Foucault, Gary Becker and the Critique of Neoliberalism

Theory, Culture and Society 33 (5):3-21 (2016)
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Abstract
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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