Governmentality as a Management Method: the essence and evolution of the concept

Darina D. Goncharova, School of Governance and Politics, MGIMO University


This article examines the problem of transformation of public administration practices. Interest in the study of new approaches to management arises against the background of the complication of the modern social structure, new global challenges in the field of all types of security. The key research term is “governmentality” developed by the outstanding French philosopher and historian of the 20th century, Michel Foucault. M.Foucault understands “governmentality” as a complex of institutions, procedures, research and analysis, calculations and tactics that provide the implementation of the complex form of public administration based on the principle of merging the interests of an individual, society and the state. The purpose of the article is to reveal the essence, characteristics and evolution of governmentality, to describe the transformation of the object of management - the population – into a subject with self-motivation, self-control and self-coercion. The results of the study showed that governmentality was formed through the accumulation of various practices and forms of governance - the pastoral model, mercantilism, disciplinary power, biopolitics, liberal governance. Thus, governmentality is characterized by a dynamic nature that allows it to be transformed in accordance with the current reality. The conclusion of the study stands that this form of governance can and should be used at the current time to improve the efficiency of governance and avoid violent or authoritarian practices even during periods of global “mobilization”.

Key words: public administration, governmentality, disciplinary power, M.Foucault, postmodernism, soft power.


The birth and research of the concept of governmentality began in 1978, when Michel Foucault gave a lecture course "Security, Territory, Population" at the College de France (Foucault, 2004). The translation of the recorded text into English immediately became the subject of heated debate in the scientific community and the society.

The study of governmentality was born and developed within the framework of postmodern discourse. The first profound scientific analysis of the concept occurred in the 1990s: in 1991 was published a new expanded collection of articles, a year later the application of the theory of governmentality to different areas was analysed in the range of practical researches, in the late 90s were published several monographs exploring the concept more thoroughly. One of the core scientists, who profoundly studied Foucault’s theory, was English sociologist Mitchell Dean. In his book “Governmentality: Power and Governance in Modern Societies” Dean formulates "management analytics", "management modes" and "practice modes", which "have their own special laws, logic, strategy, self-evidence and rationality" (Dean, 2016). Later in the mid-2000s, attention to the idea was raised again, as scientists believed that it was actively used in the course of neoliberal reforms and the formation of modern global governance system.

Methods: traditional text analysis, comparative analysis, historical models study.


Although since antiquity quasi-governmentality institutions have existed in the form of "advice to the Emperor" describing how best to exercise power, it is possible to speak directly about management as an art only since the 16th century. At this time, the demand for the development of methods that would contribute to an increase in the efficiency of managing the behavior of the population arose.

That is why, speaking about governance in this historical period, the church should be singled out as the subject of this process. Why did the demand for the development of technology arise precisely in the 16th century? The answer is reformation. This phenomenon called into question the way people achieve salvation, threatened the legitimacy of the church and all the clergy. The relationship between the subject and the object of governmentality (the clergy and the people) had a character that can be represented in the “shepherd-flock” or pastoral model, where the latter needs care, depends on mercy and regular gifts from the former. Initially, a pastoral relationship arises exclusively between a god or shepherd (god's representative) and the flock. This model dictated the order of things to the whole society. The jurisdiction of the church includes charity, social security for the suffering and education of young people in the right spirit.

However, as a result this model declined. Why? Caring in the form in which it was carried out by the church deprived the object of control of its own rationality; these relations were one- sided, since for a real understanding of the people’s needs it is necessary to have specific information about their condition. The manifestation of mercy and the methods of gifting put the people in a dependent position in the sense that the people did not realize their contribution to the common good, perceiving everything that was given as a mercy and a gift that endows the recipient with the eternal status of a debtor.

The only thing that could be perceived as the first effort to create political practice at the time was mercantilism. However, its goal was the power of the sovereign, not enrichment and prosperity of the population, which eventually put an end to this model.

Then the concept opens up a stage of formation, in Foucault's terms, of disciplinary power, which he analyzed in detail in his work "Discipline and Punish". The main characteristic of such type of power is its all-pervading and impersonal character (Foucault, 2018).

The next stage in the development of management is associated with the term "political economy". Foucault implies a special, pedantic type of leadership, which is aimed at both individuals and available resources, "wise management for the common good". Now we can consider it as an origin of capitalism (Hayek, 2006). The reason for this was the demographic expansion and the complication of the financial system in the 18th century. The emergence of statistics technically made it possible to transfer management to a new level, allowing to take into account mortality, fertility, employment, incidence of diseases, rates of accidents, employment, etc. The emergence of objective indicators that can be used to assess certain indicators of the population, track their dynamics and analyse the dependence of some factors on others, has expanded the range of management objects, including processes external to the institutions of official political power (Foucault, 1999). This form was called "biopolitics", the purpose of which was to rationalize most of the problems associated with the population - from race and age to health and hygiene. Dean adds that from this time we can witness the birth of the liberal governmentality, that perceives a person as a biological, social, working and in some way even an autonomous being (Dean, 2016). This phase is the first step in endowing the population with its own reason and rationality when setting goals and means of ruling, when power ceases to be sovereign and becomes a governmentality, whose objective is to search for improvement, expansion and intensification of social processes using not laws, but tactics.

This is exactly how the "governmentalitisation" (a process opposite to etatisation) of management took place. Ultimately, governmentality can be defined as “a complex of institutions, procedures, research and analysis, calculations and tactics that allow the implementation of a very specific form of power, the main object of which is the population, the main form of knowledge is political economy, and the predominant tool – security insurance" (Foucault, 2004). The main task of the authorities was to establish a system that would simultaneously ensure the presence of leadership in all spheres of public life and would not require direct control. Liberal governmentality is characterized by optimisation, adjusting the regime to avoid excessive control and redundancy of manual operations. This liberalism should not be confused with the ideology of respecting human rights and freedoms. The novelty of liberal management lies in the fact that the freedoms and abilities of the governed work as mechanisms through which leadership takes place aimed at the economic prosperity of a nation and an increase in the level of well-being of its citizens.


The development of governmentality did not negate, but absorbed the achievements of the previous stages of the evolution of management. Foucault compiles this into a triangle formula of sovereignty (security), disciplinary practices (ordering), and governmentality (flexible mode of work with the population).The institutions and tactics used by the governmentality regime include: universal education and social care, developed structures of civil society, a variety of self- governing professional structures, institutional channels of communication between the governmentality and society for the implementation of political communication and participation of the population in decision-making (Foucault, 2004).

Over time, it became clear that it is easier and more efficient to regulate society not by imperatives, but by giving people the opportunity to understand why they should behave this way and not otherwise. In the case of an "order-fulfillment" relationship, the risk of resistance and contre-conduite is much higher than in a situation where the object of management himself considers it necessary to act rationally (because it is beneficial for him) and independently in accordance with the state interest. Thus, the improvement of management has reached the point that the fusion of the interests of the individual, society and the state has transformed the population into, in fact, a subject of management with self-motivation, self-control and self-compulsion.

This is the way to incorporate governmentality into governance - from the pastoral model, disciplinary power and biopolitics to governmentality and liberal governance. It seems important to pay attention to the applicability of these management techniques in modern realities. It is becoming increasingly clear that nonviolent governance and soft power tools are extremely effective, if not more effective than tactics of intimidation and coercion (Nye, 2008).


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