Modes of Governance in Neo-Liberal Capitalism: An Introduction

Hai Ren

[1] Neo-liberal capitalism – which has become not necessarily better or more advanced but certainly more complicated and more dominant in contemporary human lives – signals a significant departure from liberal capitalism. Under the guise of liberal capitalism, the Eurocentric norm of state sovereignty dominated the global development of the nation-state system. Not only through colonialism and imperialism but also by means of international treaties, conventions, and laws, Europeans and Euro-Americans forcefully established international regimes of liberty, democracy, and rights in the realm of the political, [1] and international regimes of the market and labor in the realm of the economic. The rise of neo-liberal capitalism is fundamentally based on significant changes not only in the realms of the political and the economic but also the ways in which these realms become intertwined with the realm of the intellect, which manifests through two kinds of anthropological knowledge – one based on accumulative, historical, and normative experiences of becoming part of a “people” (properly speaking, a subject of the modern nation-state), and another based on contingent, indescribable, and alienating experiences of being part of a multitude (a subject without the nation-state’s representation). Historically, neo-liberalism reflects the changing relationship between institutions of power (especially the state and the market) and the governance of political subjects (people and multitude). Contemporary neo-liberal capitalism operates not merely through neo-liberal modes of governance but also through other modes, including police (coercive) and liberal modes.

[2] The current scholarship on neo-liberal capitalism is substantially based on the works of Michel Foucault and Max Weber. It has produced a series of conceptual categories such as privatization, personalization, responsibility, conduct, values, and morality, for analyzing a neo-liberal mode of governance and the neo-liberal subject. [2] The scholarship helps us to understand how norms of freedom and liberty shape human lives and their conditions. At the same time, however, the emphasis on the neo-liberal subject’s individual agency, capability, and intelligence tends to produce the impression that this mode of governance is the most advanced stage of democracy, replacing all other modes and becoming an international norm established by Western democratic states. Moreover, the economic dimension of neo-liberalism (or the manifestations of the market) is examined without adequately addressing cultural, historical, and authoritarian conditions of neo-liberal capitalism, especially in the contexts of the Cold War and its aftermath, new modes of capital accumulation, and the recent U.S. led “War on Terrorism.” [3] In addition, while providing diagnoses about modes of governance and their problematic consequences, the scholarship has not paid enough attention to possible solutions to these problems. Finally, since the scholarship is built on critiquing knowledge and expertise, it is necessary for us to reflect on ethical issues concerning our scholarship. If there is a politics of neo-liberal life, our challenge is to find a new politics for resisting it.

[3] This Rhizomes special issue on “Neo-liberal Governmentality: Technologies of the Self & Governmental Conduct” is intended to contribute to the scholarly debate over neo-liberalism under contemporary conditions of globalization. It asks: How are liberal and neo-liberal logics of governance developed on the basis of governmental discourses that address the lived experiences of ordinary people, industrial masses, subalterns, minorities, and other marginalized populations? How are neo-liberal subjects constructed in multiple ways? And what are some of the conditions under which neo-liberal capitalism becomes a dominant trend in this new century? In addressing these questions, we organize the articles according to three themes: liberal logic and governmental discourses, construction of neo-liberal subjects, and conditions of neo-liberal capitalism.

Liberal Logic and Governmental Discourses

[4] The first set of questions focuses on the relationship between liberal logic and governmental discourses. How do governmental discourses of marginalized others connect seemingly unrelated and/or incommensurable domains of social life such as capital accumulation and cultural representation? We need to examine first the development of a liberal logic of governance, which is based on dividing the population into two categories: the people (representing and identifying the Oneness of the modern nation-state) and the masses (signaling the multiple). [4] In this context of differentiating populations, Foucault regards the modern state as “a mechanism at once of individualization and of totalization,” [5] and governmentality as the “art” for dealing with the inner link between the conduct of individual existence and the regulation of the lives of the many. [6] Since the Enlightenment, the category of the people has been systematically constructed to refer to the citizens of the modern nation-state. This is accomplished at the collective level through cultivating a shared sense of belonging to a nation as an imagined community, [7] and, at the individual level, through such measures as the “social contract” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau) and the “invisible hand” of the market (Adam Smith).

