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Ethics review, neoliberal governmentality and the activation of moral subjects

James, Fiona


Dr Fiona James
Lecturer in Education/ Chair of the Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education Ethics Committee


This article examines forms of subjectivation propagated through the processes and practices of ethics review in UK Higher Education Institutions. Codified notions of research ethics are particularly prevalent in the university context along with stringent institutional regulation of the procedures surrounding ethics review of research proposals. Michel Foucault’s concept of neoliberal governmentality is argued in this article to help illuminate the combination of power processes reflected in ethics review practices. These operate insidiously in accordance with a neoliberal rationality that champions self-sustaining individuals and the inauguration of human capital. Moreover, ethics review processes and attendant regulatory modes of control compound the construction of the student as a ‘permanent performer’ (Marin-Diaz, 2017, p. 716) and the associated requirement for her to self-govern through risk management. A combination of overtly controlling and self-relational mechanisms of neoliberal governmentality are in operation, both of which have the potential to generate particular forms of subjectivation in the university context. Foucault’s conceptualisation of the ethical relation to the self helps indicate alternative, resistant styles of self-confrontation to those correlating with neoliberal governmentality. These are based on autonomous choice-making and self-censoring rather than unquestioning conformity to the regimens of ethics review.


James, F. (in press). Ethics review, neoliberal governmentality and the activation of moral subjects. Educational Philosophy and Theory,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 14, 2020
Online Publication Date May 7, 2020
Deposit Date May 8, 2020
Publicly Available Date Nov 8, 2021
Journal Educational Philosophy and Theory
Print ISSN 0013-1857
Electronic ISSN 1469-5812
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Foucault; Research ethics; Neoliberalism
Public URL
Publisher URL


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