Foucault’s New Materialism: An Extended Review Essay of Thomas Lemke’s The Government of Things

Thomas Lemke, The Government of Things. New York: NYU Press, 2021. Pp. 312 (ISBN: 9781479808816 hardback)

  • Mark Olssen University of Surrey
Keywords: New materialism, Michel Foucault, Thomas Lemke, Mark Olssen, Graham harman, Jane Bennett, Karan Barad, complexity theory

Abstract

This article constitutes an extended review essay of Thomas Lemke’s book The Government of Things: Foucault and the new materialisms published by New York University Press in 2021. A shorter version of this article was published as a book review in Social Forces (http://doi.org/10.1093/soac037, 22nd April 2022). This longer extended version is being published here with the permission of Oxford University Press, who publish Social Forces. In performing this review, the article seeks to outline and assess Lemke’s thesis to incorporate Foucault as a part of the new materialist approach to the social and physical sciences. As my own work has located Foucault as a materialist since the 1990s, I relate Lemke’s endeavour to my own and conclude that my approach has distinct advantages that his lacks. At the same time, however, his account presents some novel and insightful dimensions which can profitably be added to mine, strengthening the case for Foucault’s materialism overall.

Author Biography

Mark Olssen, University of Surrey

Mark Olssen, FRSA, FAcSS, is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory in the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey. His most recent books are Constructing Foucault’s Ethics: A Poststructuralist Moral Theory for the 21st Century (Manchester University Press, 2021); A Normative Foucauldian: Selected Papers of Mark Olssen (Brill, 2021); Liberalism, Neoliberalism, Social Democracy: Thin Communitarian Perspectives on Political Philosophy and Education (Routledge, New York & London, 2010); and Toward A Global Thin Community: Nietzsche, Foucault, and the Cosmopolitan Commitment (Paradigm Press, Boulder and London, 2009).  He is also co-author (with John Codd and Anne-Marie O’Neill) of Education Policy: Globalisation, Citizenship, Democracy, (Sage, London, 2004) and author of Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education (Greenwood Press, New York, 1999/Paradigm Press/Taylor Francis, Boulder & London, 2006). He has also published many book chapters and articles in academic journals in Europe, America and Australasia. Most recently, ‘The Rehabilitation of the Concept of Public Good: Reappraising the Attacks from Liberalism and Neo-Liberalism from a Poststructuralist Perspective’ (Review of Contemporary Philosophy 20, pp. 7–52, 2021); with Will Mace, ‘British Idealism, Complexity Theory and Society: The Political Usefulness of T. H. Green in a Revised Conception of Social Democracy,’ Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 20: 7–34, 2021;  ‘Foucault and Neoliberalism: A response to critics and a new resolution’ (Materiali Foucaultiani, Vol. V, No. 12 – 13, pp. 40 – 60, 2019); ‘Exploring Complexity through Literature: Reframing Foucault’s research project with hindsight (Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations, 16, pp. 80 – 89, 2017); ‘Neoliberalism & Democracy: A Foucauldian perspective on public choice theory, ordo liberalism and the concept of the public good’ (Sage Handbook on Neoliberalism. London: Sage Publications, pp. 384 – 396, 2018); ‘Neoliberalism and Laissez-Faire: The retreat from naturalism’ (Solsko Polje, vol. XXIX, no. 1 – 2, pp. 33 – 56, 2018) and ‘Neoliberalism and Higher Education Today: research, accountability and impact’ (British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 37, (1), pp. 129 – 148, 2016).

References

Alaimo, Stacy, “Thinking as the Stuff of the World,” O – Zone: A Journal of Object – Orien-tated Studies 1:1 (2014), 13-21.

Anderson, Ben, “‘Review of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things’, by Jane Ben-nett,” Dialogues in Human Geography 1:3 (2011), 393-396.

Anderson, Ben, Encountering Affect: Capacities, Apparatuses, Conditions. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014.

Barad, Karen, “Posthumanist Performativity: Towards an Understanding of How Matter comes to Matter,” Signs: Journal of Woman in Culture and Society 28:3 (2003), 87-128.