[5] Throughout modern history, the state and the market have engaged in a constant negotiation with each other in formulating governmentality (or the art of government). In the eighteenth and the nineteenth century, two modes of governance were developed on the basis of two models of power: “reason of state” (raison d’état), which followed the “police” style of governing, and “reason of economy” (raison d’économie), which followed the liberal style. [8] According to the “reason of state,” governance focused on developing a science of policing, as shown by Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. [9] Moreover, this style of governance treated the economy as an object of government but not as autonomous from the state. Thus, the state became the measure for everything else: the absolute spirit of History (linear, progressive, and modern) and the guardian of social democracy. [10] Meanwhile, according to the “reason of economy,” the market did not need the support of the state; it was constructed as laissez-faire: autonomous and self-sustaining. The ideal individual to be governed under the “reason of economy” was “economic man” (homo oeconomicus), represented by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, who used his economic calculation skills to extend the British colonial empire. In the twentieth century, especially under the condition of the Cold War (for example, competitions between capitalist and communist states), the “welfare state” – referring to a state-sponsored welfare system that addressed social security issues – was developed, [11] according to which both the state and the market were considered in formulating modes of governance (discussed further in the next section).

[6] In distinction from “the people” who exist as unified subjects of the nation-state, the “masses” exist in the form of the multitude, because they cannot be defined or characterized as people without being qualified, trained, disciplined, and punished. The transformation of masses into citizens entails what Foucault calls “a bio-politics of the population,” which focuses on a series of interventions and regulatory controls of various aspects of human life such as birth, health, longevity, sex, and mortality. [12] Bio-politics requires use not only of mechanisms of monitoring but also technologies for visualizing everyday behavior, identity, activity, and apparently unimportant gestures. The efficiency of policing society was greatly enhanced by new techniques and technologies of visualization --such as tables, charts, graphs, photographs, and the cinema. [13] Since the late eighteenth century, the objective classification of crimes and criminals has gradually differentiated between criminal subjects, as enemies disqualified from citizenship, and “abnormal” subjects such as villains, monsters, and madmen. [14] Philanthropists, social workers, journalists, novelists, and human scientists mapped out a series of abnormal, delinquent, deviant, and criminal figures such as vagabonds, idlers, prostitutes, homosexuals, and thieves. In the 1840s and 1850s, for example, Henry Mayhew interviewed the “street folk” and criminal groups of London for the Morning Chronicle. [15] In the late nineteenth century, Emile Zola’s research on department stores in Paris allowed him to write about female shop-lifting. [16]

[7] A liberal logic of governance developed in part on the basis of dividing the population into civilized people or citizens and improper masses, as the essays by Laura María Agustín and Roderick A. Ferguson illustrate. In “Helping Women Who Sell Sex: The Construction of Benevolent Identities,” Agustín identifies part of this logic in the construction of the 19th century bourgeois family as a social norm and the struggle of bourgeois women to liberate themselves from the domination of bourgeois patriarchy. Within the historical context of the rising identification of social problems, this norm functioned by differentiating between two types of subjects – bourgeois women as “helpers” and working-class women as “victims” within a particular field of conduct: prostitution.

[8] While the social work of bourgeois women (as civilized citizens) certainly helped working-class prostitutes, Agustín pushes the argument further by showing the degree to which their work also depended upon a discourse of the “victimization” of working-class women. Without this discourse, the social work of bourgeois women could not be legitimized. Therefore, under the bourgeois family norm, women’s struggles (working outside the home, financial independence, etc) were enabled both by a capitalist regime of labor and by a governmental discourse on prostitutes as victims. Agustín’s article sheds lights on important questions within contemporary feminism: How do we challenge certain governmental discourses that binarize women as either fully sovereign subjects or else as oppressed victims needing to be “liberated?” Not coincidentally, the binary tends to map onto colonial, racial, and imperial categories. [17]

[9] Shifting from Europe to the United States, Roderick A. Ferguson’s essay, “The Stratifications of Normativity,” argues that a liberal logic of governance is also based on stratifications. In his book, Aberrations in Black (2004), he examines the pathologization of African American working-class and poor communities and subjects as the effect of normalization in the United States. In his essay here, he examines more explicitly the normalization of middle-class African Americans and its resulting intellectual formations through a liberal discourse of governance. From the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, the formation of African Americans as emancipated or liberty-bearing subjects took place within a number of fields of behavior and conduct, of which Ferguson discusses two in particular.

[10] The first is the field of the cultural, or more specifically, education, within which “civil society” became the measure for training (middle-class) African Americans to become liberty-bearing subjects. According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “social contract,” it is in “civil society” (properly speaking, bourgeois civil society) where a human is no longer “a stupid, limited animal” but becomes “a creature of intelligence and a man.” And, civil society is developed as a domain of freedom through a series of transformations (from nature to culture, the rule of instinct to the rule of justice, from physical impulse to duty, desire to right, and inclination to reason). [18] Ferguson argues that the idea of freedom within Rousseau’s notion of civil society not only becomes a norm through the moral discourse of civil society, but also becomes a practical measure through the governance of moral procedures (by such things as civil rights and property rights, and by individual moral subjectification). In terms of educating African Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, the example of Ms. Mary L. Hubert illustrates that the home is an important site both for regulating and disciplining African Americans who deviated from the norm of freedom (p. 15) and for “civilizing” African Americans to bear the responsibility of emancipation from slavery. To govern African Americans as free subjects was to transform them through the norm of freedom.

