Foucault, Ferguson, and civil society

  • Samantha Ashenden Birkbeck College
Keywords: civic virtue, Ferguson, genealogy, intellectual history, interests, society


In contrast to those who trace civil society to “community” per se, Foucault is keen to locate this concept as it emerges at a particular moment in respect of specific exigencies of government. He suggests that civil society is a novel way of thinking about a problem, a particular problematization of government that emerges in the eighteenth century and which combines incommensurable conceptions of the subject as simultaneously a subject of right and of interests. This article takes up Foucault’s discussion of the Scottish Enlightenment in The Birth of Biopolitics to trace the distinctiveness of his discussion of civil society, but also in order to suggest that we ought to pay closer attention to the tensions between commercial-civilizational and civic republican themes in the literature of the late eighteenth century than does Foucault. It is my tentative suggestion that Foucault’s account leaves out significant aspects of these debates that offer counter-valences to the dominant models of the subject available to contemporary political discourse.
How to Cite
Ashenden, S. (2015). Foucault, Ferguson, and civil society. Foucault Studies, (20), 36-51.
Special Issue on Civil Society