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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


5th March 2012

CGHR Research Group

Foucault, Governmentality and the Knowledge Economy

Umar Salam (DPhil candidate at Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford University)

This paper considered Foucault’s concept of governmentality and asked whether it might be applied to contemporary forms of development discourse, specifically those associated with the knowledge economy. In the first section, Umar Salam examined Foucault’s critique of Chicago-School neoliberalism and the striking claims Foucault made regarding the Chicago School’s “generalisation of the economic form of the market” – firstly, that the market served as a “principle of intelligibility of social relationships” and secondly, that it acted as a “permanent economic tribunal” according to which the state could be held to account. Salam described how the concept of governmentality relates to these claims and explain how Foucault’s understanding of the term differs from that of later scholars. In the second section, Umar Salam outlined how the idea of ‘building knowledge economies’ came to take such a dominant position in development discourse and review the impact this has had on science and higher education policies in certain developing countries. Salam then argued that Foucault’s theoretical insights about the relationship between systems and practices of knowledge on the one hand,and the relations and exercise of power on the other may be generalised from his own critique of neoliberalism to that of the knowledge economy discourse, and that the political effects of pursuing a knowledge economy strategy cannot be disentangled from the conceptual context from which such strategies emerged.