ground of agency and the liberal subject, it soothes the nerves of liberals who anxiously felt that they were the ones under attack in Foucault’s work on power.  On the other hand, however, this shouldn’t be assuring to them at all – Foucault provided little ground to extrapolate a theory of ‘ethico-aesthetic subjectivity’ from.  The self-creation in History of Sexuality volumes 2 and 3 are dealing with problematizations unique to context of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity. Continue reading “Toward the Abolition of a Liberal Foucault”

The Peculiar ‘Freedom’ of Neo-Liberalism

Neo-liberalism thrives off a reversal that seems to paradoxically eliminate the “liberties” of classical liberalism.

‘Freedom’, or more specifically personal development, is only encouraged in neo-liberalism if it fosters competition.  You are ‘free’ to enjoy hobbies like home-brewing or gardening but even those self-entrepreneurial activities come at a cost — they count against you in the event you lag behind (at your job, in school, or in the more amorphous area of social and cultural capital), marking your penchant for unnecessary luxuries that distract you from the more important aspects of competitive life — demonstrating that you’re not doing your share in upholding the common principles of pure competition.

Of course this isn’t new, but I think a succinct characterization of the “anti-freedom” of neo-liberalism.  If this adequately sums up neo-liberalism, would neo-liberals on principle oppose everything that is non-competitive?  Maybe the most stalwart defenders, but it seems to me that they still have many other commitments they’re beholden too, entitlements or ‘freedoms’ that should be held sacred and therefore free from pure market logic.  Or are there people who would ‘sell you the shirt off their back’ or ‘sell you the noose to hang them with’ as the attages go?

In what ways can a modality of sovereignty premised on war still be defined as neo-liberal?

Three Theses on War and Policing:

  1. War is the violence used to establish sovereignty.
  2. Policing is the state violence used to preserve law.
  3. Securitization either exceeds or falls short of war and policing.

War is indissociable from sovereignty and conquest; it presides over the birth of nations.  While there are ‘rules of war’, there isn’t a law-preserving quality to them.  Rather, a functionalist definition of war is the violence used to found sovereignty.  In the Middle Ages when sovereignty was based in divine right to rule, it functioned like a game of chess whereby the objective was to capture the king.    The post-dynastic raison d’etre shifted, founding the state on more clearly delineated territorial boundaries where norms and political institutions were established to guarantee the well-being and security of the population.  The cartographic fixity of national borders highlights the intense importance war’s spatiality.  The divergence between theories of International Relations and domestic policy in political science demonstrates the sharp analytic boundary between inside and outside that lies at the center of modern nation-states.

Continue reading “In what ways can a modality of sovereignty premised on war still be defined as neo-liberal?”