Neoliberalism, Governmentality, and Ethics

Trent H. Hamann


This paper illustrates the relevance of Foucault’s analysis of neoliberal governance for a critical understanding of recent transformations in individual and social life in the United States, particularly in terms of how the realms of the public and the private and the personal and the political are understood and practiced. The central aim of neoliberal governmentality (“the conduct of conduct”) is the strategic creation of social conditions that encourage and necessitate the production of Homo economicus, a historically specific form of subjectivity constituted as a free and autonomous “atom” of self-interest. The neoliberal subject is an individual who is morally responsible for navigating the social realm using rational choice and cost-benefit calculations grounded on market-based principles to the exclusion of all other ethical values and social interests. While the more traditional forms of domination and exploitation characteristic of sovereign and disciplinary forms of power remain evident in our ”globalized” world, the effects of subjectification produced at the level of everyday life through the neoliberal “conduct of conduct” recommend that we recognize and invent new forms of critique and ethical subjectivation that constitute resistance to its specific dangers.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Trent H. Hamann

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