8 November 2013
Neoliberal politics over the past four decades has linked democracy to the extension of markets and competition across the public, private and charitable sectors. These developments have been sustained through the extension of individual debt, ‘humanitarian’ wars and the normalisation of ‘exceptional’ acts of sovereign power including torture and illegal drones. Despite sustained economic crises, disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and marked increased in inequalities both within nation states, and between nation states, neoliberal regimes have flourished. The collapse of the world financial system in 2008 was rearticulated as a crisis of the state. Debts incurred by global financial institutions became sovereign debts while citizens have borne the brunt of the risks generated by the confluence of debt, war and discipline.
These crises have increasingly put in to question the claim that the state is a bulwark of democratic politics, the last outpost for the expression of the sovereign will of the people against the incursion of market mechanisms. States function to regulate and protect actors in markets, extend the remit for markets, and limit the possibility for democratic revolt against the consequences of these freedoms. However, this recognition also opens the possibility of exploring other avenues, other directions and possibilities for the expression of democratic politics. These may involve political actors both below and above the state, as well as the possibility of reconfiguring parts of the state.
This conference investigated neoliberal rationalities, practices and regimes with particular attention to the current conjuncture. It also theorised the limits of the the different theoretical accounts of contemporary capitalist politics, while investigating the news sites and agents of democratic politics. Papers addressed the following topics:
- Special strand: Professor Wendy Brown on neoliberal politics
- Neoliberal ‘Democracies’
- Marxist critiques of Neoliberalism
- Critical Theories of Neoliberalism
- The Politics of Debt
- Neoliberal property regimes
- Reconstruction after Invasion: Market and State in Afghanistan and Iraq
- The Outsourced State
- Foucault on Neoliberal Governmentality
- Thinking Resistance: From Cairo to Wall Street
- Democracy beyond the state
Ali Aslam | Princeton University, USA, Transforming Ordinary: Strike Debt’s Jubilee
The desire to directly engage contemporary dilemmas in governance and political economy has brought greater attention to “ordinary politics” among democratic theorists. Skeptics argue that the attempt to theorize from lived experience struggles to project and sustain more radical imaginations of the present order. They regard ordinary politics as ultimately a conservative form of theorizing because it only provides the means to rearrange the terms of everyday experience, stopping short of the ability to re-vision it. I examine the Strike Debt movement, focusing on its call for a Debtors Jubilee combined with its attention on how to reduce, negotiate, and resist existing debt, in order to examine this debate. Considering Strike Debt an attempt to politicize indebtedness by taking it out of the realm of private experience, I argue that it represents an attempt to simultaneously cope with and radically transform the terms of ordinary experience.
Christos Boukalas | Cardiff Law School, UK, Capital Armoured: The authoritarian republic of homeland security
This paper examines the impact of US domestic counterterrorism policy (homeland security) on the capacity of the population to influence state policy. It argues that the advent of homeland security signifies the reconfiguration of the state in authoritarian lines. Following Nicos Poulantzas in his assessment of the form of the state in the late 1970’s, it identifies the present configuration of the state as a third phase of the ‘authoritarian statism’ form.
The paper proceeds in two parts. In the first, it presents authoritarian statism as a hybrid democratic-dictatorial state-form, developed to combat the 1970s crisis of capitalism. It briefly presents the key features of its first (1970s) and second (1980s-1990s) phases. In the second part, it summarily discusses the impact of counterterrorism in three key political relations: (a) the power relations among the three branches of the state; (b) the character, function, and importance of law as a mode of government; and (c) policing, especially the rise of intelligence as the predominant modality, and its priority targeting of popular political activity. On the basis of this assessment, the paper concludes by presenting the key features of the current, third phase of authoritarian statism, claiming that we are dealing with a state-form designed to combat the (actual and anticipated) crises of neo-liberalism.
Kimberley Brayson | University of Sussex, UK, Agency, autonomy and rights in Wendy Brown: agente provocatrice
This paper will begin by analysing the agency of the author in Wendy Brown’s work through adopting the term agente provocatrice, drawing on her standpoint as a feminist theorist and the notion of anti-democratic critique as inciting radical democratic engagement. The second part of the paper will concentrate on tracing the notion of autonomy in Brown’s work from her early feminist writings to her most recent work on neoliberalism arguing for the reclamation of the concept of autonomy. Drawing on Brown’s insights, the final part of the paper will seek to elaborate on the connection between autonomy and human rights in the context of the political space of Europe focusing on autonomy as a means to transform human rights discourse from within. The analysis will draw on the European Convention on Human Rights and more specifically on the gendered issue of the Islamic veil. Case law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will be examined to demonstrate how the discourse of human rights dramatically reduces and distorts the complex subjectivities of women choosing to wear the headscarf in its interpellation of the subject. Ostensibly, the judicial analysis renders impotent the autonomy and agency of wearers of the veil by deferring to state preferences in relation to religion and secularism. On a more careful, contextual reading of these judgments, an implicit neoliberal logic is discernible which denies the subject of human rights discourse participation in the redefinition of its terms. As such the judgments can be considered as antidemocratic iterations, and the potential for the ECtHR as a forum for democratic debate stultified. The paper will conclude, however, by arguing for a more thoroughgoing articulation of autonomy which yields transformative potential to reinvigorate democratic forms and practical value in its established status at the EctHR.
