Power at the heart of the present: Exception, risk and sovereignty

Mitchell Dean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that the notion of power is less important as a theoretical concept that can guide research than as an orientation towards the present. As such, it foregoes a focus on agencies of power for an engagement with relations and mechanisms of power and what Foucault terms a 'critical ontology of ourselves'. It notes that the first decade of the 21st century has witnessed different series of catastrophic events, such as 9/11 or the financial meltdown of September 2008. These events appear as markers of a crisis of neoliberalism as both governmentality and metaphysics. The elements of an emerging set of relations of power include the security complex characterized by the language of the exception, the rationality of precautionary risk, new techniques of security, and recharged and often militant forms of sovereignty capable of delegation by and derogation from the state. It is the understanding of this 'dispositif', its ambiguities and consequences, captured by a broad range of cultural, political and social studies, which locates the relations of power that lie at the heart of many current contestations. Given the fecundity and creativity of these analyses, such studies would appear to call into question the project of a theory of power.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-475
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Journal of Cultural Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010


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