Barad, Karen, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Barry, Andrew, Material Politics: Disputes along the Pipeline. Malden/Oxford: Wiley Black-well, 2013.

Barry, Andrew, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose ed., Foucault and Political Reason: Liber-alism, Neoliberalism and Rationalities of Government. London: UCL Press, 1996.

Bennett, Jane, “The Force of Things: Steps Toward an Ecology of Matter,” Political Theory 32:3 (2004), 347–72. http://doi.org/10.1177/009059170326085

Bennett, Jane, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Braun, Bruce, “Review of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, by Jane Bennett,’” Dialogues in Human Geography 1:3 (2011), 300-393.

Bruining, Dennis, “A Somatechnics of Moralism: New Materialism or Material Foundation-alism,” Somatechnics 3:1 (2013), 149-168. http://doi.org/10.3366/soma.2013.0083

Burchell, Graham, “Translater’s Note,” in Michel Foucault, Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France 1973 – 1974, ed. Jacques Lagrange, xxiii – xxiv. Hampshire/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Bussolini, Jeffrey, “What is a Dispositive?,” Foucault Studies 10 (2010), 85-107. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.v0i10.3120

Coole, Diana and Samantha Frost, “Introducing the New Materialisms”, in New Material-isms: Ontology, Agency and Politics, ed. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, 1-43. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822392996-001

Deleuze, Gilles, Foucault, trans. Seán Hand, Foreword, Paul Bové. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan. New York: Pantheon, 1977.

Foucault, Michel, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, 139-164. Ithaca: Cornell Universi-ty Press, 1977.

Foucault, Michel, “The Confession of the Flesh,” in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, 194-228. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.

Foucault, Michel, Governmentality, in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller, 87-104. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Foucault, Michel, “Introduction,” in The Normal and the Pathological. ed. Georges Canguil-hem, 7-24. New York: Zone Books, 1991.

Foucault, Michel, “Life: Experience and Science,” in Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault, 1954 – 1984, Vol. II., ed. James D. Faubion, 465-78. New York: The New Press, 1998.

Foucault, Michel, Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975-76. New York: Picador, 2003.

Foucault, Michel, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collêge de France, 1977-78. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230245075

Haraway, Donna, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. London/New York: Routledge, 1991.

Holling, Crawford, “Resilience and Stability of Ecological System,” Annual Review of Ecolo-gy and Systematics 4:1 (1973), 1-23. https://doi.org/10.110173.000245

Latour, Bruno, “On Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications,” Soziale Welt 47:4 (1996), 369-381.

Law, John, Organizing Modernity. Oxford/Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994.

Law, John, “After ANT: Complexity, Naming and Topology,” The Sociological Review 47:1 (1999), 1-24.

Law, John, After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Law, John and Annemarie Mol, “Notes on Materiality and Sociality,” The Sociological Re-view 43 (1995), 274-294. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.1995.tb00604.x

Legg, Stephan, “Assemblage/Apparatus: Using Deleuze and Foucault”, Area 43:2 (2011), 1228-1233. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-4762.2011.01010.x

Lemke, Thomas, The Government of Things: Foucault and the New Materialisms. New York: New York University Press, 2021.

Massumi, Brian, “National Enterprise Emergency: Steps Towards an Ecology of Powers,” Theory, Culture, Society 26:6 (2009), 153-185. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276409347696

Mol, Annemarie, “Mind Your Plate! The Ontonorms of Dutch Dieting,” Social Studies of Sci-ence 43:3 (2013), 379-396. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306312712456948

Olssen, Mark, “Michel Foucault's Historical Materialism: An Account and Assessment,” in Critical Theory, Poststructuralism and the Social Context, ed. M. Peters, J. Marshall, W. Hope and S. Webster, 82-105. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press, 1996.

Olssen, Mark, Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education. New York: Bergin & Garvey/The Greenwood Press.

