New review of Naissance de la biopolitique by Francesco Guala:
The title of this book is rather misleading. “Birth of neoliberal governmentality,” or something like that, would have been more faithful to its contents. In Foucault’s vocabulary, “biopolitics” is the “rationalisation” of “governmentality” (p. 261): it’s the theory, in other words, as opposed to the art (governmentality) of managing people. The mismatch between title and content is easily explained: the general theme of the courses at the Collège de France had to be announced at the beginning of each academic year. It is part of the mandate of every professor at the Collège, however, that his lectures should follow closely his current research. As a consequence it wasn’t unusual for Foucault to take new directions while he was lecturing. In 1979, for the first and only time in his career, he took a diversion into contemporary political philosophy. His principal object of investigation became “neoliberal” political economy. More precisely, he got increasingly interested in those strands of contemporary liberalism that use economic science both as a principle of limitation and of inspiration for the management of people.
Naissance de la biopolitique is the latest instalment in a series of publications that will eventually cover Foucault’s entire period as “Chair of the History of Systems of Thought” at the Coll`ege de France (1970–84). The books are based on tapes recorded by students and other members of the audience, edited using Foucault’s own notes, and complemented by comprehensive bibliographical material. The course of 1978–79 is not Foucault’s only engagement with economic science, of course, for a decade earlier he had devoted many pages of The Order of Things (1966) to outline the transition of economics from immature to mature science. As we shall see however there are several differences between Foucault’s perspective in The Order and in Naissance, which make the latter much more interesting quite independently of its topical character.
Economics and Philosophy 22 (2006), pp. 429-439.