Details below of a podcast, focussing on a recent Society and Space paper on media practices and urban politics. The paper itself is available on open access for the next month.
I just came across an interview with Daniel Zamora, via a flurry of Twitter excitement, trailing his new book, apparently due to be translated into English next year, which ‘dares’ to develop a critique of Foucault. It’s available at Jacobin, and also at nonsite. The focus is on how Foucault displayed an unseemly interest and sympathy for ‘neoliberal’ ideas in the 1970s. I’m not sure this is a terribly new observation. I say so since I have managed to write a couple of blogs on this, a few years or so ago now, reflecting on how the concept of governmentality is always thought of as a name for the suspect exercise of sinister power, and also on how some thinkers, at least, have been developing rather more precise usages of the term neoliberal in light of Foucault’s thoughts on this theme. I say this not in a “I’m great” sort of way, but rather in a “If I knew all about this, it can’t be that shocking a discovery” sort of way. There is already plenty of discussion of this theme in Foucault’s work, by Colin Gordon, by Michael Behrent, amongst others.
Zamora’s line seems to be that Foucault’s ‘indulgence’ of ideas such as Friedman’s negative income tax’ reflects badly on him, politically. The rhetorical force of this argument rests on a fairly standard trick of drawing homologies between various leftish arguments against statism, or for a bit more freedom, and ‘neoliberal’ free-marketery. I’ve always found that sort of argument lazy, even when advanced by thinkers I otherwise like a lot, such as Nancy Fraser. Above all, it tends to leave in place fairly standard ideas of what ‘neoliberalism’ is and what ‘neoliberalization’ has been. It seems to me that the affinity that Foucault appears to have displayed might be just as well taken as an occasion to rethink both of those ideas. That’s the spirit, for example, of James Ferguson’s discussions of left governmentality. Zamora’s arguments also depend on identifying some new homologies I have not come across before – such as the idea that a defining feature of neoliberal policies is a concern to alleviate poverty (since that leaves deeper issues of inequality in place, you see). I have no great concern to defend Foucault’s honour, but it seems to me a bit limited to suggest that a commitment to providing a minimum level of income is somehow a mark of right-wing neoliberalism. That would be a bit of a surprise, I suspect, to lots of people all the way from Thomas Paine through to Erik Olin Wright and many others.
I suspect that there is plenty of scope for reconfiguring the ‘political’ interpretation of Foucault’s work buried in all those recently published lectures, but it doesn’t seem very creative to do so by simply re-inscribing it into a static terrain in which the constant negative pole is an object of repulsion always called ‘neoliberalism’.
An open access interview at Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies with Toby Miller on cultural studies and communication studies, and the class politics of different versions of ‘the humanities’.
My media experience has not quite added up to 15 minutes of fame so far – I was once on the front cover of the University of Reading student paper, and that rolled into the Reading Evening Post the next day (a scandal about geographers teaching sociology); and I was once quoted in a South African daily, and refuted by a government minister in the same story.
So given the chance, I jumped at the opportunity to be on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 this morning – in my capacity as ‘ordinary bloke with kids’, obviously, the accidental by-product of being a research subject in Tina Miller’s study of men becoming fathers.
If this was even half decent radio, it wasn’t because of me, but because Dean Beaumont from DaddyNatal and Tina were arguing; I have lots of other things to say on the topic, but generally, I think that there is a fine line between supporting fathers to be involved around childbirth, on the one hand, and assuming this must be an active role in order for it to have any value – the reason many men might find it so weird, including me, is because they might be unfamiliar with how to just ‘be there’ for another person, doing what they are told, all the while trying to remember it’s not primarily about them.
I’m wondering what to make of the fact that there is an inverse relationship between the size of the audience for this programme and the degree of professional expertise I can claim to have to talk authoritatively about this topic. I only did it for Cultural Studies’ purposes.
“The lesson looking back over the modern history of democracies is that a crisis itself doesn’t create the response: a crisis simply create an opportunity for the well-prepared. History also shows that whatever forces and ideas were in play going into a crisis usually get either intensified or are often successfully adapted during that crisis. The crisis struck in 2008 after a long period of decline of the labour unions, particularly in the private sector, and a long period of intellectual hegemony for free market ideas and the idea that government stands in the way of economic recovery and progress. So it was very difficult to assemble a popular organised coalition that could suddenly present an alternative to the solutions that were being suggested by the financiers who created the crisis in the first place. Essentially, the failure of left forces in many countries to build broad coalitions with democratic roots over time really meant that they weren’t in a position to do that much.”