[11] The second field of conduct is imperial warfare. Through discussing Booker T. Washington’s A New Negro For a New Century (published in 1900), Ferguson argues that it was under the condition of U.S. imperialism, especially in terms of the Spanish American War in the late nineteenth century, that African Americans who were disenfranchised along the lines of race and class were allowed to become new, modern, nationalized, and moralized subjects (Ferguson p. 16). This argument perhaps reveals a key leitmotif in the history of the U.S.’s wars with other countries – from the Civil War (the war of emancipation), the war with Spain (the war of unifying the states), two World Wars, the Cold War (or the war of protecting the free world), the two Gulf Wars, to today’s “War on Terrorism.” This leitmotif suggests a close relationship between the formation of liberty-bearing subjects (with full American citizenship) and disenfranchised individuals (the poor, ethnic and racial minorities, and even legal immigrants or non-citizen “aliens”). Racial equality is encouraged under the imperial condition of sovereignty: men of all colors, races, and nationalities are treated equally as liberty-bearing patriots. Ferguson’s argument, however, goes further. The imperial agendas of wars with foreign countries may appear to permit African Americans and Whites to co-exist as equals, citizens, and allies, but in fact they continue and extend stratification through the norm of freedom (p. 16). The production of equality in the name of liberty under the condition of imperial wars is permitted by the state of exception or the suspension of juridical order by law. [19] The history of liberty is built on the history of empire. [20]

The Construction of Neo-Liberal Subjects

[12] The second set of questions addresses multiple modes of construction of neo-liberal subjects. How is a neo-liberal logic of governance different from and similar to a liberal logic of governance? What are neo-liberal subjects, and how do they differ from liberal subjects? By what means does the construction of neo-liberal subjects take place?

[13] A contemporary neo-liberal logic of governance, which promotes the capacities of individual subjects, has been developed to facilitate transnational flows of capital, population, information, and goods. Not only does neo-liberalism emphasize the role of the economy, but it also seeks the support of the state. This logic of governance clearly appeared after the end of the Cold War, but it was based on theories of economic sociology, especially the work of Max Weber, a founding father of contemporary neo-liberalism. Weber differentiates between the state and the economy in terms of instrumental reason (or rationality) and spirit: The state has reason but not spirit, whereas the economy possesses both reason and spirit. [21] His conception of society, based on this differentiation, is primarily concerned with theorizing the spiritual development of “personality” (Persönlichkeit) and of the “life orders” (Lebensordnungen) – involving “demands, claims, moulding, impositions, or alternatively the possibilities of changes in the direction of life and the formation of personality” [22] – to overcome the “disenchantment (Entzauberung) of the world” caused by instrumental reason or rationality. [23] From this perspective, both the market and the state play important roles in rationalizing “the conduct of life” (Lebensführung). The market permits the development of “life chances,” when an individual treats his or her life conduct as an “enterprise” and accumulates “human capital” through investment in learning (formal and informal). In comparison, the state functions primarily as the curator of market logic by promoting a mode of citizenship that focuses on the morality of “responsibility,” “virtuous life conduct,” and “quasi-nihilistic motivation” that draws on the Protestant ethic. [24]

[14] Weber’s life conduct, which is associated with the economy, has stimulated the privatization and personalization of social welfare and public security, two major manifestations of contemporary neo-liberalism around the world. Under privatization and personalization, neo-liberal governance aims at transforming recipients of welfare and social insurance into entrepreneurial subjects, who may be motivated to become responsible for themselves. Such a project of transformation may be based either on a social work model of helping, training, and empowering, 925) or on a police model of governing every aspect of life.

[15] In addition to Weber’s conception of life conduct, neo-liberal subject formation can also be examined by using Foucault’s notion of “technologies of the self.” In distinction from Weber’s life conduct, that is inseparable from the economy, Foucault’s “technologies of the self” are based on both the productive operation of power and on expert “know-how” (savoir). Technologies of the self may be developed and used for self-formation: knowing one’s self and making one’s self knowable. [26] The technologies go beyond calculations (of risk, benefit, or/and profit); they are necessarily reflexive practices. For this reason, they do not automatically lead to the formation of neo-liberal subjects, although they may enable neo-liberal subject formation when privatization of public security and personalization of collective goods become widely implemented. In such a situation, the construction of neo-liberal subjects may take place through various means such as uses of multimedia and digital technologies, lifetime education, active participation in consumption, and engagement in entrepreneurial capitalism. Four articles illustrate some of these processes.