Olssen, Mark, “Foucault and Marx: Re-writing the history of historical materialism,” Policy Futures in Education, 2:3 (2005), 453-480. https://doi.org/10.2304/pfie.2004.2.3.3

Olssen, Mark, “Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Neo-Liberalism: Assessing Foucault’s Legacy,” Journal of Education Policy, 18:2 (2003), 189-202. https://doi.org/10.1080/0268093022000043047

Olssen, Mark, Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education. Boulder and London: Paradigm Press, 2006. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315633459

Olssen, Mark “Foucault as Complexity Theorist: overcoming the problems of classical phil-osophical analysis,” Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40:1 (2008), 96-117. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-5812.2007.00406.x

Olssen, Mark, “Learning in a complex World”, in The Routledge International Handbook of Learning, ed. Peter Jarvis, 376-392. London and New York: Routledge, 2012.

Olssen, Mark, “Discourse, Complexity, Normativity: Tracing the elaboration of Foucault’s materialist concept of discourse,” Open Review of Educational Research 1:1 (2015), 28-55. https://doi.org/10.1080/23265507.2014.964296

Olssen, Mark, “Ascertaining the Normative Implications of Complexity for Politics: Beyond Agent-Based Modeling,” in World Politics at the Edge of Chaos: Reflections on Complexity and Global Life, ed. Emilian Kavalski, 139-168. SUNY Press, New York, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1353/book.39884

Olssen, Mark, “Exploring Complexity Through Literature: Reframing Foucault’s Research Project with Hindsight,” Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 16 (2017), 80-89. https://doi.org/10.22381/LPI1620174

Olssen, Mark, “Complexity and Learning: Implications for teacher education,” in Compan-ion to Research in Teacher Education, ed. Michael A. Peters, Bronwen Cowie, Ian Menter, 507-520. Dordrecht: Springer, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-4075-7

Olssen, Mark, and Will Mace, “British Idealism, Complexity Theory and Society: The Politi-cal Usefulness of T. H. Green in a Revised Conception of Social Democracy,” Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 20: 7-34, 2021. https://doi.org/10.22381/LPI2020211

Olssen, Mark, “The Rehabilitation of the Concept of Public Good: Reappraising the Attacks from Liberalism and Neo-Liberalism from a Poststructuralist Perspective,” Review of Contemporary Philosophy 20, 7-52, 2021. https://doi.org/10.22381/RCP2020211

Olssen, Mark, Constructing Foucault’s Ethics: A Poststructuralist Moral Theory for the 21st cen-tury. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2021.

Parker, Barry, Quantum Legacy: The Discovery that Changed Our Universe. New York: Prome-theus Books, 2002.

Poincaré, Henri, ”Sur le problème des trois corps et les équations de la dynamique,” Acta Mathematica 13:1-2 (1890), 1-270. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02392507

Poincaré, Henri, ”Le problème des trois corps, ” Revue générale des sciences pures et appliquées 2 (1891), 1–5.

Prigogine, Ilya, From Being to Becoming, San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1980.

Prigogine, Ilya and Irene Stengers, Order Out of Chaos. New York: Bantam, 1984.

Prigogine, Ilya and Gregoire Nicolis, Exploring Complexity. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1989.

Prigogine, Ilya, Time, Chaos and the Laws of Chaos. Moscow: Ed. Progress, 1994.

Prigogine, Ilya, The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

Prigogine, Ilya, Is Future Given. New Jersey: World Scientific, 2003.

Rutherford, Paul, “The Entry of Life into History,” in Discourses of the Environment, ed. Eric Darier, 37-62. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. https://doi.org/10.18574/nyu/9780814753378.003.0016

Silva-Castañeda, Laura and Nathalie Trussart, “Sustainability Standards and Certifica-tion: Looking through the Lens of Foucault’s Dispositive,” Global Networks 16:4 (2016), 490-510. https://doi.org/10.1111/glob.12139

Thrift, Nigel, “Overcome by Space: Reworking Foucault,” in Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography, ed. Jeremy W. Crampton and Stuart Elden, 53 – 58. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Published
2022-12-29
How to Cite
Olssen, M. (2022). Foucault’s New Materialism: An Extended Review Essay of Thomas Lemke’s The Government of Things. Foucault Studies, (33), 67-89. https://doi.org/10.22439/fs.vi33.6804
Section
Review essays