Disciplining Europe – The Production of Economic Delinquency

Thomas Biebricher


The main goal of the following article is to offer a Foucaultian reading of the economic governance structure of the European Union after the reforms passed and implemented over the last six years. The starting point is a reconstruction of Foucault’s analytical framework to scrutinize disciplinary power as well as the respective apparatuses and how this framework has been integrated into the more encompassing governmentality perspective. In the second section I provide a brief survey of the strategic terrain of the European Union as a site of multi-level governance that poses unique challenges from a governing perspective. The following sections are structured according to some key characteristics of disciplinary/governmental power arrangements (visibilization, norm(aliz)ation, prevention, normalizing judgement) which I try to identify in the context of the European Semester, the Six-Pack and the Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure as elements of a broader disciplinary framework. The final section draws on Foucault’s famous point about the ‘productive failure’ of the prison as a disciplinary apparatus that ends up serving ends and purposes quite distinct from the ones officially declared and suggests that we should also consider the European regime of economic discipline and surveillance as one, which is ‘failing forward’, creating opportunity structures to pursue political projects that may differ markedly from those officially stated.


Discipline; Governmentality; European Union; Sovereign Debt Crisis

Full Text:



Alasdair, Robert. 2015. 'No Simple Fix: Fiscal Rules and the Politics of Austerity,' Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies 22: 401-431. https://doi.org/10.2979/indjglolegstu.22.2.401

Bauer, Michael and Stefan Becker. 2014. 'Debate: From the front line to the back stage – how the financial crisis has quietly strengthened the European Commission,' Public Money & Management 43: 161-163. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540962.2014.908003

Biebricher, Thomas. 2015. 'Governmentality', in Mark Bevir and Rod Rhodes, eds., The Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Science (New York: Routledge), 141-154.

Blyth, Mark. 2013. Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bordo, Susan. 1993. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: Berkeley University Press.

Buchanan, James. 1997. 'The balanced budget amendment: Clarifying the arguments,' Public Choice 90: 117-138. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1004969320944

Davies, William. 2014. The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition. London: Sage. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781473906075

Dean, Mitchell. 2007. Governing Societies: Political Perspectives on international and domestic Rule. New York: Open University Press

Foucault, Michel. 1983. 'Critical Theory / Intellectual History,' in Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and other Writings 1977-1984, 17-46.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. "The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom,' in Michel Foucault: Ethics, 281-301. New York: The New Press

Foucault, Michel. 2003. 'Society Must be Defended'. Lectures at the Collège de France 1975-76. New York: Palgrave

Foucault, Michel. 2007. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-78. New York: Palgrave

Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-79. New York: Palgrave

Foucault, Michel. 1990. The History of Sexuality. Volume I: An Introduction. New York: Vintage Books.

Foucault, Michel. 1980. 'Questions of Method,' in Michel Foucault: Power, 223-238. New York: New Press, 1994.

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin.

Foucault, Michel. 1979. ''Omnes et Singulatim': Toward a Critique of Political Reason,' in Michel Foucault: Power, pp. 298-325. New York: New Press, 1994.

Garland, David. 2014. 'What is a 'history of the present'? On Foucault's genealogies and their critical preconditions,' Punishment & Society 16: 365-384. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474514541711

Gill, Stephen. 1998. 'European Governance and New Constitutionalism: Economic and Monetary Union and Alternatives to Disciplinary Neoliberalism in Europe,' New Political Economy 3: 5-26. https://doi.org/10.1080/13563469808406330

Gill, Stephen. 1995. 'The Global Panopticon: The neo-liberal state, economic life and democratic surveillance;' Alternatives 20: 1-49. https://doi.org/10.1177/030437549502000101

Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2015. Governing by Debt. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/MIT.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. 2007. The Making of the Indebted Man: An Essay on the Neoliberal Condition. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/MIT.

Lemke, Thomas. 2015. 'New Materialisms: Foucault and the 'Government of Things'' Theory, Culture, Society 32: 3-25. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276413519340

Mügge, Daniel. 2016. 'Studying Macroeconomic Indicators as Powerful Ideas,' Journal of European Public Policy 23: 410-427. https://doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2015.1115537

Nealon, Jeffrey. 2008. Foucault beyond Foucault: Power and its Intensifications since 1984. Stanford: Stanford University Press

O'Malley, Pat. 2004. Risk, Uncertainty and Government. New York: Routledge.

Paras, Eric. 2006. Foucault 2.0: Beyond Power and Knowledge. New York: Other Press.

Peck, Jamie. 2014. 'Pushing Austerity: state failure, municipal bankruptcy and the crises of fiscal federalism in the USA,' Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 7: 17-44. https://doi.org/10.1093/cjres/rst018

Scharpf, Fritz W. 2011. 'Monetary Union, Fiscal Crisis, and the Preemption of Democracy', MPIfG Discussion Paper 11/11.

Rommerskirchen, Charlotte. 2015. 'Fiscal Rules, Fiscal Outcomes and Market Behavior,' European Journal of Political Research 54: 836-847. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12112

Streeck, Wolfgang. 2015. 'Heller, Schmitt and the Euro,' European Law Journal 21: 361-370. https://doi.org/10.1111/eulj.12134

Vogl, Joseph. 2014. 'The Sovereignty Effect: Markets and Power in the Economic Regime,' Qui Parle? 23 (1), 125-155. https://doi.org/10.5250/quiparle.23.1.0125

Walters, William. 2012. Governmentality: Critical Encounters. New York: Routledge

Wolin, Richard. 2006. 'Foucault the Neohumanist?,' Chronicle of Higher Education, 1 September 2006.

Zielonka, Jan. 2006. Europe as Empire: The Nature of the Enlarged European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/0199292213.001.0001

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i0.5342

Comments on this article

View all comments

visitors since Feb 2009. Hosted by CBS Library