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By Mark Bevir, Frank Trentmann (eds.)

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Many commentators argue here that structuralism bequeathed post-structuralism a hostility to humanism and agency. 17 The Anglo-Foucauldians often imply that epistemes or regimes of power-knowledge define, or at least limit, the intentions people can have. They often imply that to grasp the meaning of a text, action, or practice, we need to reconstruct the internal, albeit unstable, logics of the relevant episteme, discourse, or power/knowledge. Yet, the pronouncements of the Anglo-Foucauldians on the question of agency are generally too ambiguous and confused 40 The Construction of Governance to allow us to be specific here.

Rational choice theorists often imply that individuals are (or at least fruitfully can be treated as) atomized units who have nigh-on perfect knowledge of their preferences and situation and who act so as to maximize their utility. To reject rational choice theory requires only a repudiation of autonomy. Once we accept that people’s views of their interests and contexts are always infused with their particular theories, we undercut the assumptions of rational choice theorists about actors having pure and perfect knowledge of their preferences and situations.

The more we emphasize the contingency and particularity of practices of governance, the harder it becomes to explain these practices by reference to a broader social process. When the Anglo-Foucauldians deploy discourse and power to do explanatory work, these concepts exhibit the failings of a repudiation of situated agency. For example, when discourse purports not only to describe a pattern of belief or speech but also to explain that pattern, it is often conceived as a quasi-structure composed of units whose relations to one another define its content.

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