Bob Brecher | University of Brighton, UK, Universities: the neo-liberal agenda
I argue that neo-liberalism is to be distinguished from liberalism in its rejection of the ‘night watchman state’ and, even more crucially, in its repudiation (in Hayek) of the very possibility of human knowledge; suggest that this renders neo-liberalism truly revolutionary; and then go on to consider the implications of this for neo-liberal policy vis-a-vis the universities and how we might best respond to it.
Lars Cornelissen | Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, The Savant, the Activist, and the Critic. Situating Critical Theory and its Vocation
‘Critical theory’ is a label used to designate a wide range of diverging authors and schools. From the Frankfurt School to the later Habermas; from “real democratic theory” to post-structuralism: it seems that critical theory nowadays is either omnipresent or utterly diluted.
In an attempt to situate Wendy Brown’s conception of critical theory and its role in connection to political action, I will contrast it with Max Horkheimer’s dichotomy between ‘traditional’ and ‘critical’ theory. Doing so will result in three archetypical theorists: the Savant, the Activist, and the Critic. These three images – or, specifically, the latter two – might assist in clarifying the markedly confused notion of ‘critical theory’.
With the previous in mind I will briefly reflect on critical theory’s vocation, especially in the face of global hegemonic neoliberalism and, more broadly, injustice. In particular, I will ask the question: how reticent can critical theory actually be when it is facing truly atrocious opponents?
Khun Eng | University of Hong Kong, Marketing Philanthropy: Chinese State and the Charity Landscape
The last three decades, since the Open Door Policy in 1978, has witnessed rapid modernization and neoliberal capitalist development in Communist China. This rapid development has come with a price: a widening wealth gap, increasing social inequality and a declining morality among its citizenry which has resulted in much social problems and political activism. There has been heightened awareness and individuals and groups have taken on to protests physically and in the cyberspace, creating social instability.
The Chinese government at the national, regional and local levels has been searching for solutions to ameliorate dissatisfaction and dissension of the general populous. One such move is to institute social policies to encourage the development of a modern form of philanthropic culture to address the rapidly widening wealth gap and social inequality on the one hand and a declining moral ecology on the other.
This paper will examine the local government of the Shenzhen city in its move towards establishing Shenzhen to become a charity city through public policies and charity acts. It will examine the implications of how the various policies towards charity and philanthropy impacted on the development of NGOs, the individuals and the corporations to embark on charitable acts. In the final analysis, it will investigate whether such policies have addressed the issues of social inequality and arrest a declining moral ecology amidst rapid capitalist development of the Chinese state.
Claudia Fonesca | Malmö University, Sweden, Pursuing “the right to the city”: Export Processing Zones (EPZs) and social movements in Latin America
Export Processing Zones (EPZs) are exceptionally regulated spaces within the sovereignty of a country that offer export-oriented corporations exceptional taxes, tariffs and regulations on the provision of services or the production/assembly of goods. Many developing countries regard the
EPZ-system as a path to development and inclusion into the global economy and are thus willing, in some cases, to offer investors minimal governmental interference and lenient regulatory settings. In the case of Latin America, EPZs became the foundation strategy of countries switching from import-substitution policies to export-oriented growth. EPZs have been criticized from social (e.g. unacceptable labor conditions), environmental (e.g. dumping, air pollution and water scarcity) and urban-spatial perspectives. When faced with cities that are constructed to enhance profit making and not built in response to human social needs, who, if any, raises the demand for the right to the city? Under the theoretical framework of critical urban theory, my work evolves from three premises: based on Lefebvre, Foucault and Soja, the ontology of human existence is social, temporal and spatial; following Brenner & Theodore, society exists under “actually existing neoliberalism” and according to Lefebvre, “society has been completely urbanized.” Through the visualization of EPZs as a locus of neoliberalism/capitalism, the objective of the thesis is to: analyze “successful” cases of social movements in Latin America that have sought to demand their right to the city in urban areas where EPZs are located. The research questions are: What can be learned? How can more movements be triggered? How did the movements come about? What were the trajectories? What fosters and hinders a movement? What were the changes prompted by the movements? Taking into consideration what citizens value, “whose” city is being discussed and “what” right is being fought for: when can a movement be considered successful?
Kevin W. Gray | American University of Sharjah, UAE, Capitalism’s Revenge: Crisis and Capitalism Self-Reinvention
Modern capitalism has created both great wealth and great precarity. Capitalism has created the conditions for this wealth through the revolutionary transformation of the means of production. Capitalism success depends not on that wealth, but on its continued capacity for self-recreation. I will argue in this paper that it does so by creating the conditions for its own continued success by drawing on underlying normative lifeworld orders in response to emergent steering crises in society.
I will use, as a case study, the capitalist’s system response to past crises (for instance, the events of 1968) as a way to theorize four issues important to a critical social theory: first, the relationship between ideology, what Boltanski and Chiapello call the new spirit of capitalism, and the stability of capitalism, second, the role of crises in capitalism’s continued rejuvenation, third, the role a theory of ideology should play in critical social theory, and fourth, the role of system interference and how the interchange between the economic system and the lifeworld can produce system ideology and vice versa.
