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Studying the Agency of Being Governed

Methodology Workshop - Call for papers at  the School of Global Studies, Gothenburg University

19-20 May 2010

Studies of governmentality during the last decades have productively explored and analysed how rationalities, techniques and technologies of government are applied and used in order to make societies and its citizens governable (see for example Dean 1999, Rose 1996, Burchell 1996, Hindess 1996). Focusing on neoliberal governmentality, research has shown how technologies of performance (such as targeting, benchmarking, mid-term budget frameworks and refined methods of monitoring and evaluation) work together with technologies of agency (such as participatory and emancipatory methods) to shape conduct and subject as well as their interests and agency.

Such studies have also included the notion of biopolitics, which is a form of politics that deals with the administering of the conditions of life of populations and through which (sovereign) power distinguishes between different forms of life (see for example Foucault 1976, Foucault 2003; Agamben 1998; Dean 1999; Edkins Pin Fat 2004). However, while focus has been on these mechanisms as instruments of government within the framework of governmentality studies, less attention has been paid to the equally important agency of those who are governed. Importantly, in order for a substantial body of scholarship to develop which explicitly addresses the ‘agency of being governed’ the methodological aspects of conducting such work require critical reflection, and explicit articulation. 

 As of yet, explicit conversations about such methodology remain severly under-developed both in individual works (which nonetheless make up the theoretical forefront of such research) and in collective dialogue. Our purpose is therefore to hold a high-level workshop on methodology on how to approach empirical research from the perspective outlined above (governmentality and biopolitics). The focus remains on how power relationships shape social reality, both through perceptions of (those governing and) those being governed and on methodologies that deal with processes of subjectivation; how power relationships shape subjects, their interests and agency, and thereby on how to study ‘effects of government’. 

During the workshop, we want to discuss how the theoretical frameworks of governmentality and biopolitics help us formulate and operationalize research questions and most importantly how we, from these theoretical perspectives, construct empirical material as well as interpret and analyse it. The workshop is multidisciplinary. The participants come from a range of different subjects and research environments, including sociology, international relations, geography, politics, anthropology, security- and environmental studies. They have all engaged in research relating to the theoretical perspective in focus for the workshop. Our aim is that the participants, through paper contributions and/or discussions during the workshop share how they have dealt with issues relating to methodology in their own work. We further hope that this later will result in a publication.

For the workshop we thus invite paper contributions which deal with above described perspectives and issues and how we methodologically can address processes of subjectivation from a governmentality/biopolitics perspective. No participation fee is required.

Time place and scope

The conference will be held May 19-20, at School of Global Studies, Göteborg University, in their facilities at Annedalsseminariet.


Methods: Method 4: Situated knowledge

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Tags: Foucault, discourse, governmentality, agency, performativity