Governmentality - History of The Term

History of The Term

The concept of governmentality segues from Foucault's ethical, political and historical thoughts from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. His most widely known formulation of this notion is his lecture entitled "Security, territory and population" (1978). A deeper and richer reflection on the notion of governmentality is provided in Foucault's course on "The Birth of Biopolitics" at the Collège de France in 1978-1979. The course was first published in French in 2004 as Naissance de la biopolitique: Cours au Collège de France (1978-1979) (Paris: Gallimard & Seuil). This notion is also part of a wider analysis on the topic of disciplinary institutions, on neoliberalism and the "Rule of Law", the "microphysics of power" and also on what Foucault called biopolitics. In the second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality, namely, The Use of Pleasure (1984) and The Care of the Self (1984), and in his lecture on "Technologies of the Self" (1982), Foucault elaborated a distinction between subjectivation and forms of subjectification by exploring how selves were fashioned and then lived in ways which were both heteronomously and autonomously determined. Also, in a series of lectures and articles, including "The Birth of Biopolitics" (1979), "Omnes et Singulatim: Towards a Criticism of Political Reason" (1979), "The Subject and Power" (1982) and "What is Enlightenment?" (1984), he posed questions about the nature of contemporary social orders, the conceptualization of power, human freedom and the limits, possibilities and sources of human actions, etc. that were linked to his understanding of the notion of "governmentality".

The notion of governmentality (not to confuse with governance) gained attention in the English-speaking academic world mainly through the edited book The Foucault Effect (1991), which contained a series of essays on the notion of governmentality, together with a translation of Foucault's 1978 short text on "gouvernementalité".

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