[16] Soek-Fang Sim’s essay, “Social Engineering the World’s Freest Economy: Neo-liberal Capitalism and Neo-liberal Governmentality in Singapore,” contributes to the understanding of neo-liberal subject-making in two ways. She outlines a history of subject formation in Singapore: from the disciplining of docile workers through the police or coercive mode of governance in the early stage of Singaporean capitalism, to the making of filial family-based subjects and careerists through the institutionalization of a family-based welfare system, and finally to the construction of risk-taking entrepreneurs by focusing on souls. In the 1980s, the mass media represented the “Singapore Dream” in concrete material forms that included the “5 Cs” (cash, condominium, car, country club and credit card) (p. 41). After 1997 when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) accorded Singapore the status of a “developed country,” the government shifted to new social engineering projects such as the “Singapore 21” (imagining Singapore in the 21st century) (1997-1998) and “Remaking Singapore” (2003). This history illustrates that Singaporean capitalism is neo-liberal, both because it is “uncompromised” by welfare demands and because it creates social engineering projects that focus on the governance of souls by weaving together two unfolding senses of the future: the realization of a material dream of being a Singaporean and the unfolding of the nation’s horizon.

[17] Sim also argues that a neo-liberal mode of soul-governing may be preferred by “advanced liberal democracies” (in Europe and North America), [27] but it is popular among all types of governments, whether capitalist or communist, democratic or authoritarian. Moreover, this mode of governance does not necessarily replace other modes of governance such as the governance of all aspects of life (the “police” mode) and the governance of society (the liberal social welfare model). As different modes of governance coexist, they target different types of subjects in terms of such categories as race, gender, nation and class, [28] as well as will, desire, and even affect.

[18] Moving from Singapore to Japan, social engineering projects and discourses weigh heavily on the shoulders of youth, as illustrated by Andrea G. Arai’s paper, “The Neo-Liberal Subject of Lack and Potential: Developing ‘the Frontier Within’ and Creating a Reserve Army of Labor in 21st Century Japan.” Arai examines the construction of youth as the neo-liberal subject of lack and potential situated at the intersection of two governmental discourses: one on education and another on flexible labor. In the field of education, youth is constructed as a subject of lack: for example, lack of “independence” and “responsibility,” lack of “manners” and “forms,” and lack of a “Japanese heart” or knowledge about Japan. Meanwhile, in the field of labor restructuring, youth is regarded as a subject of potential, who must have “(inner) strength to live:” “Fight to win” and “work hard” to compete (“catch up and overtake the West”), dominant themes of twentieth-century Japan, are no longer sufficient; the subject of potential needs to be a vital and flexible individual with reserves of “energy for life” when facing the twenty-first century. [29] As Arai convincingly argues, these discourses are intended to construct neo-liberal subjects of lack and potential, who not only become a new reserve army of labor (as regular and mobile part-time workers) but also become value-creating subjects for the future of the Japanese nation.

[19] The construction of youth as neo-liberal subjects is a widespread phenomenon, as shown in Hai Ren’s article, “Subculture as a Neo-Liberal Conduct of Life in Leisure and Consumption.” Ren examines how studies of subcultural practitioners historically have constructed them as neoliberal. These range from the criminological studies of the Chicago Schools of Sociology and Economics (the 1920s to the 1960s), to the neo-Marxist studies of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies (the late 1960s to the 1980s), and, finally, postmodern subculture studies (since the 1990s). These three schools may appear to focus on different types of objects and to use different perspectives: the Chicago School focused on delinquent and deviant individuals and groups from the perspective of the middle class; the Birmingham School on disenfranchised and underprivileged individuals and groups from the perspective of the working class; and the postmodernist school on heterogeneous, creative, and organic individuals from the perspective of the ordinary person. However, they all have contributed to the theorization of subculture in terms of the neo-liberal mode of conduct emphasizing self-discipline, self-rationalization, self-responsibility, and self-development.