In developing a theory of the relationship between crisis and capitalism rejuvenation, I will argue, following Boltanski and Chiapello, that capitalism draws on contemporary crises for its legitimation. For instance, there emerged in the 1960s and 1970s a new spirit of capitalism which stressed the importance of flexibility, autonomy and self-management. This new spirit emerged as a result of the crisis in capitalism brought about by the critique managerialism, expressed in the 1968 protests. That critique produced demands for autonomy and freedom (against Fordist means of production) from inside the lifeworld. Capitalism drew on these criticisms, I will argue, in a process of autopoietic interference between lifeworld and economic system, to rejuvenate itself. However, the changes it made, I will suggest, led to contemporary crises in capitalism (expressed, for instance, in the Occupy Wall Street Movement), which in turn will lead to new changes in the capitalist system.
Tor Ivar Hanstad | University of Tromsø, Norway, Western Contemporary Dissent: Light-Nihilistic Therapy or True Agents of Change?
In this paper I will discuss contemporary western dissent, and in particular the phenomenon of leftist social movements/activism. Several scholars have claimed that these groups represents the true alternative voice to the consensus oriented post-political condition that “plagues” western democracy today. Most of these groups seem to identify themselves as being representatives of the real “people”, and by that, strongly indicating that this role, which traditionally has been associated with political parties, is no longer kept by the traditional components in today’s liberal democracies. In this paper, one of the premises is that this is taken as a plausible description of western democracies today, i.e. there has been a steadily development towards a decline in “democratic enthusiasm”.
However, the explanation for this can be described in many ways. One explanation can be that Fukuyama basically got it right when he declared the “end of history”. Under this description, the alleged “crisis” in western democracies is not really a crisis, but a reflection of people being content with the existing order. This “state of affairs” is described differently by scholars. Some call it a “passive-nihilist” condition, other a “hedonist and consumerist” culture, while others refer to it as a post-political condition. The latter descriptions have a critical edge, and claim that the current condition will lead to greater crisis in the future if not a true and more agonistic democracy is reinvigorated. Hence, the need for dissent and “authentic” critique is most pressing.
In this paper I discuss these issues along two lines: first, in its theoretical sense, dissent in general is defended as a necessary component of any meaningful description of democracy. I argue that dissent should be regarded as a “creative channel” in democracies that ought to constantly challenge the existing hegemonic discourses and paradigms, particularly by taking on the perspective of the excluded and marginalized. Theoretically speaking then, the process of adjusting and updating those who belong to, or ought to belong to the demos, sits well with any democratic theory. Secondly, I will discuss the strands of current dissent in the west. Here, my starting point will be the Zizekian claim that western leftist dissent today is plagued with a “halfway” approach in the sense that it is only capable of expressing what is wrong with the system, but seemingly unable to come up with any reasonable and intelligible alternative to the existing order. Based upon this I raise and discuss two questions: 1) is the lack of real alternatives expressed in today’s western dissent an example of a “passive-nihilist” dissent to itself, or the “narcissism of a lost cause”? Is this the reason to the inability to create real changes to the existing order? 2) Does this reveal a crucial feature of dissent that is lacking in western dissent today; namely that real dissent has to be composed of both clarifying what is wrong with the existing order and the formulation of clear alternatives? Should we look at dissent that lacks the latter component as a form of harmless, self- therapeutic pseudo-activity, or can even this form of dissent still play its expected and valued role in maintaining healthy democracies?
Andy Knott | University of Brighton, UK, Liberalism, neoliberalism and liberal democracy in Wendy Brown
This paper highlights the manner in which Wendy Brown differentiates between liberalism, neoliberalism and liberal democracy. While her approach to the first two are relatively uncomplicated, her account of liberal democracy is riven with ambiguities, complexities and tensions. The primary purpose of the paper is to tease these out.
Marthe Kerkwijk | Heythrop College, University of London UK
Why value democracy, when it can’t solve conflict?
Democracy is in a crisis. The optimism that democracy leads to a just society is waning. Look at the Middle East, where transition toward democracy is not going smoothly. Look also at established democracies where power seems to be in the hands of commerce rather than the citizenry. Plato already warned us that allowing the masses – who haven’t received the philosophical training needed to have insight in justice – to rule is bound to lead to injustice. A crisis is a good opportunity to ask again why we value democracy as a mode of governance in the first place. Is democracy really intrinsically just?
I will argue that democracy is indeed intrinsically just, and that precisely in times of crisis, in times of strongly dividing, conflicting moral and political beliefs and practices, democracy is the only justice we can hope for.
Cheryl Misak argues that getting everyone involved in democratic deliberation increases the chances of finding truths about justice. Jürgen Habermas argues that democratic deliberation allows for an ‘uncoerced consensus’. However, crisis situations show precisely that we often can’t hope for consensus. Agonistic pluralists like Chantal Mouffe rightly argue that the disengaged rational deliberation upon which deliberative democratic ideals rest cannot be realised, due to the nature of the political. Add to that the difficulty that often a decision must be taken in the absence of decisive information – questions concerning the use of state violence, for example.
I agree with Mouffe that we ought to give up hope for consensus and embrace conflict as a constructive dimension of a healthy democracy. However, Mouffe claims that she gives up the intrinsic link between democracy and justice altogether. I disagree on this point: precisely because democracy allows for constructive conflict, it is just.
