Neoliberal Political Economy, Biopolitics and Colonialism

Theory, Culture and Society 26 (6):206-233 (2009)
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Foucault’s analysis of the relation of power and the economy in the lectures given at the Collège de France between 1975 and 1979 opens up modern societies for a radically different interrogation of the relations of force inscribed in historically heterogeneous forms of wealth creation and distribution, but more specifically within the period of liberal capitalism. Its vast scope clears the ground for genealogies of power, political economy and race that demonstrate their intertwinement, yet he underplays several elements which have been central for the institution of the political economy of liberal capitalism, particularly regarding colonial expansion and subjugation, the prior existence of trade and other networks operating on a world scale, and politico-economic and technical developments, such as banking and finance, that acted as conditions of possibility. By redressing the balance, this article outlines a different genealogy of the emergence of biopolitics and the mechanisms supporting global capitalism, making visible the constitutive role of colonialism. It suggests elements for a more fundamental critique of inequality, one that relays the Foucaldian themes of economy, territory, security, population and race according to a longer periodization that reveals most economies to have been zero-sum games of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Transcending this situation requires a radically different, transcolonial and transindividual understanding of the essentially collaborative and co-implicate character of the production of all life. The implications mean the rejection of ontologies that support not only neoliberalism but other forms of dispossession and pauperization, often allied to the hierarchization of difference, opening the way for a different history of the present and for imagining new economies and socialities.



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