File Name: foucault subjectivity and identity .zip
The neoliberalisation of academia has been well recorded and critiqued Collini, , ; Giroux, , ; Hill and Kumar, ; McGettigan, The process is a seemingly global phenomenon, though it is testament to how embedded the narrative of neoliberalism has become in so many facets of education and broader society that no two accounts of it are ever quite alike. The fact that many theorists understand neoliberalism differently is arguably the result of every theorist applying their own conceptual lens to diverse circumstances.
This has led some argue that the concept has become overused, to the extent that it has lost any meaning Venugopal, However, it may be the very fact that the concept is so multifaceted that makes it worth examining further. Such practices include the process of applying to university, the constant evaluation or reviewing of both their selves and their organisations that students are encouraged to undertake, and the increasing commodification and privatisation of university campuses.
This reflects the subjective experiences and lived manifestations of neoliberal narratives that work to pushes agents into becoming neoliberal subjects.
These include:. These themes not only co-exist, but also interweave, permeating various areas of life. As David Harvey notes:. Neoliberalism has, in short, become hegemonic as a mode of discourse. It has pervasive effects on ways of thought to the point where it has become incorporated into the common-sense way many of us interpret, live in and understand the world. This includes how people conceive of and understand themselves as individuals: how, in short, they develop their identities.
The extent to which this commodification applies to subjects, not just the goods and services they need, will be explored below. Similarly, others exploring identity and subject positions have also adapted his concept of the self Hall, ; McNay, ; Rose, It seems appropriate then that an attempt to understand the subject positions of neoliberalism should start with a reflection on Foucault. In his later work, Foucault made an important theoretical shift, moving his focus from the body and the disciplinary power that binds it, to the self.
His earlier work focused on the productive nature of power on a grand scale to regulate, discipline, and produce subjects. However, from The history of sexuality onwards this conception of subject formation was complemented by a recognition that there must also be a response from the subjects themselves. Crucially, Foucault argues that in order to understand the modern subject:. Instead, individuals can be understood as active subjects who construct themselves through processes of self-constitution, recognition and reflection — or what Foucault terms technologies of the self.
It is from these technologies that practices of the self arise. Foucault himself was not explicit about the difference, but it is important to understand how the elements differ. It is in the practices associated with these technologies that Foucault finds the means by which individuals self-regulate, self-fashion, and self-produce. It is through these different practices of the self that the technology is reworked to fit with the dominant narrative of the time.
Crucially, these processes are still influenced by dominant narratives. As such, the subjects enacting them will also be influenced by these narratives. Foucault finds technologies of the self in practices of liberation, rather than in domination McNay, , but stresses that such freedoms are still conditioned and determined through the socio-cultural context in which they operate Hall, These practices rely on the mutual dependency between structure and agency.
In other words, while subjects may exercise a degree of choice in how they conduct themselves, that choice is still shaped by larger social and cultural narratives. This dependency is not one-sided: agency plays as much of a role in subject formation as narrative. Significantly, there is always more than one system imposing narratives and structures on subjects, and these may have conflicting effects.
While individuals are influenced by these different systems they have some agency given their current influences, so different individuals may come to embody the same systems differently. This act of subject positioning works in both verbal and non-verbal ways ibid. They conceptualise this through the practice of conversation, arguing that this interactive practice allows one person to position another within different narratives.
Or, a person may position themselves through internal conversation. However, they do caution that such positioning does not always happen intentionally. The forms these internal conversations take are varied, from short ruminations through to vivid daydreams, and they do not necessarily take the form of a dialogue or conversation.
However, they do have to have a central focus for the subject to consider a course of action and then to set about achieving it. Whatever project we set for ourselves, this element of reflexive thought is crucial as it gives us agency to act.
She theorises the different types of reflexivity that subjects may experience and suggests that different people will be more prone to certain types of reflexive thinking.
Like Foucault, Archer recognises that there is a balance to be struck between the self-steering actions of individuals driven by these different modes of reflexivity, and the influences of social and organisational narratives. These influences work automatically, though they are dependent on human activity in both their origin and exercise.
