Gellner’s genealogy of the open society: Biopolitics as fragment and remainder

Thesis Eleven 128 (1):113-125 (2015)
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A decade before Foucault began to work with the related concepts of biopolitics and biopower, Gellner posed a series of questions which are suggestive of a similar line of inquiry. Gellner did not pursue this strand of his thought as an historical sociologist however. Instead he packaged it into a functionalist account of how industrial society reproduces itself. In Gellner’s writings, biopolitics is both present and absent, like a redacted text. This is the focus of this article, which locates Gellner’s method of inquiry within a corpus of genealogical studies that includes the work of Polanyi, Weber and Foucault. What distinguishes Gellner is that the history he reconstructs is a story of achievement in the face of terrible historical odds, but this culminates in a normative genealogy that limits the scope for critical analysis. The article concludes by adopting an alternative – yet still Gellnerian – approach to the question of social reproduction, thereby using Gellner to critique Gellner.



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The Subject and Power.Michel Foucault - 1982 - Critical Inquiry 8 (4):777-795.
Thought and change.Ernest Gellner - 1964 - [Chicago]: University of Chicago Press.
Irish Industrial Schools, 1868-1908: Origins and Development.Jane Barnes - 1990 - British Journal of Educational Studies 38 (1):95-95.

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