Roberto Esposito's Critique of Personhood and the Neoliberalization of Potentiality

Tim Christiaens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
136 Downloads (Pure)


Contemporary Italian philosophers criticise neoliberalism for dispossessing human beings of their own potentialities. With his genealogy of the dispositif of personhood, Roberto Esposito provides a framework for delineating the discursive resources that have generated popular consensus over this expropriation of human potentiality. Esposito argues that, from ancient Christianity to modern liberalism, philosophers have conceptualised 'the person' as a disembodied entity in control of her body but subordinated to God for the correct employment of bodily potentialities. I argue that the neoliberal discourse of human capital theory uses similar oppositions to subjugate human beings and the actualisation of their potentialities to free market competition. Neoliberal subjects are discursively rendered responsible for the correct use of their human capital, not in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of a market that, through competition, rewards those who obey market imperatives and punishes those who do not.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-173
Number of pages13
JournalItalian studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Roberto Esposito
  • personhood
  • neoliberalism
  • slave morality
  • human capital


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