Ethnographies of Neoliberal Governmentalities: from the neoliberal apparatus to neoliberalism and governmental assemblages

  • Michelle Brady University of Queensland
Keywords: neoliberalism, governmentality, Foucault, ethnography, advanced liberalism


This article is aimed at Foucauldian scholars and seeks to introduce them to ethnographic works that interrogate neoliberal governmentalities.  As an analytic category      ‘neoliberalism’ has over the last two decades helpfully illuminated connections between seemingly unrelated social changes occurring at multiple scales.  Even earlier —in his College de France 1978-9 Birth of Biopolitics lectures, to be precise—Foucault began his engagement with neoliberalism as a dominant political force.  Despite being more than three decades old, Foucault’s analysis of neoliberal rationalities remains fresh and insightful, which perhaps explains why scholars inspired by his analytics of governmentality have been able to make major contributions to the current social science literature on neoliberalism.  However, there are increasing concerns that governmentality scholars succumb to a more general tendency among social scientists to present neoliberal transformations in monolithic and linear terms.  This article critically reviews contributions from a small but growing group of neo-Foucauldian researchers that avoid these tendencies.  These researchers investigate the changes wrought by neoliberalism through methodologies that involve combining an analytics of governmentality with ethnographic and quasi-ethnographic methods, and in doing so they avoid deterministic, homogenous and static accounts of social transformation.  By beginning with the “everyday,” these works reject the idea that neoliberal governmentality forms a coherent apparatus.  Instead these ethnographies of neoliberal governmentalities focus on governmental ensembleges (or assemblages) that link neoliberal political rationalities with non-liberal rationalities, and they explore how neoliberal thought and practice is transformed across time and space.

Author Biography

Michelle Brady, University of Queensland

Michelle Brady is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Queensland. She works in the area of interpretive policy and critical family studies. She has published in Critical Policy Studies, Public Policy and Studies in Political Economy.

How to Cite
Brady, M. (2014). Ethnographies of Neoliberal Governmentalities: from the neoliberal apparatus to neoliberalism and governmental assemblages. Foucault Studies, (18), 11-33.
Special Issue on Ethnographies of Neoliberal Governmentalities