Table of Contents

Handbook on Theories of Governance

Handbook on Theories of Governance

Edited by Christopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing

In the past two decades, governance theories have arisen semi-independently across multiple disciplines. In law and regulation, planning, democratic theory, economics, public management, and international relations, among other disciplines, scholars have sought to describe new strategies of governing. As a result, the notion of governance is now one of the most frequently used social science concepts in the world. No single theory encompasses this diverse body of work, but rather multiple theories with different aims and perspectives. The Handbook on Theories of Governance collects these theories of governance together as an analytical resource for governing in an increasingly complex, fragmented and dynamic society.

Chapter 29: Governmentality

Peter Triantafillou

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance


This chapter accounts for the analytical term governmentality and its distinctive usefulness in grasping and analyzing the modern arts and practices of governing. It was first coined in 1978 by the French historian and philosopher Michel Foucault in his lecture series at the Collège de France focusing on how shifting forms of (secular) thinking had informed the governing of states and their populations in Western Europe since the Renaissance. The term governmentality enables us to address often overlooked dimensions of power exercised under the heading of governance. In particular, it clears a space for analyzing how various forms of knowledge and theories clustered under the broad church of governance may more or less directly inform the exercise of power in concrete political and administrative reforms. In order to fully grasp and exploit the analytical potential of the term governmentality, it is necessary to be acquainted with genealogy, that is, the analytical underpinnings of Foucault’s published works. This implies paying attention to historical shifts and specificity, focusing on the practices and thoughts of governing (the state), and addressing how governmentalities link various forms of power. Most studies of the term governmentality suffer from one or more of the following three methodological problems: unclear research objectives, neglect of non-liberal forms of power, and inadequate attention to the practices of government. Accordingly, there is much room for methodological clarification and development.

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