Neoliberalism and Disability: The Possibilities and Limitations of a Foucauldian Critique

  • Scott Yates
Keywords: neoliberalism, disability, employment, critique, Foucault


In this article, I reflect back on the period since the publication of the first edition of Foucault and the Government of Disability in order to argue that the intervening years have seen the increasing advance of neoliberal politics that impact on the lives of disabled people. Beginning from an overview of Foucault’s 1978-9 lectures on neoliberalism, I seek to demonstrate that a range of policy developments that affect disabled people can be read against the background of Foucault’s analyses of neoliberal rationalities and practices of government. The impact of these developments has been economically harsh for many; hence, the article considers the potential for effective critique of these issues starting from a Foucauldian analytics. I argue that Foucault’s works, whilst useful in unsettling taken-for-granted assumptions about subjectivity and autonomy given by neoliberal governmental rationalities, do not, in and of themselves, suggest a form of critique that is capable of mounting an effective challenge to the neoliberal consensus. My argument ends with a challenge to Foucault-inspired social scientists to ally the valuable insights available from Foucauldian analyses to a critical perspective that can, in addition, diagnose and respond to problems of economic marginalisation, the concentration of wealth, and the marketisation of the social.

Author Biography

Scott Yates
Scott Yates is Reader in Psychosocial Studies and Head of Research for Youth, Community Education at De Montfort University. He has long-standing interests in critical social theory, disability studies, health and illness, and young people’s transitions to adulthood. He is currently working on projects investigating the experiences of transition to adulthood of young people with chronic kidney disease, and the challenges facing young people and parents in families with parental mental illness.
Special Issue: New Work on Foucault and Disability