[20] This neo-liberal conception of conduct as it appears in subculture studies has extended the constitution of the liberal subject (the bearer of liberty as rights and responsibilities) from the traditional bourgeois individual (represented by an educated, middle-class, male, European, and white) [30] to the ordinary person (any education level, any class, any gender, any sex, any ethnicity, and any race). The Chicago School shifted the conception of the subcultural subject from being delinquent to being normative by focusing on the measurement of rational calculation of risk and the accumulation of human capital. The Birmingham School’s concern for social justice and social equality for the working class enabled its scholars to develop an understanding of subcultures as active in resisting the domination of mainstream culture through practices of terms “negotiation,” “decoding,” and “making-do.” This conceptualization of subculture has both made intelligible and enabled the development of the active agency of the disenfranchised and the underprivileged (the working class youth, women, minorities, and other marginalized people) in the politics of emancipation. The emphasis on resistance’s dialectical relation to domination, however, also suggests that the development of this agency depends on and is constituted by hegemonic modes of power. With respect to the postmodernists, the subcultural is conceptualized as the cultural; the modern as the postmodern; and the hero of subculture as an ordinary individual. This genealogy shows that the subcultural subject may become neo-liberal by means of various kinds of politics, ranging from the Chicago School’s liberal politics (measured by capital, especially economic capital), the Birmingham School’s politics of emancipation (measured by social justice and equality), to a postmodernist politics of the ordinary (measured by leisure and consumption practices in everyday life).

[21] Joe Austin’s essay, “Youth, Neoliberalism, Ethics: Some Questions,” reflects on how youth culture studies might engage in both governmental and ethical issues. Some in this field use “neoliberalism” to refer to “‘the hegemonic ideology of postmodern consumerism,’ a global ideology that promotes free market economic policies that insert or expand the rationality of the market into new areas of social life, including the long-established, state-supported social security and mass socialization programs for adolescents” (p.3). Governmental discourses in post-World War II Britain and United Sates represent youth simultaneously in terms of two images: as delinquents and as consumers, ideal spokespersons for consumer desire and “fun.” These representations of youth suggest a relationship between social and economic orders that appears to be antagonistic yet is not contradictory. The Chicago School’s studies of youth subcultures, for example, show that these two images of youth (delinquency and consumption) become united when both of them aim at constructing agency as a social norm in consumption-oriented capitalism. Analysis of governmental discourses can be useful for diagnosing how the retreat of the welfare state affects youth in many areas, including schooling, the juvenile justice and prison systems, cultural education, and state-sponsored unemployment and housing benefits. However, this analysis may not offer alternatives for addressing the problems caused by the retreat of the welfare state.

[22] An alternative line of analysis of youth culture might be Alain Badiou’s work on ethics. In Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (2001), Badiou examines two dominant types of moral discourses in the contemporary world: one on human rights [the “consensual” (self-evident) representation of Evil”] and another on difference (concern for “the other”). The moral discourse of human rights assumes two universal subjects: a subject who transparently suffers, and a subject who stands behind this suffering and is able to observe, judge, and act upon the first’s victimization. Meanwhile, the moral discourse of difference or concern for the other falters when the other refuses to respect differences; this leads not to difference, but to an insistence on the other’s sameness with the self. Badiou’s alternative to these two discourses is the ethics of truth, which is “indifferent to differences … [and] the same for all,” [31] and which implies a truthful subject who can carry truth forward in time through an eventful (or generic) procedure. [32]

[23] For Austin, Badiou’s insights on the ethics of truth enable youth culture scholars to ask a series of new questions about the conjunction of neoliberalism and the lives of young people. Instead of treating youth as victimized by the present’s love, how might we consider love as a procedure to truth? [33] How might we rethink the question of difference in youth culture studies? How might we reconceptualize adolescence not as juvenile, immature, a passing phase that should be discarded, but as a “special time” of ethical development during which youth develops a passion to follow an ideal, or a love? (p. 29)

[24] Weber’s notion of “life conduct” and Foucault’s “technologies of the self” allow neo-liberal governmentality to be understood as a logic that focuses on the governing of the soul, its morality, its spirituality, its psyche, and its intelligence. Within this logic of government, the subject is constructed through its lack and potential, through various ways of investing the self’s “human capital” (e.g., lifetime education), cultivating and training the self’s agency (e.g., being an active consumer), and bearing liberty as rights and responsibilities.

Conditions of Neo-Liberal Capitalism

[25] These ways of constructing neo-liberal subjects are historically and structurally tied to contemporary conditions of capitalism: the globalization of new modes of accumulation that focus on flexibility and reflexivity (since the 1970s); [34] the end of the Cold War (when capitalist welfare states no longer compete with socialist welfare states for souls), and the international “War on Terrorism” (since September 11, 2001). It is not my intention to examine systematically how these important factors have shaped neo-liberal capitalism; here, I would like to briefly discuss two issues: the multitude as a new political subject, and the war against terrorism.

