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Episode 24: Foucault & Neoliberalism, with Magnus Paulsen Hansen

Hello, Fully Automated friends! For your coronavirus lockdown listening pleasure, we are today releasing a really special episode. Our guest is Dr. Magnus Paulsen Hansen, who is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social Sciences and Business, at Roskilde University. Magnus researches the role of ideas and evaluation in the legitimation of welfare state transformations. But he is also a bit of a Foucault ninja. And he is joining us today to discuss a question that has vexed me for a long time: was Foucault a neoliberal?

Veteran listeners may recall the last time we discussed this issue, when we had Mark GE Kelly on the show, all the way back in Episode 2! But I wanted to get Magnus on the show to go a little deeper into some of these arguments, as its a debate that doesn’t seem to be going away. In 2015, Magnus published an article in the journal Foucault Studies, entitled Foucault’s Flirt? Neoliberalism, the Left and the Welfare State; a Commentary on La dernière leçon de Michel Foucault and Critiquer Foucault. For me, it stands as one of the most exhaustively researched and argued rebuttals of the contention, by Daniel Zamora, and other fellow travelers (see also here), that Foucault bears some kind of intellectual responsibility for the rise of neoliberal thought.

Honestly, I’ve always been a little alarmed by the argument that Foucault was a neoliberal. Its not so much the idea itself that offends me, as the slipshod nature of the way the argument is made. With a strong tendency towards ad hominem argumentation, and little consideration for Foucault’s core teachings on power, the argument appears to be quite ideologically driven. Often, it seems to boil down simply to the argument that Foucault was some sort of intellectual magpie, and all too easily distracted by shiny objects. Zamora and his fellow travelers claim that Foucault was “seduced” by the basic model of freedom offered by neoliberal thought, and that he was thus blinded to its more disciplinary tendencies. Given Foucault’s prestige and influence among the left, this was an abdication from his intellectual duty, weakening the left just at the moment of Reagan and Thatcher’s arrival.

In this interview, we discuss the danger of looking for “hidden” or “unconscious” intentions in an author, and the idea that such intentions might relate to any conclusion about an author’s politics. We discuss the “best case” defense of the claim that Foucault was somehow seduced by neoliberal thought, and the way this argument often gets linked in an under-nuanced way to Foucault’s critique of the post-war welfare state. We also explore the various ways in which Foucault, while often categorized as a libertarian, with anti-state proclivities, was equally opposed to anarchist theoretics of the state, going even so far as to refer to them as a form of “state phobia” — something that is especially interesting think about today, in light of Agamben’s recent interventions on Coronavirus measures as amplifying permanent state of exception (I discussed this at length in the intro to our last episode, with Garnet Kindervater).

In the face of such weak evidence, we should note that Foucault in no way accepted or endorsed the idea that he was himself a neoliberal. To the contrary, as Magnus notes, there is a strong cautionary voice in Foucault’s writings on neoliberalism. Indeed, he appears to argue that it foreshadows the dawn of a new and sinister mode of political power; at the moment of neoliberalism’s birth, Foucault was warning that neoliberal theory imagines itself installing a “permanent economic tribunal” and becoming a hegemonic “model of social relations and of existence itself.” Certainly, this is not to say Foucault’s work has no blind spots when it comes to the question of what neoliberal theory would later become. One common objection to Foucault in this sense is his failure to anticipate the disciplinary aspects of contemporary neoliberalism, such as work fare, for example. How should we assess this failure? For Magnus, the contention is complicated by the fact that work fare didn’t really become a part of the neoliberal toolbox until the 1990s.

Unless we are to accept that failure to predict the future is a sign of scholarly weakness, it might more reasonably be said that we are overloading the concept of neoliberalism, to ask it to explain literally everything that happens in contemporary capitalism. And it is to this question that Magnus and I turn, towards the end of the interview, when we explore the question of Foucault’s contentious relationship with Marxism, and his suggestion that the left has “yet to invent” a socialist governmentality.

You can follow Magnus on Twitter, here. Hope to you enjoy the show. Please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcasts, or your podcast app of choice!

Episode 4: The Corbyn Factor, with Owen Worth

This episode we’re talking about the 2017 British General Election, and the surprising performance of Jeremy Corbyn, and the British Labour Party. Our guest is Owen Worth, Senior Lecturer In International Relations at the University of Limerick, in Ireland. Owen specializes in the study of social movements, and has published a number of works on varieties of resistance to neoliberalism, from religious fundamentalism to more leftist expressions. On the day of the election, he had a piece published in the Irish Times, wherein he argued that Corbyn would likely do very well, as a result of the mobilization of large numbers of young “anti-establishment” voters in the UK.