Anthony Leaker | University of Brighton, UK, “Breathing Space”: counter-narrative in the work of Wendy Brown
Wendy Brown’s work is particularly significant for its diagnosis of the various ways in which projects of resistance to hegemonic forces and ideology are co-opted by the latter and thus serve to further legitimate hegemony rather than undermine it. It is thus crucial for Brown to establish a mode of critique and resistance that avoids such incorporation. A possible consequence of this approach is the discernible lack of substantive claims and suggestions for a future politics. At no point does Brown provide a prescriptive account of how things should be or suggest what is to be done, and this is the case for important reasons. Nevertheless, at various moments in her work something approaching an affirmative counter-narrative does become apparent. In The Future of Political Theory, for example, Brown writes that:
“Theory violates the self-representation of things in order to represent those things and their relation – the world – differently. Thus, theory is never “accurate” or “wrong”; it is only more or less illuminating, more or less provocative, more or less of an incitement to thought, imagination, desire, possibilities for renewal (…) . Theory’s most important political offering is [the] opening of a breathing space between the world of common meanings and the world of alternative ones.” (E, 80- 81)
This passage can be linked to other similar, though occasional, passages to be found throughout Brown’s work in which she pauses from her primary task of critique, critical diagnosis and political intervention and gestures towards an affirmative vision of living and doing things differently. These fragmentary glimpses of possibility, renewal and transformation demand serious consideration. This paper will attempt a reading of several affirmative moments from different texts and examine their importance to her overall project; probe their assumptions and consequences; ask whether they should be viewed as utopian or pragmatic, liberal or socialist, or alternatively, as expressions of a Wittgensteinian call for radically changing the way we see.
Tim Huzar | University of Brighton, UK, Neoliberalism, Democracy and the Public Library: Figuring Resistance
This paper explores the relationship between the public library and democracy. It argues that the idea of the public library is a fruitful place to start in figuring resistance (and developing radical alternatives) to neoliberalism. Following the thought of Jacques Rancière the paper explores the impropriety of the public library, arguing that this impropriety and its assumption of equality can help in figuring what an alternative to neoliberal political rationality might be.
Susan Lucas | The Walton Team Ministry, Liverpool, Epistemic Resistance: The Epistemic Liminalization of the Subject in Neo-Liberal Capital and the Epistemology of Resistance to it
This paper develops one strand of Wendy Brown’s thinking – how contemporary neo-liberalism leads to the liminalization of the subject as a denuded form of homo oeconomicus – from the perspective of epistemology, in particular, the representation of the self in 17th and 18th century empiricist epistemology as isolated, alienated and reified, and so apt for proletarianization. In contemporary neo-liberalism, this already isolated subject shrinks further, into an evanescent point of unsatisfied desire conformed to commodifiable options. Since this ‘disappearing subject’ develops out of empiricist epistemology, resistance to the latter can also make visible more substantial and robust conceptions of subjectivity. Such resistance can be found, in strikingly similar ways, in both the Marx of Capital, and the Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations. The anti-empiricist epistemology that can be discerned as common to both thus represents a point of resistance to the liminalization of the subject in neo-liberalism.
HollyGale Millette | University of Southampton, UK, ‘We are The 99% and We Have Come Here to Heal’: Anarcho-Populism as Neo-Liberal Therapy
In October of 2011, Lowndes and Warren, speaking from the front line, proffered that if Occupy [Wall Street] could “overcome the inevitable challenges facing those who confront extreme concentrations of economic and political power…its model of open-source populism [had] the potential to be as transformative as prior populist movements on the left—or even more so.”i This and other proselytising on Occupy had me curios. What about the people, the broken societies that physically constituted the mass in question? Far from being cynical of Lowndes and Warren, I felt that they and others were missing the point slightly. Surely, the behaviour of the groups gathering in city squares round the world gave that away.
This paper suggest that events such as Occupy provide a porous space (what Laclau calls an ‘open signifier’) of engagement for solidifying and augmenting the personal identity of the neo-liberal subject by regenerating and sustaining a sense of meaning and buttressing and invigorating the social connectedness of its cohort. Occupy Wall Street and other anarcho-populist Events – I use this term in both the Badiouian sense and the performative one – provided an existential and transcendental platform of engagement for its participants and my interest is in the identity of this protest. I would like to suggest that the event space of protest is one of psychosocial requirement and as such it performs an important function (whether that be first, last or intermediary) for the precarious and disaffected to mourn, heal and regroup. Far from being the revolution, I would argue that what is present in these people’s assemblies is the hesitation on either side of the event and that this is, quite possibly, as important as the revolution itself.
Victor Ojakorotu | North-West University, Mafikeng ZA, Technological Revolution and Democratic Ferment in the Arab World (North African States) and its implication for Neoliberal system
The end of the Cold War heralded the beginning of an era of transitional change marked by wide- spread political transformation across the African sub-continent. The year 1990 was a harbinger for a continental ‘wave of democracy’ which gained incessant momentum throughout the course of the decade. The democratic ‘winds of change’ which swept through the sub-continent during this political renaissance period represented a second major leap for governance and development in Africa since the struggle for independence. This period represented Africa’s ‘Second Revolution’, which included Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, Ghana and Benin, and followed from the first democratic transition phase in the 1980s embraced by Zimbabwe, Gambia and Botswana, Mauritius and Senegal.