[26] The “multitude” emerged as a subject incommensurable with the nation-state’s understanding of the “people.” The liberal subject, who bears liberty as rights and responsibilities, had not applied to the marginalized, the poor, the excluded, and the non-Western other. In contemporary neo-liberal situations, however, the liberal subject extends beyond the traditional bourgeois white male to encompass those subjects not previously treated as citizens. This extended neo-liberal subject is constructed under two conditions: on the one hand, the state retreats from the area of welfare, including social insurance, public security, and public health; and on the other, the state invests heavily in such areas as education (such as informal and learner-based pedagogies, job training) and technologies (such as military, communication, and consumer-based technologies). (35) Thus, the neo-liberal subject may appear in various forms, as post-statist, (36) as a reflexive (learning) subject, and as a combination of the two.

[27] Similarly, the multitude under contemporary conditions has two expressions, a post-statist subject and a post-Fordist subject. (37) The multitude represents a new kind of political subject: (38) “a form of social and political existence for the many” (39) rather than for the unified “people.” (40) In addition to being post-statist, the multitude is also associated with flexible and reflexive modes of accumulation in capitalism. One example of this is communication, which both differentiates between and connects information and noise or sense and non-sense. (41)

[28] The multitude as both post-statist and reflexive is illustrated by Serena Anderlini D'Onofrio’s essay, “Holistic (Dis)Organizations: Gaia at Alcatraz, Italy,” which regards intentional communities as one type of the multitude. Through analyzing the workshops, publications, and practices of Alcatraz, an intentional community established by Jacopo Fo and his collaborators in Italy, D'Onofrio argues that Alcatraz represents a “fully aware, self-cognizant multitude,” which has a particular kind of intelligence (“swarm intelligence”) and technology (“distributed networks”) (p. 4). Alcatraz, like other holistic organizations and intentional communities, is a “utopian laboratory” for creating “other possible worlds advocated by the global peace and justice movements” (p. 1). Alcatraz’s vision reflects an understanding of an “other possible world” in that it addresses such things as “the development of soft, non-aggressive forms of masculinity, the pursuit of erotic forms of spirituality, and the integration of feminist and feminine principles” (p. 12). Alcatraz also promotes “the awareness of the alternative narratives of the past that tend to be erased by official history, and of the cultural manipulations implied in current distinctions between civilization and primitivism” (p. 12). Alcatraz’s “other world,” which does not necessarily regards the state as its problem, is intentionally post-statist.

[29] One means to create or experiment with imagined “other possible worlds” is through practicing “alternative biopolitics” (p. 1). Workshops at Alcatraz address a series of issues, including self-esteem, health practices, nutrition, creativity, socialization, erotic expression, family and professional relationships (p. 11). Body techniques are developed through such activities as dancing, wrestling, jumping, running, hugging, and stroking (p. 30). These workshops and body techniques are guided closely by the texts written or prepared by Jacopo Fo and his collaborators. Thus, the use of workshops (as “utopian tools”), body-training techniques, and a focus on acquisition of knowledge have shaped Alcatraz’s participants as reflexive subjects.

[30] Unlike the neo-liberal subject, historically understood as a self-forming individual who searches for a rational form of acting with respect to the good life, the multitude is historically linked to a situated subject who quests for agency with respect to the bare necessities of life, who is disqualified and excluded from the good life and is thus not treated or represented as part of the “people.” (42) However, the neo-liberal subject and the multitude may become commensurable under certain conditions of neo-liberal capitalism, especially when both become subjects of flexible and reflexive modes of accumulation, which are knowledge- and technology-oriented. As Soek-Fang Sim’s article argues, neo-liberal subjects in Singapore are constructed through a particular mode of accumulation, which is no longer based on “the criteria of cheap labor” and the coercive logic of governance (p. 62), but on “the criteria of innovation and entrepreneurship” and the neo-liberal logic of governing souls (p. 62). The correlation between a neo-liberal logic of governance and the knowledge- or technology-intensive mode of accumulation is an important basis for nation-states to formulate and adopt neo-liberal policies, which may or may not be based on Western models (e.g., the “Washington consensus” (43)). For this reason, after the Cold War, socialist and authoritarian states may engage in neo-liberal governmentality and produce neo-liberal subjects in much the same way as democratic states do. Moreover, as neo-liberal modes of governance and reflexive modes of accumulation become intertwined, the neo-liberal subject and the multitude seem to become integrated into the norm of the entrepreneurial individual who conducts his/her life as an enterprise.

[31] Since September 11, 2001, a new international regime of liberty seems to have been developed through the U.S. led “War on Terrorism.” This new regime formulates a changing logic of rights and responsibilities that supports an international order of security necessary for capital’s global operations. In “Neoliberal Civilization, the War on Terrorism, and the Case of China,” Tina Chen and David Churchill argue that since “9-11,” the U.S. led “War on Terrorism” has produced a new international regime in which liberty is no longer measured by international human rights norms but by economic rights norms, or what they call “neoliberal rights norms.”

