Between Marx and Foucault: Organized Irresponsibility As a Systematic Power Relation

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Dean CURRAN, University of Calgary, Canada
In an age of indeterminate, but powerfully growing environmental challenges, of increasing inequalities, and of reinvigorated neoliberalism – despite neoliberalism’s apparent failure of its experimentum crucis following the disastrous consequences of financial liberalization – there is clearly an exigent need to understand contemporary transformations in power at both a theoretical and empirical level. Marxist macro-level analyses of power relations continue to be relevant in a context in which the rich are better mobilized than any other group in society to solidify and intensify their classed advantages. On the other hand, Foucauldian approaches, emphasizing key micro-power relations associated with individual ‘responsibilization’, also illuminate important aspects of contemporary power inequalities. However, between the domains of macro ‘hegemonic’ control and a ‘microphysics’ of power there exists an important level of power relations not addressed on a systematic level by either of these approaches. This paper aims to identify key elements of this dimension of power through a rethinking of Ulrich Beck’s concept of ‘organized irresponsibility.’ Organized irresponsibility – where agents can pursue harm-creating, but self-beneficial actions, and avoid being held individually responsible because the resulting damages emerge only from the collective interactions of these actions – has proven itself to be immensely beneficial to owners and elite workers in finance and other corporations. Functioning in a space of power between complete control, where the powerful cannot disavow responsibility for overall outcomes, and a lack of control, where powerful groups cannot intervene for their own benefit, ‘organized irresponsibility’ is an effective and systematic social power that exists between the micro and macro-levels. Identifying the impacts of this social relation shows, in turn, how through a dialectic of control and loss of control, key groups are able to achieve systemic gains from an increasingly complex and interdependent world.