However, the northern part of the continent witnessed an upsurge in mass protests fuelled, by and large; by desperate calls for egalitarian rule by oppressed citizenry which herald’s new direction in the continents governance transformation. ‘The Arab Awakening’, as this recent wave of democratic revolt sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East has been labelled, represents a topic of deserved academic interrogation in African democracy scholarship. Beginning with the vehement street protests in Tunisia on January 14 that were tactically initiated as an emotive reaction towards police brutality, organised mass action has spread to Egypt and Libya in efforts to depose autocratic leaders
This paper will attempts to situate the effective use of digital media and internet connectivity within the broader dynamics of political transition, in what appears to be a new wave of African democracy and its implications for neoliberal global system. Secondly, the paper attempts to investigate whether the use of internet and mobile phone technologies may present opportunities for African masses to strategically circumvent widespread controls on freedom of speech and strive towards increased respect for human freedom.
Mihnea Panu | Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada The will-to-not-know
If we are to move beyond the political and analytical dead ends we have pushed ourselves into and really have a go at the modern apparatuses of power, I would argue that we need to re-calibrate our analysis so as to take into account not only the strategies and overwhelming might or resources of the oppressor but also the complicity of the oppressed to her subjection. That involves taking more seriously the critiques of the classical humanist understandings of the relation between self and social environment (symbolic order, language, etc.), especially poststructuralist and psycho- analytical ones, and moving beyond our fruitless discussions of subjectivity as that which is repressed or mystified by the dark cloaks of power and of the oppressed as the immaculate victim enduring eternal abuse from ideology, capitalism, imperialism or the neo-liberal State. The elements in this enumeration are, undoubtedly, very palpable and durable forms of power organization; but to understand this durability we need to analyze the intense pleasure that the oppressed derives from her subjection. The bourgeois subject, after a crucial moment of ideological choice when she decides to accept as true and good the symbolic order imposed on her, has no other option but to derive enjoyment from this submission to authority, especially neo-liberal authority. She thus develops a form of psychic economy I call the “will-to-not-know” which comprises a stubborn imperviousness to any fundamental critiques of the bourgeois order (“this is all I’ve got in terms of enjoyment!”); narcissistic pleasure derived out of victimhood; and a recurring shame which partly explains the bourgeois order’s peaks of aggressiveness against the Other. Thus, hoping to make the bourgeois acknowledge the nature of liberal-capitalism and revolt against it by using education or ‘awareness raising’ tactics is illusory: her very survival as a subject depends on maintaining her desire for the phallic objects this order offers. And if this is true, then most current forms of anti- capitalist and anti-neo-liberal politics employed in the West are self-defeating: either an Oedipal masochistic attempt to obtain the recognition of the abusive Father (the State); or a messianic narcissistic attempt to save the world without actually changing anything in terms of our desires and pleasures.
Camil-Alexandru Parvu | University of Bucharest, Hungary, Neoliberal redefinitions of representations in Romania
Most current theories attempting to explain the nature of the transformation of Romanian and east- European political regimes tend to focus, with varying success, on aspects such as the “europeanization” of political elites and political behavior, on patronage, on path dependencies and long-term effects of the legacies of state socialism, transitional justice, etc. What many of these approaches fail to capture consistently, however, is the recent profound neoliberal transformation of the dominant, implicit and explicit, interpretations of the meaning of political representation as de- legitimation of “the public”.
I will describe and illustrate this transformation in Romania by looking at two examples in which a particular form of neoliberal rationality replaces and redefines the alternative understandings of interests and constituencies: gold, shale gas and hydraulic fracturing oil concessions; and the “war on the poor”, i.e., the Roma population and the “socially assisted”, as an offshoot of the budgetary cuts since 2009.
This paper will contend that the concessions are not simply “pro-business” regulations; the local authorities’ decisions to displace Roma settlements from within the cities (of Baia Mare, Eforie, etc.) towards the landfills are not simply random acts of racism and exclusion; and, the demonization of the socially assisted as the main culprits for the economic downturn of 2009-2011 was not just another instance of populist outbursts.
Rather, these phenomena represent the illustration of a considerable shift in the underlying prevailing conceptions of political representation. A neoliberal instrumental rationality redefines the types of interests that are deemed to be legitimately represented, the nature of the constituencies and the type of principal-agent representation relations that emerge. Furthermore, this neoliberal reinterpretation of political representation is not simply a top-down choice of political elites, but rather a pervasive and long-term process that involves internalizing criteria of efficacy across public spaces and social relations. Finally this emerging dominant interpretation of political representation is part of a more general neoliberal constructivist project entailing the redefinition of basic political terms and relations.
Raluca Parvu | Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada, Subaltern identities and the neoliberal economy of desire
The paper approaches the topic of neoliberal governance by looking at how immigration into the western core interacts with various neoliberal myths and with the processes through which we are governed and we self-govern. More specifically, the paper builds on an analysis of Canada’s extensive experience of immigration (which means about a quarter million new permanent residents a year) in order to probe the links between neoliberal governing, the legitimacy of specific political, economic and institutional arrangements, and the shaping of subjectivities, both of ‘new Canadians’ and of their counterpart, ‘real Canadians’.
