From ‘Entrepreneur of the Self’ to ‘Care of the Self’: Neoliberal Governmentality and Foucault’s Ethics

16 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 21 Apr 2011

See all articles by Andrew Dilts

Andrew Dilts

Political Science; University of Chicago - Society of Fellows


In the 1979 lectures, Foucault was already moving toward an account and analysis of subjectivity that ultimately only came into its full understanding in the final years of his life. I argue here that a key influence in this move can be seen, in particular, in the neo-liberal theories of human capital put forth by the American school of neoliberalism. By tracing out the striking parallel between Foucault’s account of neo-liberal human capital theory and his history of practices of care of the self, we can come to see his turn to ethics as a sympathetic but ultimately critical response to the emergence of neo-liberal subjectivity, governmentally, and biopower. To put it differently, by giving an account of human capital theory, we can ask better if Foucault’s turn to antiquity is, in part, a subtle but radical response to the rise of neo-liberal subjectivity. My intervention here is in part to put aside the question of Foucault’s own liberalism in favor of asking what role his interest in liberalism plays in understanding the trajectory of his thought.

Keywords: foucault, neoliberalism, subjectivity, homo œconomiccus, gary becker

Suggested Citation

Dilts, Andrew, From ‘Entrepreneur of the Self’ to ‘Care of the Self’: Neoliberal Governmentality and Foucault’s Ethics. Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

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