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Powers of Freedom:Reframing Political Thought

Nikolas Rose
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
0521659051 (pb); 0521650755 (hb)
£13.95/US$22.95 (pb); £37.50/US$59.95 (hb)

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Established notions of governmentality, the state and politics are being challenged by the realities of globalisation and localisation. No longer can government and power be understood adequately through the application of conventional political or sociological theories of the state which focus on questions such as ŒWho holds power?¹ and ŒHow is power legitimised?¹. Modernity has became too complex, too unpredictable, and, increasingly, analyses of governmentality undertaken from within such theories leave too many political realities unexplained. Government can no longer be understood simply as Œrule over¹; instead, it should be seen for what Foucault proposed that it actually is: the Œconduct of conduct¹ within heterogeneous social and political fields through which power Œcirculates¹, Œdisciplines¹ and is resisted. It is, therefore, perhaps more appropriate to pose the question ŒHow does power operate in modernity?¹ rather than ŒWho holds power?¹ or ŒWhy does power operate in this way?¹

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 Œadvanced liberalism¹, with a specific focus on the Anglophone world. Understanding the liberal (or individualist) notion of Œfreedom¹ 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 Œmade¹ free, and strategies and techniques of governmentality are Œregulated 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 Œcomplexification¹ of the techniques of governmentality enables Œnew 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 Œwell being¹. The meanings attached to Œthe social¹, Œcommunity¹ and Œnumbers¹ have also come to increasingly reflect this complexification through new ideas of autonomy. As an example, by Œgovernment 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 Œzones of identity¹, which are said to have been constructed locally, and which enable autonomy as a sense of Œintersubjective transparency and self-presence¹. These communities are, however, inventions based on a specific kind of knowledge which is Œinjected into the deliberations of authorities¹: knowledge created by the Œnew experts of community¹ operating from within the apparently Œanti-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.

Daniel Teghe
Deakin University

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