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



New materialism, Michel Foucault, Thomas Lemke, Mark Olssen, Graham harman, Jane Bennett, Karan Barad, complexity theory


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 (, 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).


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How to Cite

Olssen, M. (2022). 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). Foucault Studies, (33), 67–89.



Review essays