Agency works reflexively, either following these influences or in anticipation of them. The internal conversations involved in reflexive thinking could be conceptualised as a practice of the self, and while such conversations will take cues from the social world, by their very nature they are internalised and dependent on how a subject chooses to talk to their self.
This is important as it allows room for subjects to process their own histories and experiences, and as such it reinforces their agency ibid. The concept of reflexivity becomes especially useful when addressing issues of personal choice, a key theme of neoliberalism, as it adds an element of agency.
In accepting that subject positions must be embodied and acted upon in order to enact the discourses they operate within, it becomes imperative that they are studied empirically as well as theoretically. For example, Hardy and Thomas studied how market discourses within organisations intensified as actors engaged in practices that helped to normalise and diffuse them.
My own empirical research explores how students at English universities position themselves in relation to the neoliberal discourses directed at them by the higher education sector and wider society.
One particular cog of the last four decades is the marketisation of higher education and the positioning of students as consumers of education, although reducing changes in higher education to the simple introduction of market forces ends up missing wider neoliberal mechanisms at play. Much has been written on the student-as-consumer Molesworth et al. Instead of consumers, universities encourage students to think of themselves as and reflect on themselves as being enterprising individuals.
This idealised subject, the product of political, societal, and organisational discourses, is presented as something students should aspire to be. He noted that neoliberalism entails acquiring human capital, especially through education and training. Neoliberalism, he argued, instrumentalises learning in line with this goal.
Mirowski, in describing the ideal neoliberal subject paints a picture of an individual who is not simply:. For the enterprising subject, almost every act becomes an investable advantage in a competitive world.
Competition is increasingly enacted within higher education organisations, and not just between institutions but also students. For example, the student who plays for their university football team may begin doing so simply because they enjoy playing the sport and like the social aspect of being in a team. Granted, it does not automatically follow that being enterprising means being neoliberal: one could be enterprising in activities that do not yield economic returns and for reasons other than gaining a competitive edge.
However, the current, dominant narrative in higher education tends towards encouraging students to think of themselves in this economically competitive way. Indeed, in later his work, Foucault b argued that practices of self, based on culture and society, are established as norms to either aspire to or disaffiliate from. In my research, the student other is someone who has not been to university and can be found in the stigmatisation of the feckless or lazy working class Jones, ; Mirowski, ; Tyler, The stark dichotomy between these two types of subject offers an interesting insight into why some students — especially those from a lower socio-economic background or other social categories where participation in higher education is still comparatively low — might construct themselves as neoliberal students in order to distance themselves from this other subject position.
While Archer proposes that in order for a subject to be influenced by social and organisational factors, they must find such an influence to be good, the concept of an unideal neoliberal subject would suggest that some subjects are also influenced by factors that they find to be bad, whether by putting up an active resistance to these influences or by hoping simply to avoid them.
The idealised enterprising subject, the product of political, societal, and organisational discourses, is seen as something individuals aspire to be. Whilst the ideal subject may be held up through dominant discourses, no individual will ever fully match the criteria. But that does not mean they will not work on their selves through reflection and their consequent actions in an attempt to match the ideal.
This difference between the actual and the ideal is a point that is at times forgotten in Foucauldian accounts of subjectivity: the extent to which individuals become a certain type of subject is always an empirical question, hence the need for empirical research.
So, while we can talk of neoliberal subjects, this is not to say agents will operate exclusively through that frame. However, how an individual experiences these subject positions may be influenced by external factors, encouraging them to position themselves within one predominant classification even if it causes conflict with other subject positions they may embody. Though not entirely comparable, there are interesting parallels to be drawn at this stage between a neoliberal identity and identities of gender or race.
The obvious difference with the neoliberal self is that gender and race usually carry with them clear physical attributes that have culturally imposed expectations and identities, but it is useful to entertain the idea of becoming and the practices and reflections behind that. No one is born a neoliberal subject, but rather may become one.
