The slow death of Victorian liberal governmentality? Municipal government and the rule of freedom in the era of neoliberalism in Britain

Authors: Philip Howell*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Political Geography, Historical Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: municipal government, liberalism, neoliberalism, governmentally, state, Britain, Victorian
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Proteus, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper considers the fate of nineteenth-century technologies of urban government and the essentially liberal vision of a ‘benign panopticon’. It raises the place of the state (and in particular the local state) in theories of discipline and governmentality, questioning our accounts of the development of modern regimes, and thus our ability to understand and critique contemporary crises of government. This paper takes on what has been called the ‘state phobia’ inherent in Foucault’s account of power, and his contentious relationship with the theorists of neoliberalism. It does this by revisiting discussions of the Victorian British information state, information society, and inspection state, reflecting on the Foucauldian critique as well as the historical geography of municipal politics and social intervention. Far from thinking of a more or less continuous extension of discipline and surveillance, we might wonder instead whether we are living in the ruins and relics of such liberal governmentality. In neoliberal times, in the age of the sharing economy and its challenge to municipal and national regulation, perhaps we should be less complacent about the ‘siren song of civil society’, and more bullish about the state’s role in promoting affirmative biopower?

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