Monday, October 5, 2009

We are governed too much

**Some bits and pieces from the thesis' cutting room carpet. This off-cut is an attempt to delineate three responses to Neoliberalism**

There are two faultlines that run through writing on neoliberalism: effectively splitting comment and analysis of Neoliberalism into three camps. On the one hand are its supporters, who fail to see anything new or neo in what they consider to be Liberalism with its ‘traditional’ critique of government interference and belief in markets and civil associations as the storehouses and generators of human meaning and liberty. Secondly, there are those critiques of neoliberalism which identify its key method as the deregulation of state controls on capital and markets, a method which is articulated to other marketisations such as the privatisation of former state-owned enterprises, reductions in aspects of the social wage, and the installment of managerialist and casualisation regimes into state bureaucracies. For this second critical camp, the neoliberal project effects the removal of government from regulating and policing exchanges in what are often transnational market. This fostering of ‘the powerless state’ is cast by these critics as a de-democratising movement that reinstalls class divisions and deflects the costs of global trade and commerce unto the weakest and most vulnerable people. What is neo about Neoliberalism for these ‘Neoliberalism-removes-the-state’s-capacity to protect its citizens’ is that it is contra-Keynesian techniques of government [?]. The third stance on Neoliberalism arises out of Michel Foucault’s analysis, which initially coins the neologism governmentality in order to analyse a continuum of conduct ranging from techniques for ruling and guiding the self to those of states. The advantage of Foucault’s heuristic is that it brings to the surface the primary technique of Liberalism being a form of critique at being over-governed which constitutes a mode of self-government. In other words, the putative state of freedom from which the Liberal critique is issued is not outside government but is constituted in the act of the critique: an enacting of governmentality. Thus for political analysts and historians influenced by Foucault’s ideas on governmentality like Nikolas Rose Neoliberalism, advanced liberalism as he calls it, is a form of governing through freedom; a mode of governing that forms and guides conduct towards market rationalities but which is not the absence of government that either the first camp claim neoliberalism to be nor that which the second camp (inc Bourdieu, David Harvey, Michael Pusey) want to make present again through the modes of regulation familiar from the Keynesian period.

However, I don’t want to suggest that there is only the Foucauldian theory of Neo-liberalism, as the depiction of Neo-liberalism by the second camp is certainly descriptive of what constitutes a new attack on the Keynesian instruments of citizen support and formation. There has been a realignment in the wage-profit ratio since the mid-1970s when, proponents from the second camp like David Harvey argue, a redirection of capital into greater concentration occurred.


Eric said...

Well diagnosed. For me it's essential to keep these responses separate, if for no other reason than the Foucaldian response retains an opening and the possibility of construction. I don't see how the second response doesn't end in reterritorialization.

Michael C said...

Thanks Eric.

There's an interesting essay in the Public Culture journal by Michel Feher which starts:

Whether they call on the Left to modernise its project or return to its values, advocates of a renewed progressive agenda at least agree on the need to break down the hegemony of neoliberalism. With this as their objective, the “modernizers” recommend what ultimately amounts to the administration of pain reducers: they want measures that would lessen the social effects of neoliberal policies, along with regulations that would spare some institutions from the influence of neoliberal management. Supporters of an “authentic” Left, meanwhile, call instead for a frontal opposition to neoliberalism, advocating an unapologetic program of wealth redistribution, greater security for salaried workers, and for broader public services. These are in many ways opposite strategies, of course, but in both cases neoliberalism is approached from without—whether to limit its negative effects and contain its ambitions or to oppose it with an antagonistic logic. My own objective in the following pages, by contrast, is to explore the possibility of defying neoliberalism from within—that is, by embracing the very condition that its discourses and practices delineate. (21). Michel Feher “Self-Appreciation; or, The Aspirations of Human Capital.” Public Culture 21. 1 (2009): 21-41.

I haven't closely read your essay on Omar Little because the 5th season hasn't been released here yet & I want to avoid any spoilers, but I wonder if the way Omar conducts himself is in keeping with Feher's notion of living within neoliberalism? From my own research into male grunge and coming-of-age novels of the 1990s I totally agree with Feher: there is no outside to neoliberalism--it is its abjections that comprise the materials from which alternatives might be built.

Eric said...

Micheal, sorry for the lag in response. Been enjoying Texas' five weeks a year of good weather and not spending much time behind the computer. But the answer to your question is, yes. Unfortunately, though, as you'll see if/when you get to the article, I didn't emphasize this enough. And I've been kicking myself for it. Because I think one of the key things about Omar is that he does live within neoliberalism; or, to put it more specifically, he labors within neoliberalism. His living is one completely imbued with precarity and works with that condition rather than against it. He accepts it but creates within it. I pointed at this, but I didn't show it enough. Dangit.

I need to get a copy of the Fehr article, as it sounds like my kind of thing.

Lester Spence said...

I agree with Eric. (and wonder if it is possible to see that essay on Omar...)

Michael C said...

Hey Lester,

Hope things are well.

Here's a link to Eric's Omar essay:
I'm slowly winding through the 5th Season of The Wire on Free-to-air TV here as it's yet to be released on DVD. Once that's done, I'm looking forward to reading Eric's essay.

Anonymous said...

Another way to give a response to neoliberalism could be to develop some sort of network thinking and praxis. See for example Rumpala's article, which proposes this perspective as a way to rebuild a political project :

Michael C said...

Yeah, from the bits and pieces I've gathered about network thinking and praxis I think this project is one way out of the binds and practices of neoliberalism, which have been so deeply embedded in political cultures that after a brief efflorescence of Keynesian pump priming in many national economies we are again being told that normal economic growth will resume shortly. At least that is the hegemonic message in the Australian media sphere.

I've tracked down a translated version of Rumpala's essay and look forward to reading it closely. I'll endeavour to post on it soon. Thanks for the tip.