The Queer Thing about Neoliberal Pleasure: A Foucauldian Warning

  • Shannon Winnubst Ohio State University


Through a careful reading of Foucault’s 1979 lectures on neoliberalism alongside Volumes 1 and 2 of The History of Sexuality, I argue that scholarship on both neoliberalism and queer theory should heed Foucault’s framing of both neoliberalism and sexuality as central to biopolitics. I thus offer two correctives to these fields of scholarship: for scholarship on neoliberalism, I locate a way to address the ethical bankruptcy of neoliberalism in a manner that Marxist analyses fail to provide; for scholarship in queer theory, I warn that the longstanding embrace of non-conformity as a mode of resistance to normalization is suspiciously neoliberal. I conclude with the possibility of rehabilitating the concept of jouissance as a non-fungible limit to the enterprising rationality of neoliberalism that, if historicized and especially racialized, might offer a meaningful response to the increasing ethical collapse wrought by the neoliberalization of our lives.

Author Biography

Shannon Winnubst, Ohio State University
Shannon Winnubst is Associate Professor in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Ohio State University. Here current book project, The Biopolitics of Cool: Neoliberalism, Difference and Ethics, expands on the central theses of this essay, inquiring into the conceptual transformations of social difference and ethics underway in the social rationality of neoliberalism, especially as diagnosed by Foucault in his 1979 lectures. She is author of Queering Freedom (Indiana, 2006) and editor of Reading Bataille Now (Indiana, 2006). More recent publications include: “The Missing Link: Homo Economicus (Reading Foucault and Bataille Together),” Blackwell Companion to Foucault, eds. Chris Falzon, Timothy O’Leary and Jana Sawicki (Blackwell, forthcoming March 2013); “Temporality in Queer Theory and Continental Philosophy,” Philosophy Compass, 5 (2) 2010, 136-146; and “What if the law is written in a porno book?” Gilles Deleuze: The Intensive Reduction, ed. Constantin Boundas (Continuum Press: 2009).
How to Cite
Winnubst, S. (2012). The Queer Thing about Neoliberal Pleasure: A Foucauldian Warning. Foucault Studies, (14), 79-97.
Special Issue on Foucault and Queer Theory