New paper: Reconciling Foucault and Skinner on the state: the primacy of politics?

New paper just released in History of the Human Sciences.

Reconciling Foucault and Skinner on the state: the primacy of politics?

Ryan Walter

Murdoch University, Australia,

Foucault and Skinner have each offered influential accounts of the emergence of the state as a defining element of modern political thought. Yet the two accounts have never been brought into dialogue; this non-encounter is made more interesting by the fact that Foucault’s and Skinner’s accounts are at odds with one another. There is therefore much to be gained by examining this divergence. In this article I attempt this task by first setting out the two accounts of the state, and then some of the methodological strictures each thinker has suggested. I argue that the divergence between Foucault’s and Skinner’s accounts of the state is indeed driven by differences in method, as we might expect; but I also argue that these differences in method can themselves be well explained by the differing political motivations each thinker has at times articulated. Thus it is possible to make politics, and not method, the privileged point of this reconciliation.

Key Words: Cambridge School • Michel Foucault • governmentality • politics • Quentin Skinner


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