Engaging Foucault: Discourse, Liberal Governance and the Limits of Foucauldian IR

New article:

Engaging Foucault: Discourse, Liberal Governance and the Limits of Foucauldian IR

Jan Selby

Sussex University, UK

This article provides a critical survey of the appropriation of the work of Michel Foucault within poststructuralist IR. Foucault has thus far been employed within poststructuralist IR in three ways: to support deconstructions of realist international theory; to analyse modern discourses and practices of international politics; and to develop novel accounts of the contemporary global liberal order. I argue that the first and the third of these usages are especially problematic. Utilised for the critique of realism, Foucault’s main emphases have consistently been overlooked or misrepresented. By contrast, when `scaled up’ to inform analyses of world order, Foucault’s work has ended up supporting essentially liberal accounts of international politics. There are, I argue, clear limits to the use of Foucault in theorising international and world politics, and given this I conclude that if Foucault is to be used more effectively within IR, his work needs to be situated within a framework — I suggest a Marxist one — which is cognisant both of the structural dimensions of power, and of the specificity and irreducibility of the international.

Key Words: bio-politics • discourse • Foucault • governance • governmentality • Marxism • poststructuralism

International Relations, Vol. 21, No. 3, 324-345 (2007)
DOI: 10.1177/0047117807080199


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