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The Birth of Biopolitics

Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979

The Birth of Biopolitics
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Michel Foucault's lectures at the Collège de France in 1979, The Birth of Biopolitics, pursue and develop further the themes of his lectures from the previous year, Security, Territory, Population.  Having shown how Eighteenth century political economy marks the birth of a new governmental rationality – seeking maximum effectiveness by governing less and in accordance with the naturalness of the phenomena to be governed – Michel Foucault undertakes the detailed analysis of the forms of this liberal governmentality.  This involves describing the political rationality within which the specific problems of life and population were posed:  "Studying liberalism as the general framework of biopolitics".
 
What are the specific features of the liberal art of government as they were outlined in the Eighteenth century?  What crisis of governmentality characterises the present world and what revisions of liberal government has it given rise to?  This is the diagnostic task addressed by Foucault's study of the two major twentieth century schools of neo-liberalism:  German ordo-liberalism and the neo-liberalism of the Chicago School.  In the years he taught at the Collège de France, this was Michel Foucault's sole foray into the field of contemporary history.  This course thus raises questions of political philosophy and social policy that are at the heart of current debates about the role and status of neo-liberalism in twentieth century politics.  A remarkable feature of these lectures is their discussion of contemporary economic theory and practice, culminating in an analysis of the model of homo oeconomicus.
 
Foucault's analysis also highlights the paradoxical role played by "society" in relation to government.  "Society" is both that in the name of which government strives to limit itself, but it is also the target for permanent governmental intervention to produce, multiply, and guarantee the freedoms required by economic liberalism.  Far from being opposed to the State, civil society is thus shown to be the correlate of a liberal technology of government.   
Palgrave Macmillan; April 2008
365 pages; ISBN 9780230594180
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