Using data from specialised immigration magazines, internet immigration forums, governmental positions and newspaper debates over the past three years, the paper discusses the emerging figure of the ‘deserving immigrant’ and its role in legitimising neoliberal understandings of personhood, of family and of social duties. This figure, propped up from both sides (by a majority in the host society and by many immigrants themselves) is heavily involved in the strengthening of a certain discourse of the ‘good society’, centered on economic profit, self-reliance, competition and ruthless individualism, in which social solidarity takes the shape of token acts of voluntary work and condescending charity. In order to analyse the trope of the ‘deserving immigrant’, the paper draws on postcolonial insights into subaltern personhood and explores the consequences of a symbolic order set in place through colonial divisions of the world.
The quest for a ‘better life’ that many immigrants to Canada invoke (the paper looks primarily at economic migrants that use the point system) is inseparable from the drive of a subaltern identity to achieve symbolic fullness in the shape of the bourgeois ideal (career, consumption, recognition within a hierarchical structure, ‘stability’, depoliticized social setting). This drive overlaps with neoliberal, colonially-inflected divisions both within and beyond the borders of Canada and ultimately reinforces a neoliberal economy of desire.
Stephanie Polsky | Independent Scholar, Inimitable Capture: Mapping the Biopolitical Progress of Empire in the Twenty-First Century Through a Reconsideration of the Later Writings of Charles Dickens
Dickens’s writings dealt with a set of persistent anxieties and uncertainties that plagued the maturation of the British Empire within his lifetime. Dickens’s characters were united in their existence as British subjects through their capture within the newly emerging structures of economy, law, governance and policing that emerged in the wake of the British Empire’s intensification in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The continued interest in Dickens’s writing throughout the world in the twenty-first century is the product of a similar collusion of aims in so far as the current dominant culture of empire, the United States, romanticises, naturalises, and authorises narratives and structures of empire proper to its imperial predecessor, the United Kingdom. In the past forty years this narrative has been coupled with an upsurge in interest in the Victorian period, which corresponds to a nostalgic longing for a society secure in its class and racial hierarchy, at a time when global capitalism purports to grant social mobility across such divides, but in reality relegates more and more of the world’s people, including Britons themselves, to the condition of servitude. As the process continues to progress the welfare state of yesteryear morphs over time into a police state replete with the dramatic expansion of public and private security forces to enforce mass incarceration, social apartheid, and anti-immigration legislation. This paper will examine the parallel between the Victorian era of liberalism and its postmodern successor neoliberalism utilising Dickens’s writings as a mode of biopolitical capture.
Ravi Priya | Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India, Divided Community and Betrayed Self: Social Suffering Caused by Outsourcing of State in West Bengal, India
In India, according to the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act, 2005, the SEZs are justified only if these also serve as engine of growth, employment and infrastructure development, besides export expansion. However, besides reducing employment, creating job-crisis for the rural population (that is majorly comprised of non-skilled and semi-skilled workers), the SEZs have resulted in acquiring of land from the unwilling farmers. Since the year 2006, the farmers of Nandigram block in the West Bengal state of India have faced duress initially and armed assault later as their resistance to the state government’s resolve of the forced acquisition of their land became more intense. The government’s assault was founded on dividing the farmers’ community on the lines of affiliation to political parties. In this paper, I present the major findings of the ethnographic study conducted to understand the experiences of suffering among the people of Nandigram who protested against the land acquisition. The major aspects of suffering experienced by the survivors were ‘threat to safety due to divided community’, ‘betrayal from fellow villagers and the government’, ‘overwhelmed by loss’, and biographical disruption’. I then discuss these findings in the light of how the state violence in the garb of neoliberalism can destroy the networks of relationships that form the basis of support and trust built and sustained through decades. This also leaves a big question mark over the rehabilitation process for distressed individuals and communities.
Thomas Sommer-Houdeville | Stockholm University, Sweden, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Neoconservative moment, Neo-liberal rationality and Essentialisation
The American-lead occupation and “reconstruction” of Iraq has been an unprecedented moment. This was the fusion of a pure neoconservative foreign policy, and the brutal implementation of fundamentalist neo-liberal rationality1 aimed at the “re-building” of Iraq, in the words of R.Kagan roughly in the “American” image. After 30 terrible years of recent Iraqi history, the implementation of such neo liberal/neo- conservative agenda coupled with a dubious and sectarian vision of Iraq gave the last blow to every little thing that was keeping the Iraqi society together. I argue that the period of American lead occupation of Iraq corresponded to a period of radical reconfiguration of the political space and boundary making (Ethno-sectarian) being at the core of political mobilizations. These two processes were achieved through a system of violence that promoted and supported the essentialization of sectarian and communal identities. These significant developments in the Iraqi case are compared to similar patterns found in former Yugoslavia in which neoliberal policies have been applied before and during the fragmentation of the country. The comparisons highlight the common impact of neoliberal interventions in conflict zones which led to the de- politization of conflicts and essentialization of cultures and identities.
Sarah Stefanutti | KU Leuven, Belgium, The morality of Debt: a Case for Debt Forgiveness in the European Union
Most of our contemporary language of social justice continues to echo ancient arguments about debt. In other words, the language of debt has broadly shaped our moral understanding of the political, insofar as it is closely intertwined with notions of trust and obligation, honesty and honor together with informing ideas of individual and collective freedom.
In this respect, a fundamental question worth raising is: does the morality of debt establish that 1. We should all pay our debts, or rather that 2. We should forgive our debtors?