The ideal neoliberal subject seeks to make an enterprise of their own life, investing in their human capital in order to fuel the consumption that will produce their own satisfaction. The discourse of the neoliberal era of capitalism differs from previous iterations of capitalism because it places the responsibility for securing satisfaction primarily on the individual, making it the consequence of personal choice. In this discourse, enterprising subjects who actively seek to invest in their selves are securing their own futures, while those who do not are left to face the consequences alone.
This discourse, based on individual responsibility, has become hegemonic not simply because individuals have been subject to it, but because through their acts they embody it as active subjects, whether consciously or not. This note has attempted to offer a theoretical lens through which to better understand how and why neoliberalism has become not just a political and economic project, but a social and organisational one as well.
By linking the works of Foucault and Archer, the note proposed a framework that explains how the pursuit of desired ends, hopes and the alleviation of concerns, can lead a subject to act in an enterprising way, encouraging them to embody the neoliberal narrative and become neoliberal subjects.
Elizabeth Houghton gained her doctorate from Lancaster University in She was supervised by Andrew Sayer and Richard Tutton. She is currently working outside of academia, in policy development. Becoming a neoliberal subject Peak neoliberalism. Elizabeth Houghton.
Introduction The neoliberalisation of academia has been well recorded and critiqued Collini, , ; Giroux, , ; Hill and Kumar, ; McGettigan, These include: the fetishisation of competition, and market fundamentalism Gilbert, ; Foucault, ; Mirowski, ; Standing, ; a narrative of investment in human capital, both by individuals to increase their own employment prospects, and by the state to drive up national productivity Foucault, ; Hill, ; Huber and Solt, ; Olssen and Peters, ; a transition in the Global North from productive capitalism to financialised capitalism Sayer, ; a shift from populations made up of people as citizens to people as consumers Clarke et al.
As David Harvey notes: Neoliberalism has, in short, become hegemonic as a mode of discourse. Positioning the self as a subject In his later work, Foucault made an important theoretical shift, moving his focus from the body and the disciplinary power that binds it, to the self.
Crucially, Foucault argues that in order to understand the modern subject: [O]ne has to take into account not only technologies of domination, but also techniques of the self. Becoming an ideal neoliberal subject In accepting that subject positions must be embodied and acted upon in order to enact the discourses they operate within, it becomes imperative that they are studied empirically as well as theoretically.
Conclusion The ideal neoliberal subject seeks to make an enterprise of their own life, investing in their human capital in order to fuel the consumption that will produce their own satisfaction. Email: lizziehoughton AT gmail.
Notions of subject and power in Foucaultian readings and their influence in organization and people management studies. This article reflects on the notion of subject and power characterized by Foucault, considering the three intellectual phases and possibilities of the subject, as portrayed in studies on organizations and management. The research assumes that the ways in which Foucault characterized the subject in intellectual phases reflects the ways the organization manages the individual. In addition, this work highlights the potential of the Foucaultian approach regarding the analysis of subjects and the relations of power in the organizations. In the archaeological phase the proposal is to prioritize the study of organizational discourses.
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This book grew out of a conference at the American University of Beirut. Its six chapters are technical and require prior familiarity with both Foucault and Lacan. Most of the authors have a background in both philosophy and psychoanalysis, but other disciplines are represented as well. The influence of the Slovenian approach to Lacan is particularly pronounced: at least four of the six contributors have studied or taught at the University of Ljubljana. Despite the title, only half of the chapters bear directly on the complex relationship between Foucault and Lacan.
Subjectivity is a central philosophical concept, related to consciousness , agency , personhood , reality , and truth , which has been variously defined by sources.
Although the writings of Foucault have had tremendous impact on contemporary thinking about subjectivity, notions of the subject have a considerable history. In this text, Robert Strozier examines ideas of subject and self that have developed throughout western thought. Read more Please choose whether or not you want other users to be able to see on your profile that this library is a favorite of yours. Finding libraries that hold this item You may have already requested this item.
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