Happiness as Enterprise

Happiness as Enterprise: An Essay on Neoliberal Life

Forthcoming from SUNY PRESS, Fall 2013

I have recently completed a research monograph on the topic of happiness, which is scheduled for publication sometime after the summer of 2013.

This book examines the contemporary discourse on happiness through the lens of governmentality theory — a dynamic perspective derived from the work of Michel Foucault.  Combining theoretical argumentation, cultural analysis and historical explanation, this investigation provides a novel account of the current discourse on happiness, together with an introduction to and critical engagement with the field of governmentality studies.  Recent decades have seen an explosion of interest in the phenomenon of happiness spanning a range of popular media from self help books, popular psychology, new therapeutic practices and talk shows, spiritual mentoring, business management, education and relationship counseling.  At the center of this development is an influential new field of “positive psychology”, whose scientific and medical credential has placed the concern with happiness in a new position of professional respectability while opening it to institutional applications.  In settings as diverse as college education, business, military training, family, financial planning and in all facets of private existence, happiness has appeared as the object of a new technology of emotional self-optimization.  As such, happiness, this book argues, has come to define a new mentality of self-government, or a “governmentality” — a discourse possessing the power to induce individuals to relate to themselves as problems of self-rule.  More precisely, read from the standpoint of this theory, the character and logic of this new governmentality is one that can be shown to replicate a range of governmental practices identified with economic neoliberalism.  As neoliberal governmentality, happiness induces subjects to engage their emotional lives in a spirit of enterprise, entrepreneurial endeavor and self-interested agency.  Happiness becomes a potential for individual wellbeing for which we take responsibility, but one which we must free from the constraining habits of dependence and passivity that are the inherited legacy of welfarism and social government.  Toward this end, this book combines an inquiry into governmentality theory that engages both secondary authors and the work of Foucault himself, with the interpretation of popular texts associated with the happiness discourse, from self help books to magazine articles to blogs entries.  Throughout, happiness provides the case for a critical challenge to governmentality theory which, it is argued, suffers from a deductive, deterministic and top-down model of power.  The reading of happiness provided here allows us to rethink governmentality research in a manner more sensitive to the mundane practices and everyday agencies of government, and the unique and specific temporalities these practices imply.

The current table of contents looks something like this….


Happiness as Enterprise: An Essay on Neoliberal Life

Introduction: The New Happiness

1.  An Essay on Neoliberal Life

Part I: The Hinge of Power

Chapter 1: To Govern Happily

1. Happiness as Potentiality

2. How to be Happy

3. Positive Psychology

Chapter 2: The Emotional Fold

1. Horizons of Policy

2. The Folding of Happiness: A Polemic

Part II: When Will I be Happy?

Chapter 3: Time Within Time

1. Happiness as Generative Temporality

2. Risk and Emotional Life

3. Growth, Strength and the Temporality of the Living

Chapter 4: Habits of the Happy

1. Habitus of Conduct

2. Temporalization as Intensification

3. Convulsive Temporalities

Part III: The Work of Neoliberal Governmentality

Chapter 5: The Happiness of All and Each

1. A Genealogy of Happiness

2. Pure Obedience and Reason of State

3. Liberalism and the Happiness of Each

4. Happiness as Social Life

Chapter 6: Interiorities of Social Government

1. The Event of Happiness

2. Disciplining Interiority

3. Intimacy as Equilibrium

4. Boredom and the Durational Habitus

Chapter 7: The Alchemy of Neoliberalism

1. Governmentality and the Emotional Fold

2. Neoliberalism as Destructivist Project

3. Incentivizing Intimacy and the Sociabilities of Neoliberalism

Conclusion: Against Asphyxiation


One Response to “Happiness as Enterprise”


  1. ESRC Seminar Series continues | Soft Paternalism blog - June 5, 2014

    […] *Video Interlude* Dr Sam Binkley, Sociology, Emerson College, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: