Poverty, Liberal Government and Social Structure

This paper examines the historical development and theoretical foundations of the concepts of social structure. I aim to answer how statistical apparatuses and political thinkers created different categories to represent the structure of the society in the 18th and 19th centuries and how these concepts are related to Michel Foucault’s notion of biopolitics and governmentality. I focus on the characteristics of the English society in the 19th century and the creation of class categories: what is the social context in which they were created and how this relates to issues of population control and government? I demonstrate how governmentality can contribute to the analysis of social structure, especially through changes in the way poverty was managed. To illustrate this, I draw mainly on the analyses of Mitchell Dean and Karl Polanyi. I use the ideas of these two authors to demonstrate the transformation of the criteria by which the poor (paupers) and different segments of society were grouped into classes: how this was linked to the creation of the wage-labourer’s ‘form of life’ and to aspects of liberal government. I argue that the concepts of biopolitics and governmentality offer a better understanding of structural theories, which examine socio-cultural and socio-economic inequalities within the framework of a self-regulating market.

Megjelent: Replika 129, 105–123.