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Working from within a Foucaultian intellectual tradition, Nikolas Rose¹s new book attempts to put forward a systematic framework for the analysis of governmentality and the workings of power within advanced liberalism¹, with a specific focus on the Anglophone world. Understanding the liberal (or individualist) notion of freedom¹ has a central significance within this framework because this notion underpins many of the practices of power when it acts on us, and thus also determines how we act on ourselves and others. In a liberal society people are made¹ free, and strategies and techniques of governmentality are regulated by ideals of freedom¹. More so recently, individual freedom has come to be associated with a kind of autonomy which enables specific calculative actions, and this is not simply a reiteration of the ideology of market economics. Rather, it signifies the existence of techniques for conducting the conduct of individuals through new freedoms: autonomy as consumers of goods, as subjects of therapeutic practices of organising the autonomous self, as political actors who demand to be governed as autonomous agents.
As a historian of the present, Rose is interested in how an apparent complexification¹ of the techniques of governmentality enables new lines of power and truth¹ through which the state is abrogated of the responsibility to address societal needs for order, health, security or productivity while autonomous individualities (individuals, schools, localities, and so forth) are made responsible for their own well being¹. The meanings attached to the social¹, community¹ and numbers¹ have also come to increasingly reflect this complexification through new ideas of autonomy. As an example, by government through community¹ Rose means that autonomy is no longer enabled through a linear relationship between the citizen and the state. Rather, autonomy is now assessed in terms of active membership in particular communities, or zones of identity¹, which are said to have been constructed locally, and which enable autonomy as a sense of intersubjective transparency and self-presence¹. These communities are, however, inventions based on a specific kind of knowledge which is injected into the deliberations of authorities¹: knowledge created by the new experts of community¹ operating from within the apparently anti-political¹ discourses of communitarianism, civil society and the third sector.
Powers of Freedom is an eminent piece of scholarship, and is destined to become a well-known and -cited reference It draws upon a large and relevant body of theoretical and empirical literature to present not only a systematic and persuasive interpretation of the powers of freedom, but also of the freedoms of power. Some, however, will be sure to complain that it employs a style which, semantically, is too intense, or dense, for use as a basic introduction to Foucaultian interpretations of governmentality. In terms of structure, the book contains seven essays dealing with governing, freedom, the social, advanced liberalism, community, numbers and control. Each of these essays can be read on its own (they have, originally, all been written as separate papers) but the book merits reading in its entirety as it is an excellent, original and thought-provoking example of Foucaultian analytics.