[32] In the international order of rights, (universal) human rights are reordered and displaced by economic rights. This means that an economically-based teleology (the orientation toward a life based on the ethos of getting rich or capital accumulation) becomes the basis for addressing social equality. (44) For nation-states, economic rights are treated as the rights to “prosperity,” “growth,” and “development.” For transnational corporations, economic rights are regarded as the rights of capital’s global deployment to bear its responsibility for its investors. For individuals, economic rights are the rights to money and property, to consumer choices, and to opportunities for getting rich. Thus, an assertion of global economic rights helps to form an international order based on the teleology of economic rights.

[33] The U.S. led “War on Terrorism,” operating on the basis of the state of exception (the suspension of the juridical order by law), has further reinforced the idea of economic rights as an international norm. Instead of providing social and public security, many post-“9-11” states operate on behalf of transnational corporations and the rich. These states construct new subjects of national insecurity by repressing organizations, activities, and individuals that do not share its economic teleology, or who do not have access to the liberty of bearing economic rights and responsibilities. Thus, the post-9-11 regime of liberty operates through authoritarian means to establish economic security as equivalent to national and international security by promoting economic rights over political and civil rights, privileging the ideology of the rich over other ideologies (e.g., of the poor and the labor), reducing social welfare benefits, and repressing political dissent.


[34] The special issue does not (and cannot) systematically address the relationship between neo-liberal governmentality and neo-liberal capitalism. However, the articles as a whole do suggest three general points. First, the development of neo-liberal capitalism has been based on certain historical and structural conditions such as the end of the Cold War, the reflexive mode of accumulation, and the domination of the United States as the only super power in the world. Next, both liberal and neo-liberal modes of governmentality are based on the development of governmental discourses on the lived experiences of ordinary people, industrial masses, subalterns, minorities, and other marginalized populations. That is, liberal and neo-liberal modes of governance operate alongside coercive or police modes of governance. Finally, neo-liberal subjects are more than just economic subjects since the economic order tends to operate in connection with many others: for example, through uses of multimedia and digital technologies, lifetime education, active participation in consumption, and engagement in conducting life as an enterprise.

[35] In the post-9-11 world, if neo-liberal capitalism has become more authoritarian and less liberal as it operates on the basis of both an economic teleology of the good life and the international regime of liberty as economic rights and responsibilities, it’s time to formulate a new kind of politics that challenges the authoritarianism of neo-liberal capitalism. What kinds of questions can be sufficient for such a politics? Is it “how should one live?” (45) or “how should one live under the historical and structural conditions of neo-liberalism?”


Special thanks to Ellen Berry and Carol Siegel for suggestion, encouragement, and support throughout the whole process of editing this special issue. Also thanks to Stefan Hall for technical assistance. The initial stage of this project benefited from conversations with Manzu Islam. The writing of this introduction has been especially inspired by ongoing conversations with Eithne Luibheid and Rob Buffington; and by the recent conference on Nation, Culture and the New Economy in East Asia co-organized by Ann Anagnost, Andrea G. Arai, and Brian Hammer.


[1] See Timothy Mitchell, Colonising Egypt; and Lydia H. Liu, “Legislating the Universal: The Circulation of International Law in the Nineteenth Century,” and The Clash of Empires.

[2] See, for example, Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish; “Technologies of the Self” and “Governmentality;” Colin Gordon, “The Soul of the Citizen” and “Governmental Rationality;” Thomas Lemke, “The Birth of Bio-Politics;” Nikolas Rose, Governing the Soul and Powers of Freedom; and Mitchell Dean, Governmentality and “Liberal Government and Authoritarianism.”

[3] These questions are inspired by the work of Ann Anagnost, for example, “The Corporeal Politics of Quality (Suzhi)” and “Maternal Labor in Transnational Circuit.”

[4] This differentiation of populations is shown by recent discussions of the genealogical relationship between “the people” and “the multitude.” See Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, pp. 21-23; Michael Hart and Antonio Negri, Empire, pp. 83-87; and Hart and Negri, Multitude, pp. xiv, 99-102.

[5] Gordon, “The Soul of the Citizen,” p. 297.

[6] Ibid., p. 296.

[7] See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities, and Homi Bhabha, Nation and Narration.

[8] Gordon, “The Soul of the Citizen,” p. 307; also see Foucault, “Governmentality;” and Gordon, “Governmental Rationality,” pp. 14-27.

[9] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp. 195-228.

[10] See Hegel, Philosophy of Right.

