College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Full Title of Thesis or Dissertation

Critique and neoliberalism in Michel Foucault

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history, desubjection, power, struggle, limits


This dissertation argues that Foucault's concept of critique is a practice that principally consists of "desubjection" and the history of the present. Critique thinks the identity of its historical present on the basis of what escapes this identity. It participates in these escapes by exploring how they challenge the concepts of extant critical discourse and illuminate the existing order of things in their contingent historicality. As the limits of a historical present involve the rules of discourse, the forms of power relations, and the production of subjectivities, critical thought must ally itself with that which undoes existing subjectivities by struggling with and against the limits of the present. Thus critique is an ethical and political practice of desubjecting the critic themselves. I explore this notion of critique by focusing on three pivotal moments in Foucault's trajectory: his critique of anthropology in his earlier "archaeological" period, his turn to "genealogy" and the "politics of truth," and his study of neoliberalism and subsequent turn to ethics and "subjectivation." In the first, I identify how critique as a unity of the history of the present and desubjection emerges in relation to its object, namely, "man" as the subject and object of anthopological discourse starting in the late 19th century. As the conditions of man–the being of language for Foucault–are fundamentally groundless, critique must take up this groundlessness and pursue the negation of man. In the second pivotal moment, I identify how Foucault's turn to the politics of truth understands the negation of man to be hindered by the practices of power that have produced man as a form of knowledge within various strategies of subjection. Finally, I explore Foucault's conception of neoliberalism as a test of critique inasmuch as it founds subjection on the economic freedom of market subjects. I conclude by exploring insurrectionary communism and cynical destitution as Foucaultian hypotheses for critiquing neoliberalism in practice.