By defending debt forgiveness – and relying on authors such as Graeber, Nietzsche and Arendt – this paper aims to open up the space for a philosophical conversation on the idea of debt by virtue of discussing its principles and corollaries. In particular, I want to challenge the moral assumption that we must all pay our debts and opt instead for the more charitable principle namely that, at times, we must forgive our debtors or, to put it differently, that in situations of debt crisis it is the task of the political to have the authority to wipe out debt as an act of societal regeneration. Contextually, I will try to make sense of what role debt plays in the current European Sovereign Debt Crisis. Crucially, I want to make the case for both A) a debt amnesty (intended as a substantial debt cut in overly indebted Eurozone countries such as Greece, i.e. Through forgiveness of official loans) and B) a mutualisation of debt in the Eurozone (i.e. Through Eurobonds, a collective debt redemption fund or similar tools), which are derived from our principle of debt forgiveness.
In the first part of my argument, I will proceed with some conceptual clarifications over the different forms of debt and what type of societal relations they entail and ultimately draw a dual conception of debt, namely Monetary and Social Debt.
Following the notion of Social Debt, the final part of the paper claims that the total interdependence in debt in the Eurozone, forms a de facto community of destiny and, within such a community, relations of debt should be guided by solidarity principles and advocate concerted political action and shared responsibility between creditors and debtors.
Eduardo Villegas | National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico, Is there any such thing as neoliberalism against which it makes sense to fight?
In this paper I wish to explore a risky question: what if there is no way to define or even know an intellectual object called neoliberalism. This hypothesis would imply that any criticism of such an economic (as well as political) system requires the impossible comprehension of a given totality. It might look at first like a mere rhetorical play, but my intention is to emphasize the need to think it over, because there seems to be two equally appalling exegetical alternatives: on the one hand, for the Marxist tradition, neoliberalism can be interpreted as the superior phase of capitalism, or at least its genetic evolution, and, as a consequence, it is the task of the (collectively) oppressed ―that is to say, the so-called “proletariat”― to disrupt the organizing principle behind it, which is the extraction of surplus value at the level of production. The key to understand this revolutionary task, and its agent, is the troublesome base-superstructure metaphor. The theoretical deadlock is here a satisfactory account of the “determination in the last instance”. On the other hand, neoliberalism can be seen as the undisputable ever-changing place of all disputes, i.e. as the fateful background whose inscription is inevitable and universally acknowledged. Thus, there are always (bitter) struggles to gain recognition of some rights and to enforce them: namely, the right not to be tortured by the police or the army, the right to elect a member of the parliament, and so on. This version takes for granted that the totality (the neoliberal system) is an elusive figure. In other words, it cannot be completely altered, for there is no radical change. The only problem with this conception is that it actually accepts the status quo. Both interpretations are unsatisfactory, but the solution of this theoretical impasse requires a rumination on the concept of (social) totality.
Judith Watson | University of Brighton, UK, Credit where it’s due: the contribution of neoliberalism to postcapitalist thought
Postcapitalist thought is necessarily but not exclusively utopian, and since there is also a distinct utopian dimension to neoliberal thought as well, it is not surprising that postcapitalist ideas can find something of use in neoliberalism. It may be necessary to delve rather deep, but the very process of delving helps us to construct a more robust series of postcapitalist imaginaries.
Neoliberalism pays only lip service to classical political economy but its attempt to co-opt Adam Smith reminds us of the contribution of that political economy to Marxism. Neoliberalism was constructed as the opposite not of socialism or communism but as a response to the failure of social democracy. It offends social democrats in lumping them with socialists and communists of all hues, including Stalinists, but they have only themselves to blame, as their own tradition is inseparable from the paternalistic authoritarianism of the eugenicist Fabians. Although neoliberals are generally warmongers, the “clash of civilizations” theory is contingent to the main ideological thrust. Neoliberalism and postcapitalism share a critique of modernity that is separate from the conservative critique, with the important difference that neoliberalism is a productivist, thus ecocidal creed. Any communisms or socialisms that survive its onslaught must be ecosocialisms and/or ecocommunisms.
Further lessons of neoliberalism come in through its avatar, liberal feminism, which opportunistically seizes the career prospects opened up by social-democratic legislation. The liberal feminist attack on the family is more radical than anything envisaged by 1970s revolutionary feminism, which proposed “abolishing” the family to replace it by a small collective, commune or egalitarian household, and has to some extent succeeded. Neoliberalism destroys the solidarities of households. Nevertheless, the social libertarian aspects of neoliberalism, seen for example in its willingness to call out the war on drugs, are beneficial for postcapitalism. So also is the can-do attitude. “So fix it then”, say the Ayn Rand followers on Wikipedia. This attitude, which has already seeped into non-capitalist/anti-capitalist “DIY” spaces, will be invaluable in constructing postcapitalist economic relations. Neoliberalism is currently attempting to co-opt the global virtual commons, but the opening up of knowledge spaces cannot be put back into the bag.
