Performing neoliberalism

Practices, power and subject formation

Authored by: Michael R. Glass

The Handbook of Neoliberalism

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138844001
eBook ISBN: 9781315730660
Adobe ISBN: 9781317549666


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This chapter provides a critical perspective on neoliberalism rooted in theories of ‘performativity’ – a term in contemporary social theory that argues the use of language is a form of social action with material consequences (Loxley 2006; Glass and Rose-Redwood 2014; Butler 1993). Neoliberalism is considered a defining feature of late capitalist society, serving as a political-economic concept that interprets policies and practices on specific scales from the individual body to the supra-national. Performative discourse holds that, as with any concept, neoliberalism was not discovered as a fully formed subject for scholarly analysis, nor can it ‘do’ anything without actants – that is, those people, creatures, or objects that play active roles in a process or event. There are multiple actants at play here who produce and perform neoliberalism, including those who define and carry out the political and economic policies considered neoliberal, those recipients of policy who must determine how to respond, and those who assess the influences of neoliberalism and make claims about its value. These sets of actants are discussed with reference to three key issues used by scholars in research on neoliberalism: practices, power, and subject formation. Through this survey, I emphasize how the concept of neoliberalism is produced in scholarly and policy discourse and is transferred and resisted in specific contexts. I conclude by arguing this production can never be completed, creating the space for resistance.

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