UK Lockdown Governmentalities: What Does It Mean to Govern in 2020?


  • Seb Sander University of Warwick



Governmentality, Foucault, Lockdown, Neoliberalism, Surveillance


Focusing on the United Kingdom, this paper examines the mechanisms of 2020’s ‘lockdown’ strategy from a governmental perspective, with ‘governmentality’ being defined as the art of, or rationale behind, governing populations at a given time. By investigating a series of recent imperatives given to the population by the UK government, and comparing these with the previously dominant form of governmentality (neoliberalism), I hope to shed light on some new features of the current art of government. Indeed, the paper argues that neoliberalism is no longer the dominant form of governmentality in the UK, although some important legacies remain. I therefore argue that new forms of governmentality have risen to prominence. In particular, I use the concept of ‘algorithmic governmentality’ to address features of lockdown subjectivity and economy, such as the ‘doppelgänger logic’ of consumption and production, as well as the government’s attempts to continuously manage and re-manage the population based on biometric data. However, I also show that this concept does not adequately encompass contemporary realities of surveillance, exposition and coercion. As such, I introduce ‘instrumentarian governmentality’ to denote the use of digital surveillance instruments to control the behaviour of the population. Additionally, the term is intended to denote an ‘authoritarian’ turn in the ways in which people are governed. Overall, what it means to govern in 2020 is posited as a fluctuating composite of three key forms of governmentality: neoliberal, algorithmic, and instrumentarian.

Author Biography

Seb Sander, University of Warwick

Seb Sander graduated with Distinction from the University of Warwick in 2020, having completed a BA in History and an MA in Continental Philosophy.


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How to Cite

Sander, S. (2022). UK Lockdown Governmentalities: What Does It Mean to Govern in 2020?. Foucault Studies, (32), 54–81.