[11] See Rose, Powers of Freedom.

[12] Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, p. 139.

[13] See Armand Mattelart, The Invention of Communication, particularly “Part IV, The Measure of the Individual;” Lisa Cartwright, Screening the Body; Jonathan Crary, Suspensions of Perception, particularly Chapter One, “Modernity and the Problem of Attention;” and Rose, Governing the Soul, particularly Chapter 12, “The Gaze of the Psychologist.”

[14] Foucault, Disciple and Punish, p. 101.

[15] See Andrew Tolson, “Social Surveillance and Subjectification.”

[16] Shoplifting was named as “kleptomania,” not only a medical but also a legal problem, in the second half of the nineteenth century. See Michael B. Miller, The Bon Marché, pp. 197-206.

[17] For example, the United States’ First Lady, Mrs. Laura Bush’s way of charactering Afghanistan women as victims during the United States’ military operations in Afghanistan.

[18] See Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract.

[19] See Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, p. 4.

[20] This is my paraphrase of Ferguson’s sentence: “the history of morality may very well be the history of empire” (see p. 17).

[21] Gordon, “The Soul of the Citizen,” pp. 302-303, 306.

[22] Wilhelm Hennis, “Personality and Life Orders,” p. 55.

[23] Gordon, “The Soul of the Citizen,” p. 311.

[24] Ibid., pp. 310, 314.

[25] See Barbara Cruikshank’s “ Revolutions Within,” and “The Will to Empower.”

[26] See Foucault, “Technologies of the Self.”

[27] For example, Rose, “Governing ‘Advanced’ Liberal Democracies.”

[28] Aihwa Ong refers to these categories as “zones of graduated sovereignty.” See her Flexible Citizenship, pp. 214-239.

[29] The construction of such a subject of potential is not just limited to Japan. Aihwa Ong’s analysis of Singapore, for example, suggests that the construction of this subject of potential has become an important practice for responding to potential economic crises. See her Neoliberalism as Exception. Elsewhere, my discussion of the formation of the middle class in China also argues that the construction of the middle class also focuses on its potential for dealing with risks in Chinese society. See Hai Ren, “Consuming Ethnic Culture and the Formation of the Chinese Middle Class.”

[30] In Britain, for example, the bearers of the liberal mode of conduct were limited to those who maintained liberty as “rights” and “responsibilities.” The liberal subject was “middle-class male, individual, not Irish, not black, not female” because the white male bourgeois individual was the only subject who could be “rational, disciplined, and self-sufficient.” See Richard E. Lee, Life and Times of Cultural Studies, p. 63.

[31] Badiou, Ethics, p. 27, original emphasis.

[32] According to Badiou, there are four such procedures to truth: science, art, love, and politics. See Badiou, Ethics and Manifesto for Philosophy; and Peter Hallward, Badiou.

[33] See Badiou, “What is Love?”

[34] See David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity; Scott Lash and John Urry, Economies of Signs and Spaces; and Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society.

(35) See Castells, The Rise of the Network Society.

(36) The prefix “post-” intends to focus on the retreat of the state from social welfare rather than from all areas of the public sphere. It also intends to stress the fact that the state has become agent in reducing the government’s responsibility for its citizens. Immigration may also become a means for producing neo-liberal subjects, as shown by Eithne Luibheid’s “Heteronormativity, Neo-Liberal Governance and U.S. Immigration Control.”

(37) This point is made by Sylvère Lotringer’s “We, the Multitude.”

(38) See Hardt and Negri, Empire; and Multitude.

(39) Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude, p. 21.

(40) Jean-Luc Nancy also points out, “the unique and incommensurable emergence of a singularity, an absolute, singular sense,” which I associate with the multitude, is “not measurable in terms of any signification of ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’,” which are associated with the modern nation-state. See his The Sense of the World, p. 114.

(41) Communication is linked to the development of military technologies and operations (see Fredrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter). Moreover, communication has become a means of production in post-Fordism. This is an argument made by Virno.

(42) The distinction between the “good life” and “bare life” draws on both Agamben’s Homo Sacer and Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition.

(43) For a critical discussion of neoliberalism that is explicitly based on the “Washington consensus,” see Lisa Duggan’s The Twilight of Equality? Pp. xii-xiii, 2-3.

(44) This point was made very clear in Mr. George W. Bush’s second presidential inauguration speech on January 20, 2005: “To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will…build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance – preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society. By making every citizen an agent of his or her own destiny, we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear, and make our society more prosperous and just and equal.” For the full text, see .

(45) This question is addressed by Stephen Collier and Andrew Lakoff in their “On Regimes of Living.”

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