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Reviewed by:
  • The Rule of Freedom: The City and Modern Liberalism
  • Alan Hunt
The Rule of Freedom: The City and Modern Liberalism. By Patrick Joyce (Verso: London, 2003. xii plus 264 pp.).

Patrick Joyce demonstrates the rich rewards that can flow from making use of Foucault’s governmentality approach, and for those that don’t enjoy Foucault’s terminology, Joyce is (mostly) jargon free. Appreciation of this book requires a certain suspension of conventional academic expectations. An uncharitable read might charge that its chapters are the working up of unrelated material that had not found a way into his previous books. There is undoubtedly a sustained focus on the city (usually Manchester, sometimes London, with side-trips to Irleand, India and the USA). There are discrete chapters on mapping the city, city hygiene, municipal libraries, municipal architecture, and on knowing and walking the city. The bulk of his data comes from his own primary field of nineteenth-century Britain, but he is not inhibited from drawing in data from further afield.

The materials which structure the chapters are drawn together by an ambitious objective, namely, to breathe life into Foucault’s provocative insistence on the relationship between liberalism and freedom. In one of his last interviews Foucault described governmentality as covering “the whole range of practices that constitute, define, organize, and instrumentalize the strategies that individuals in their freedom can use in dealing with each other[T]he basis for all this is freedom, the relationship of the self to itself and the relationship to the other.” This theme has recently been taken up by Nikolas Rose in Powers of Freedom (1999) but the reception of this work in which he argues that today the values of freedom have “been made real” within contemporary practices of government has been less than enthusiastic. This may well be because Rose is preoccupied with trashing the Left. Joyce seems free of any sectarian spirit and it may be that he succeeds better in being able to make use of freedom without sounding like a rather conservative liberal.

Before seeking to make that judgment I want to celebrate the rich substantive fare that Joyce provides. But it is not as I conjectured above a smorgasbord. The apparent dispersal is necessary to his project of providing a social history of the everyday, or as he interestingly relabels it ‘the ordinary’. This he does as a response to the contribution of the social studies of science with their focus on the interactive relations between people and things. Such a history does not seek stable sequences of dateable events, but rather seeks to attend to the significant shifts that come about when people and things interact in different ways. Hence, I suggest, the need for both the distinct treatment of detail and the movement back and forth between specificities. This is exemplified in his absorbing treatment of ‘the republic of the streets’ identifying the variety of ways of knowing and moving in and through the streets. But I’m not sure he does enough to substantiate his claim that there existed cities of “free circulation” (56) although I rather like his image of the ‘Free-Born English pedestrian’.

Joyce offers a periodization of the nineteenth-century city which undergoes a progression from the ‘sanitary city’, to the ‘moral city’ and finally ‘the social city’. These phases involve shifting problem spaces upon which a variety of governmental agencies and agents sought to engage with such targets as ‘the slum’ and the foul street. The targets move from the underground sanitation [End Page 242] system, to the overground of the layout of roads and parks, to the provision of a municipal culture and spaces of recreation. I found myself not convinced that these phases were sufficiently delineated or why they should be thought of as phases rather than as coexisting modes or strategies of governance. I think this difficulty arises because Joyce does not provide an adequate delineation of his middle phase, ‘the moral city.’ ‘Moral’ seems to be a melange of culture, improvement, and progress along with more coercive moralizations.

He cites the outraged rhetoric of the sanitation inspectors as generating a “moral struggle to govern” (68). But...

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 242-243
Launched on MUSE
2004-08-31
Open Access
No
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