On Bureaucratic Formalization: The Reality-Like Fiction of Neoliberal Abstractions

Beatrice Hibou

Neoliberalism has been over-analyzed, often—though not exclusively—along the lines of Foucault’s analysis in The Birth ofBiopolitics.1 My aim in this chapter is not to make additional comments on these debates, rather to shift the glance to a very peculiar feature—both fundamental and under-studied—of the current situation: the bureaucratic dimension of neoliberalism. I have been able to pursue this way by crossing Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism with the work of Weber on bureaucracy, also drawing on Weber’s methodological approach. This has enabled me to shed a new light on a particular dimension of neoliberalism which Michel Foucault seems to have slightly neglected in his work: the specific process of abstraction every act of formalization implies (be they operated by numbers, categories, procedures, or thinking).

While depicting the neoliberal narrative as the story of bureaucratization, my intention is not to tell a true story, the true story of neoliberalism. Rather, it is a way of interpreting and problematizing our very contemporary situation in which the neoliberal narrative—and its

B. Hibou (*)

CNRS, CERI/Sciences Po, Paris, France and CRESC, UM6P, Rabat, Morocco e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017 203

P. Bonditti et al. (eds.), Foucault and the Modern International,

The Sciences Po Series in International Relations and Political Economy, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-56153-4_12

abstractions—transforms the relation to reality, to the world, and to us, and installs its own fiction(s), which play(s) a fundamental role in perpetuating its own criteria and formal procedures as a mode of government.

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