(Ir-)Responsibilization, Genetics and Neuroscience

Thomas Biebricher

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The concept of responsibilization that originally emerged out of the context of the so-called Governmentality Studies is now widely used in various social sciences to describe a governing technology particularly attuned to the challenge of neoliberalism, i.e. how to govern free individuals. However, in seemingly paradoxical simultaneity with the hegemeony of neoliberalism that relies heavily on individual choice, freedom and responsibility, two powerful scientific discourses exist that appear to undermine these assumptions vehemently, namely genetics and neuroscience. Starting from a discussion of the strengths and limits of the notion of responsibilization, the article argues for the need to introduce the complementary concept of irresponsibilization that can be interpreted as a form of what Foucault in his lectures on the History of Governmentality refers to as ‘counter-conduct’ – in this case, against the neoliberal governing technology of responsibilization. The article proceeds to explore to what extent genetics and neuroscience can be considered discourses fuelling forms of genetic and/or neuro-irresponsibilization, which would make sense of the seemingly paradoxical co-hegemony of neoliberalism, on the one hand, and genetics and neuro-science, on the other. However, the article ultimately argues that, upon closer inspection of the findings in these disciplines and how they are used, it turns out that constituting oneself as a ‘somatic individual’ as a form of counter-conduct comes at a considerable cost, notably new forms of genetic and/or neuro-responsibility. Thus, the article closes with the twofold conclusion that wherever there is responsibilization, there is also irresponsibilization and that genetic and neuro-irresponsibilization are risky strategies of counter-conduct that might bring in responsibilization on a different level through the back door again.
TidsskriftEuropean Journal of Social Theory
Udgave nummer4
Sider (fra-til)469-488
Antal sider20
StatusUdgivet - 2011
Udgivet eksterntJa


  • Counter-conduct
  • Foucault
  • Genetics
  • Neuroscience
  • Responsibilization