Foucault and the Invisible Economy


  • Ute Tellmann Universität Basel



This paper discusses the extent to which governmentality provides a critical visibility of the economy beyond its liberal imaginary. It argues that Foucault’s conceptual and historical understanding of liberal governmentality has two traits that encumber a de-centering of the economy from a Foucauldian perspective. The first obstacle results from a persistent asymmetry of the concept of governmentality as it remains solely geared towards replacing the monolithic account of the state. Governmentality is therefore in danger of rendering the economic invisible instead of advancing an analytics of power appropriate to the specificity of this field. The second impediment relates to how Foucault reads the invisibility of the economy asserted in liberal discourse. While Foucault emphasizes how the “invisible hand” imparts a critical limitation towards the sovereign hubris of total sight, the paper unearths a more complex politics of truth tied to the invisible economy. Drawing on selected historical material, the papers shows that the liberal invisibility of the economy rather functions as a prohibitive barrier towards developing novel and critical visibilities of the economy. A Foucauldian perspective on economy, the paper concludes, benefits from piercing through this double invisibility of the economy.

Author Biography

Ute Tellmann, Universität Basel

Ute Tellmann is lecturer of sociology at University of Basel, Switzerland. She has recently received her Ph.D. from the Government Department, Cornell University. Her research interests are historical epistemology, genealogy of economy, visual studies and political theory. She is currently working on the book manuscript, tentatively titled Liberal Imaginaries of Economy – Population, Money and the Displacement of Politics. She has published on economic temporalities, biopolitical foundations of the economy and market-discourses.




How to Cite

Tellmann, U. (2009). Foucault and the Invisible Economy. Foucault Studies, 5–24.