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CGHR Research Group: Umar Salam, 'Foucault, Governmentality and the Knowledge Economy'

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Umar Salam DPhil candidate, Queen Elizabeth House (University of Oxford), Wolfson College

Discussant: Dr Patrick Baert, Reader in Social Theory, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge. Fellow and Director of Studies at Selwyn College, Cambridge.

This paper considers Foucault’s concept of governmentality and asks whether it might be applied to contemporary forms of development discourse, specifically those associated with the knowledge economy. In the first section, I will examine Foucault’s critique of Chicago-School neoliberalism and the striking claims Foucault made regarding the Chicago School’s “generalisation of the economic form of the market” – firstly, that the market served as a “principle of intelligibility of social relationships” and secondly, that it acted as a “permanent economic tribunal” according to which the state could be held to account. I will describe how the concept of governmentality relates to these claims and explain how Foucault’s understanding of the term differs from that of later scholars. In the second section, I will briefly outline how the idea of ‘building knowledge economies’ came to take such a dominant position in development discourse and review the impact this has had on science and higher education policies in certain developing countries. I will then argue that Foucault’s theoretical insights about the relationship between systems and practices of knowledge on the one hand,and the relations and exercise of power on the other may be generalised from his own critique of neoliberalism to that of the knowledge economy discourse, and that the political effects of pursuing a knowledge economy strategy cannot be disentangled from the conceptual context from which such strageies emerged.

Tea, Coffee and Biscuits are provided

This talk is part of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights Events series.

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