In the interview, you’ll hear Owen refer to something called a War of position. This is a term drawn from the theories of Antonio Gramsci. In contrast with Gramsci’s notion of the “war of movement,” which refers more to the classic revolutionary strategy of trying to seize state power by direct assault, through armed insurrections, mass protest, strikes, and the like, the “war of position” is more about trying to catalyze new forms of social imagination, and encouraging new ideas to which we attach our consent. But what is the axis of those new ideas? In the following, you’ll hear Owen argue that the results of the election suggest British politics is in the process of being rearticulated around what might prove to be an unhealthy battleground, between young and old voters. We talk about the significance of the Corbyn result for Ireland, and the way his performance has been received by the Irish media.

CFP: Critical IR and IPE at the End of Capitalism Call for Papers/Participants for ISA Venture Research Workshop 2018

We are seeking participants to contribute to our proposed Venture Research Workshop at the ISA Convention 2018 in San Francisco. If successful, the one-day workshop will be held on 3rd April 2018 and travel grants will be made available. The proposed format is a series of three short panels followed by an open roundtable discussion featuring invited questions on our themes. Participants will also be invited to contribute to an edited volume.

Proposals to participate should be submitted in the form of a short abstract (max. 200 words) addressing one or more of the themes outlined below. Please submit these to Adam Fishwick (adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk or @Adam_Fishwick on Twitter) and Nicholas Kiersey (kiersey@ohio.edu or @occupyirtheory on Twitter) by 15th June 2017.

Continue reading CFP: Critical IR and IPE at the End of Capitalism Call for Papers/Participants for ISA Venture Research Workshop 2018

So, this just happened…

Swoon...
Swoon…

So this is definitely one of the more cool things to happen in my life…

 

Exercise caution with KONY 2012 | This Blog Harms

If like me you are scratching your head over this sudden surge in KONY postings all over the social media sphere, you could do worse than check out the mighty Robin Cameron’s compilation of useful posts weighing up the various sides to the issue. This meme harms! Do be sure to check out the KONY Drinking Game link, too!

Exercise caution with KONY 2012 | This Blog Harms.

The Definitive ‘Kony 2012′ Drinking Game | Wronging Rights.

When political philosophy goes viral…

 

Pretty mad example of how political memes can emerge…

For background, see also: http://takethecrosstown.com/2012/03/01/when-faculty-go-viral/

WIL WHEATON dot TUMBLR, (via my teacher says some smart shit. thought you….

CFP on ‘Occupy’ for Social Movement Studies special edition

This looks a little similar to our JCGS issue, which will be out soon, but definitely a great opportunity to go into more detail on the #occupy movements in general…

http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/14742837.asp

We are producing a special edition on the recent Occupy… movement. Our aim is to publish around a dozen short papers in a ‘virtual issue’, made freely available (open access) on our journal website; around half of these papers will also be printed in the hard copy of the journal. Given the timeliness of Occupy… events, we intend to collate this edition quickly, for publication in summer 2012 (volume 11 issue 3). Continue reading CFP on ‘Occupy’ for Social Movement Studies special edition

The Living Dead: On the Strange Persistence of Zombie International Relations « The Disorder Of Things

Kafka, Huxley and Orwell used speculative work to highlight complex political issues which went unaddressed by standard genres. The best academic work in this field does this too, using non-traditional themes and issues as imaginative sources by which to open up fields of enquiry. Michael ShapiroCynthia WeberJutta WeldesIver NeumannChina Miéville and others focus on big, important issues: power and the production of knowledge; identity and representation; the blurriness of reality and fiction. In contrast, Drezner’s book serves up the same old stories, told by the same old theories. By the end of the book, I was not even sure how much he knew about zombies, at least not beyond the recent vogue for Anglo-American books and films on the subject.

via The Living Dead: On the Strange Persistence of Zombie International Relations « The Disorder Of Things.

Three thoughts on #Occupy | openDemocracy

But these are well-trod criticisms. What interests me is that the minimal programme of 99%ism – that it is so attractive and so immediate a rallying cry. No doubt some of this is to do with the liberating sensation that one doesn’t need a fully fledged theory of political economy to take part in action. It’s diffuse groups with similarly minimal programmes that have been peculiarly successful here, too – especially UKUncut. Like many, I share a disquiet that hesitancy to voice radical critiques of wage labour and capitalist culture (because we’re scared of spooking the horses) means that these minimal programmes will find themselves as acting, essentially, as parliamentary pressure groups, articulating basically cosmetic and reformist demands. The worst outcome of 99%ism could well be a response to one of its structuring logics – that there are some bad people in the 1%, that they have behaved badly, and that once they’re suitably chastised, we can all go home and return to normal. Continue reading Three thoughts on #Occupy | openDemocracy

Steve Bell on Greeces euro bailout referendum – cartoon | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk

Steve Bell on Greeces euro bailout referendum – cartoon | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.