In critical work on neoliberalism, there’s probably two or three main schools of thought. One approaches the subject as a matter of political economy. David Harvey, whose analysis is explicitly Marxian, is the most well-known figure in this approach; another prominent author in that camp is Philip Mirowksi. The other major school is broadly Foucauldian, taking its cue from Foucault’s Birth of Biopolitics lectures. A third group, represented by autonomist Marxists like Paolo Virno, Franco Berardi, and of course Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, attempt a synthesis (I won’t have much to say about them here). All sides have methodological critiques of the other; here I just want to note that the Foucauldians generally tend to be concerned with a topic that seems neglected in political economy: granted that neoliberalism expects us all to behave as homo economicus, defined as a risk-calculating, utility-maximizing investor in himself (gendered pronoun deliberate), how does neoliberalism get people to actually do this? After all, it is not a natural human set of behaviors. More specifically, not just how does neoliberalism get people to do this, but how does it get them to do so enthusiastically, treating the definition of the human as homo economicus as the true, correct and only way to be human? In other words, Foucauldians insist that critiques of neoliberalism need an account of subjectification.
Wendy Brown’s new(ish) Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Zone Books, 2015) makes a substantial contribution to the Foucauldian camp by focusing on “Foucault’s innovation in conceiving neoliberalism as a political rationality” (120). The political rationality is “governance” as “the decentering of the state and other centers of rule and tracks in its place the specifically modern dispersal of socially organizing powers throughout the order and of powers ‘conducting’ and not only constraining or overtly regulating the subject” (125).