There are some concepts that are so widely used that even when made to do some quite hefty theoretical work, they manage to escape detailed critical analysis. They are used in passing, on the way to another more important truth. As such, while they may well be fundamental to the analysis undertaken, they are not the explicit focus on the analysis. If examined they might well become problematic and cause the reader to re-examine several of the fundamental ideas they have developed with this rogue concept.
I think governmentality is one of those ideas. Miller and Rose’s book is welcome and long awaited read. That is, Rose particularly is one of those writers who have had had on my list to read for quite some time. He’s always seemed extremely interesting (I recently read Governing by numbers: figuring out democracy and am yet to read Governing the Soul: the shaping of the private self).
I find something deeply worrying and not entirely convincing about the idea of ourselves as a site of state intervention and control. My instinct is to find a space of resistance.
The chapter suggests that Foucault’s concept of governmentality may be used to understand the ways in which the contemporary state shapes and regulates economic, social and personal activities. They pay particular attention to the role language plays in this because of the way it: ‘renders existence thinkable and practicable, amenable to the distinctive influence of various techniques of inscription, notation and calculation.’
The central argument put forward and developed in this first chapter is that in liberal democratic democracies technologies seek to act upon and instrumentalise the self-regulating propensities of individuals to align them with socio-political objectives.
The argument resonates with familiarity.
If this is how selves are formed, which self is reading this text and which self is writing it. Put plainly, what I am most interested in is how – in the context of my own work – how teachers resist, refuse and subvert these technologies to serve their own purposes. A possible, plausable answer may well be found in this chapter.
Governmentality is eternally optimistic, while government is a congenitally failing operation.
Governmentality assumes a self and the existence of a ‘real’ as infinitely malleable to the whims of the state. What happens does not always cohere with theoretical ambitions, expectations and planned programmes. Unexpected outcomes, diverse intentions, underfunding, professional rivalries, incongruous technologies create anarchic chaos.
In other words, the will to govern that governmentality theorises, needs to be analysed not in terms of its success but rather in terms of the difficulties and variability of operationalising it.
Reality is not as programmable as the makers of policy would like to presume. This creates another separate problem for my own thinking since clearly I am not of the view that policy should be abandoned as an enterprise. My concern is far more connected with the kind of values, principles and approaches that determine policy. But this is an aside. I am most interested now in acts of resistance and how within the hermetically sealed governmentality principle, teachers refuse the selves required from / imposed on them to cultivate subversive selves who none-the-less manage to survive.