Thinking Political Theory with the Anthropology of Ethics: A New Approach to the Problem of the Entrepreneurship of the Self

Abstract:

This essay seeks to make both a methodological and substantive contribution to debates regarding neoliberalism, selfhood, and politics.  First, I review recent insights from the anthropology of ethics that can help political theorists rethink the political dimensions of what I call, building from thinkers like Michel Foucault and James Faubion, ‘ethical configurations’.  ‘Ethical configurations’ (of which neoliberal entrepreneurship of the self can be read as one) are modes of subjectivity defined by types of practices, their teleology, and the part of the self on which they work.  Next, I argue that political theorists, though they often provide astute diagnoses of neoliberalism and its political dangers, tend to under-theorize the ethical dimension of neoliberalism, and overemphasize the de-politicization involved in neoliberal subjectivity.  Subsequently, I argue that a combination of methods from these two domains can help us rethink the possibilities both for (1) producing fulfilling ways of life within and against our neoliberal world and (2) creating political projects founded on, rather than in opposition to, the recent cultural turn towards self-development.  
Last updated on 07/09/2021