PW Zuidhof | University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, How to do things with markets: The performative politics of neoliberalism as deconstruction of liberalism
One can observe a profound Foucault effect in contemporary thought about neoliberalism. One of the most lasting effects is to construe neoliberalism as a political rationality that centers on market constructivism. That offered a powerful way of distinguishing neoliberalism from liberal rationalities of government and its conception markets, while opening theoretical lenses to the various ways in which market rationalities have suffused political discourse. Wendy Brown has productively employed Foucault’s notion of governmentality to show how neoliberal rationalities undermine liberal democracy. This paper seeks to punctuate the narrative about the market constructivist rationality of neoliberalism and the opposition it creates between liberal and neoliberal rationalities of government, by revisiting what is at stake in neoliberal market constructivism. The paper proposes to view the market constructivism of neoliberalism in performative terms and suggests that neoliberalism amounts to a performative politics of the market. Critically drawing on perspectives that study the performativity of economic discourse (such as Callon, MacKenzie, Mitchell and others), the paper develops the idea of neoliberalism as a performative politics. Such a performative reading of neoliberalism serves to highlight the highly variegated and open-ended nature of neoliberal market constructions. It is mobilized in the paper however to argue that the performative nature of neoliberalism offers a critical perspective on how neoliberalism relates to liberalism. Rather than viewing neoliberalism as either replacement or intensification of liberal political rationalities, it is argued that the performative politics of neoliberalism effects a deconstruction of liberal categories of the state, market, and their interrelation. In this deconstruction, both state and market are constantly rearticulated and imbued with changing meanings. The deconstruction of liberalism by neoliberalism in turn explains the current political predicament which, in the absence of appealing new political rationalities, in the near future appears bound to oscillate between either nostalgia for liberalism as diagnosed by Wendy Brown or varieties of Jamie Peck’s zombie neoliberalism.
Thursday 7 November 2013
Panel 1: Boardroom, Grand Parade: PLENARY -Wendy Brown and the Politics of Neoliberalism
Lars Cornelissen: The Savant, the Activist, and the Critic: Situating critical Theory and its Vocation Susan Lucas: Epistemic Resistance: The Epistemic Liminalization of the Subject in Neo-
Liberal Capital and the Epistemology of Resistance to it
Anthony Leaker: Breathing Space: Counter-narrative in the work of Wendy Brown
Panel 1: M57 Grand Parade
Ali Aslam ‘Transforming Ordinary: Strike Debt’s Jubilee
Sarah Stefanutti: The morality of Debt: a Case for Debt Forgiveness in the European Union Eduardo Villegas: Is there any such thing as neoliberalism against which it makes sense to fight?
Panel 2: Boardroom Grand Parade
Bob Brecher: Universities: The Neoliberal Agenda
Ravi Priya: Divided Community and Betrayed Self: Social Suffering Caused by Outsourcing of State in West Bengal, India
Stephanie Polsky: Inimitable Capture: Mapping the Biopolitical Progress of Empire in the Twenty-First Century through a Reconsideration of the Later Writings of Charles Dickens
Keynote Lecture: 18.00-19.30
PROFESSOR WENDY BROWN
Old Courtroom Lecture Theatre, Brighton
“The Demos Undone: Neoliberalism, Democracy, Citizenship”
This lecture examines ways in which neoliberal rationality dissolves the figure of the citizen into human capital and erases the figure of the demos altogether. As liberty, equality and universality are inverted into capital appreciation, inequality and competition–as this occurs in governance, law, and the principles of public education–what remains of the individual or popular sovereignty at the heart of modern demos-cracy?
Friday 8 November
Panel 1 | Room M57 Grand Parade
Marthe Kerkwijk: Why Value Democracy when it cannot solve conflict?
Mihnea Panu: The will-to-not-know
PW Zuidhof: How to do things with markets: The performative politics of neoliberalism as deconstruction of liberalism
Panel 2 | Boardroom, Grand Parade
Tim Huzar: Neoliberalism, Democracy and the Public Library: Figuring Resistance
Raluca Parvu: Subaltern identities and the neoliberal economy of desire
Toby Lovat: Hayek’s Epistemology – Subjectivism, the Market and Neoliberalism
Panel 1: Boardroom Grand Parade
Kevin W. Gray: Capitalism’s Revenge: Crisis and Capitalism’s Self Reinvention Khun Eng: Marketing Philanthropy: The Chinese State and the Charity Landscape
Panel 2: Room M57 Grand Parade:
Claudia Fonesca: Pursuing the Right to the City: Export Processing Zones and Social
Movements in Latin America
Thomas Sommer-Houdeville: Operation Iraqi Freedom: Neoconservative moment, Neo- liberal rationality and Essentialisation
Panel 1 | Room M57 Grand Parade
HollyGale Millette: ‘We are The 99% and We Have Come Here to Heal’: Anarcho- Populism as Neo-Liberal Therapy
Judith Watson: Credit where it’s due: the contribution of neoliberalism to post-capitalist thought
Camil-Alexandru Parvu: Neoliberal redefinitions of representations in Romania
Panel 2 | Boardroom Grand Parade:
Christos Boukalas: Capital Armoured: The authoritarian Republic of Homeland Security
Victor Ojakorotu: Technological Revolution and Democratic Ferment in the Arab World (North African States) and its implication for the Neoliberal system
Tor Ivar Hanstad: Western Contemporary Dissent: Light Nihilistic Therapy or True Agents of Change
Closing plenary: Wendy Brown and the politics of neoliberalism
Andy Knott: Liberalism, Neoliberalism and liberal democracy in the work of Wendy Brown
Mark Devenney: The neoliberal ‘Subject’ and the Improper Politics of Resistance
Kimberley Brayson: Agency, autonomy and rights in Wendy Brown: agente provocatrice