NEOLIBERALISM AND THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SUBJECT: Implications for Feminism and Social Work

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Abstract: The hegemony of neoliberalism in Canada has contributed in several ways to the current diminished influence of feminism in social work. First, the shift from national to global power leaves no place for feminists to address claims based on rights or gender. Secondly, the neoliberal context re-orients the notion of public good by representing individual good as a civic responsibility. Both these trends form and perpetuate the entrepreneurial subject. Two examples, one relating to regulating social workers themselves and the other to girls and women who are recipients of social work interventions, show the consequences for social work of neoliberal ideology and practices that take gendered forms. Exposing the hidden ways in which neoliberal ideology is embedded within state (and private) structures and discourses is crucial for building feminist resistance to the erosion of social work as a justice-based practice.

Abrégé : Ehégémonie du néolibéralisme au Canada a contribué à plusieurs égards jusqu'à maintenant à réduire l'influence du féminisme en service social. D'abord, la transition d'un pouvoir national à un pouvoir mondial ne permet plus aux féministes de revendiquer sur la base des droits ou du genre. Ensuite, le néolibéralisme réoriente la notion de bien public en dépeignant le bien individuel comme une responsabilité citoyenne. Ces deux tendances forment et perpétuent le sujet entrepreneurial. Deux exemples - celui de la réglementation des travailleurs sociaux eux-mêmes et celui des filles et des femmes bénéficiaires d'interventions de travail social - illustrent les conséquences pour le service social de l'incarnation de l'idéologie et des pratiques néolibérales sous différentes formes selon le genre. Il est crucial de mettre au jour les façons dont les structures et les discours étatiques (et privés) dissimulent l'idéologie néolibérale pour opposer une résistance féministe à l'érosion du travail social en tant que pratique fondée sur la justice.

WE ARE DEEPLY concerned about Canadian trends that intimately tie social work practice to neoliberal, market-based rationalities. Specifically, we are concerned with the effects of neoliberalism on social movements such as feminism and with the concomitant rejection of a notion of the collective public good in favour of an individualized entrepreneurial subject. The co-option and appropriation of liberal feminist discourse by neoliberal state institutions has depoliticized the language of gender equality, employing it to perpetuate neoliberal aims. Liberal feminist discourse, with its privileging of gender as an analytical category and its focus on notions of equality, autonomy, and individual choice, is particularly susceptible to and, in some ways, compatible with contemporary modes of governing under neoliberalism.

We understand neoliberalism as the dominance of free-market rationalities and the extension of economic globalization (Peck & Tickell, 2002). Neoliberalism is marked by freedom of capital, with an attendant weakening of national economic autonomy. Privatization, deregulation, and reduction of spending on health, education, and welfare support the needs of global capitalism at the expense of the traditional role of the liberal state. Further, neoliberalism extends economic calculation into traditionally non-economic arenas, including identity itself. It is especially in the arena of identity, self, and subjectivity that we find liberal feminist discourse being employed in strategies of gendered and racialized regulation.

The ascendancy of neoliberal ideology effectively derails local and international advocacy, such as gender- and race-based claims for justice, first through a shift from national to global power, creating the problem that there is no addressee for social justice demands, and secondly by reorienting notions of public good by representing individual good as a civic responsibility. Both these trends form and perpetuate the entrepreneurial subject, which has significant consequences for the field of social work. …