Michel Foucault and the Forces of Civil Society

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Michel Foucault has been presented as a unequivocal defender of civil society. He was particularly sensitive to diversity and marginality, aligned with local activism and bottom-up politics. This article re-assesses this view by demonstrating that despite his political militancy, Foucault never viewed civil society as an inherently progressive force. It traces Foucault’s struggle against his own enthusiasm for anti-institutional and anti-rationalist political movements. Inventing the notion of ‘transactional reality’, Foucault escaped the choice between naturalism and ideology critique, presenting civil society as a ‘reality that does not exist’ but still has real effects. This new reality holds contradictory potentials. When articulated by political eschatology, civil society supports prophecies of the end of politics in a final accord where contradictions dissolve and the community absorbs the state. Neoliberal notions of civil society promise, on Foucault’s account, a more open-ended milieu of subject formation.
Michel Foucault has been presented as a unequivocal defender of civil society. He was particularly sensitive to diversity and marginality, aligned with local activism and bottom-up politics. This article re-assesses this view by demonstrating that despite his political militancy, Foucault never viewed civil society as an inherently progressive force. It traces Foucault’s struggle against his own enthusiasm for anti-institutional and anti-rationalist political movements. Inventing the notion of ‘transactional reality’, Foucault escaped the choice between naturalism and ideology critique, presenting civil society as a ‘reality that does not exist’ but still has real effects. This new reality holds contradictory potentials. When articulated by political eschatology, civil society supports prophecies of the end of politics in a final accord where contradictions dissolve and the community absorbs the state. Neoliberal notions of civil society promise, on Foucault’s account, a more open-ended milieu of subject formation.
LanguageEnglish
JournalTheory, Culture & Society
Volume33
Issue number3
Pages3-26
Number of pages24
ISSN0263-2764
DOIs
StatePublished - 2016

Keywords

    Cite this

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    title = "Michel Foucault and the Forces of Civil Society",
    abstract = "Michel Foucault has been presented as a unequivocal defender of civil society. He was particularly sensitive to diversity and marginality, aligned with local activism and bottom-up politics. This article re-assesses this view by demonstrating that despite his political militancy, Foucault never viewed civil society as an inherently progressive force. It traces Foucault’s struggle against his own enthusiasm for anti-institutional and anti-rationalist political movements. Inventing the notion of ‘transactional reality’, Foucault escaped the choice between naturalism and ideology critique, presenting civil society as a ‘reality that does not exist’ but still has real effects. This new reality holds contradictory potentials. When articulated by political eschatology, civil society supports prophecies of the end of politics in a final accord where contradictions dissolve and the community absorbs the state. Neoliberal notions of civil society promise, on Foucault’s account, a more open-ended milieu of subject formation.",
    keywords = "Biopolitics, Civil society, Michel Foucault, Ideology, Political eschatology , The state",
    author = "Kaspar Villadsen",
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    Michel Foucault and the Forces of Civil Society. / Villadsen, Kaspar.

    In: Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 33, No. 3, 2016, p. 3-26.

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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    PY - 2016

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    AB - Michel Foucault has been presented as a unequivocal defender of civil society. He was particularly sensitive to diversity and marginality, aligned with local activism and bottom-up politics. This article re-assesses this view by demonstrating that despite his political militancy, Foucault never viewed civil society as an inherently progressive force. It traces Foucault’s struggle against his own enthusiasm for anti-institutional and anti-rationalist political movements. Inventing the notion of ‘transactional reality’, Foucault escaped the choice between naturalism and ideology critique, presenting civil society as a ‘reality that does not exist’ but still has real effects. This new reality holds contradictory potentials. When articulated by political eschatology, civil society supports prophecies of the end of politics in a final accord where contradictions dissolve and the community absorbs the state. Neoliberal notions of civil society promise, on Foucault’s account, a more open-ended milieu of subject formation.

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    KW - Civil society

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    KW - Ideology

    KW - Political eschatology

    KW - The state

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