Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thomas Lemke on neoliberalism - the semantics of flexibility

Over at Recording Surface Wendy Brown's illuminating essay on neoliberalism as a political rationality [“Neo-liberalism and the end of liberal democracy.” Theory and Event 7:1] is under consideration.

Brown draws on Thomas Lemke's writings for key concepts with which to think neoliberalism as a political rationality and form of governmentality. Lemke has an excellent website with many of his journal articles available to read and download.

Here's Lemke from 'The birth of bio-politics': Michel Foucault’s lectures at the College de France on neo-liberal governmentality.':

[T]he theoretical strength of the concept of governmentality consists of the fact that it construes neo-liberalism not just as ideological rhetoric or as a political-economic reality, but above all as a political project that endeavours to create a social reality that it suggests already exists. Neo-liberalism is a political rationality that tries to render the social domain economic and to link a reduction in (welfare) state services and security systems to the increasing call for ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘self-care’. In this way, we can decipher the neo-liberal harmony in which not only the individual body, but also collective bodies and institutions (public administrations, universities, etc.), corporations and states have to be ‘lean’, ‘fit’, ‘flexible’ and ‘autonomous’: it is a technique of power. The analysis of governmentality not only focuses on the integral link between micro- and macro-political levels (e.g. globalization or competition for ‘attractive’ sites for companies and personal imperatives as regards beauty or a regimented diet), it also highlights the intimate relationship between ‘ideological’ and ‘political-economic’ agencies (e.g. the semantics of flexibility and the introduction of new structures of production). This enables us to shed sharper light on the effects neo-liberal governmentality has in terms of (self-) regulation and domination. These effects entail not just the simple reproduction of existing asymmetries or their ideological obfuscation, but are the product of a re-coding of social mechanisms of exploitation and domination on the basis of a new topography of the social domain.

Thomas Lemke “'The birth of bio-politics': Michel Foucault’s lectures at the College de France on neo-liberal governmentality.” Economy and Society. 30.2: 190-207. p203. Emphasis added.

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