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Reviewed by:
  • Foucault and the History of our Present ed. by Sophie Fuggle, Yari Lanci, and Martina Tazzioli
  • Lisa Downing
Foucault and the History of our Present. Edited by Sophie Fuggle, Yari Lanci, and Martina Tazzioli. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. x + 248 pp.

This collection of essays claims to take as axiomatic to its enquiry Foucault’s self-designation as a ‘historian of the present’ and as the proponent of a ‘radical journalism’ that reports on the events of the present via attention to subjects and power relations situated in the past. The Introduction (authored by Martina Tazzioli, Sophie Fuggle, and Yari Lanci, in that order) is densely, and sometimes a little opaquely, written. It states that the book’s aims are to ‘bring forward the openness of Foucault’s work to possible multiple and heterogeneous usages in our present’ and to ‘shed light on emerging spaces and sites of subjectivation and struggle’ (pp. 8–9). To this end, Foucauldian theory is to be read alongside and through contemporary phenomena and concerns, offering both an up-to-date reappraisal of the Foucauldian toolbox on the one hand and a ‘diagnostic of the present’ (p. 3) on the other. The essays that stick most closely to the editors’ claims and stated intentions include Orazio Irrera’s meditation on postcolonial environmental subjectivities, Tazzioli’s chapter on the nexus of migration and government, and Tiziana Terranova’s piece on social networking sites, which she understands as emerging from ‘a longer history of biopolitical techniques’ (p. 124). It is fair to note, however, that other essays in the book do not obviously meet the remit identified in the title and the Introduction. Firstly, one cannot help but note that, in some cases, the phenomena designated as ‘of the present’ appear somewhat passé, rather than of immediate or emerging contemporary relevance. For example, Alberto Toscano’s otherwise excellent chapter on Foucault’s freighted relationship with Marxism and the light it sheds on biopolitical capitalism does not reflect in any detailed way on specifically twenty-first-century manifestations of capitalism, such as the monopoly of global corporations in an increasingly borderless world. In other cases, the promised dialogue between the Foucauldian toolbox and the present is not delivered, and authors concern themselves instead with revisiting the stuff of Foucault’s texts in his own historical context (such as essays by Judith Revel on Foucault’s conceptualization of the present and Saul Newman on Foucault’s notion of freedom, understood by means of dialogue with sixteenth-century writing by Étienne de La Boétie). While some of the essays that fail to fulfil the editors’ agenda are among the strongest in the book on their own terms, and will be of interest to Foucauldian scholars in isolation, this volume does not quite convince as a work guided and unified by a strong underlying set of questions. The main contribution of this rather uneven book, then, lies in the fact that it issues a challenge to us to begin a serious and multifaceted conversation about the continued uses of Foucault for the twenty-first century. [End Page 621]

Lisa Downing
University of Birmingham


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