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The micropolitics of behavioural interventions: a new materialist analysis

  • Nick J. Fox
  • Elise KleinEmail author


Behavioural approaches are increasingly used in both the global North and South as means to effect government policy. These interventions aim to encourage preferred behaviours by subtly shaping choices, applying incentives or employing punitive measures. Recent digital technology developments extend the reach of these behavioural approaches. While these approaches have been criticised from political science perspectives, in this paper we apply an innovative mode of analysis of behavioural policy approaches founded in a ‘new materialist’ ontology of affects, assemblages and capacities. This perspective enables us to explore their ‘micropolitical’ impact—on those who are their subjects, but also upon the wider sociocultural contexts within which they have been implemented. We examine two different behavioural interventions: the use of vouchers to incentivise new mothers to breastfeed their infants (a practice associated with improved health outcomes in both childhood and later life), and uses of debit card technologies in Australia to limit welfare recipients’ spending on alcohol, drugs and gambling. In each case, we employ a materialist methodology to analyse precisely what these interventions do, and what (in)capacities they produce in their targeted groups. From these we draw out a more generalised critique of behavioural approaches to policy implementation.


Affect Assemblage Behavioural economics Micropolitics New materialism ‘nudge’ Policy 


Compliance with ethical standards

The study by Klein and Razi (2018) had ethics approval granted through the University of Melbourne research ethics procedures.

Conflict of interest

Both authors confirm that they do not have any competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioural and Social SciencesUniversity of HuddersfieldHuddersfieldUK
  2. 2.School of Social and Political SciencesUniversity of MelbourneParkvilleAustralia

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