Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Introduction

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Introduction

Article excerpt

Scholars with Foucault in their arsenal have long understood how neoliberalism is more than simply political and economic policies that advocate universalizing market principles partially through deregulation and privatization. They realize that neoliberal policies also presuppose neoliberal selves-selves that consciously and reflexively see themselves as balancing alliances, responsibility, and risk through a mean-ends calculus (see Brown 2006, Cruikshank 1999, Harvey 2005, Rose 1990). David Harvey (2005:42), among others, argues that shifts from liberal economic policies to neoliberal policies are necessarily accompanied by relatively successful efforts to promote new conceptions of what it means to be an individual and an agent. This literature has largely focused on how selves are now expected to discipline themselves according to neoliberal logics and, in particular, how people should take themselves to be a bundle of skill sets which navigate responsibility and risk in a world that putatively operates always by market principles (Cruikshank 1999; Freeman 2007; Maurer 1999; O'Malley 1996; Rankin 2001; Rose 1990, 1996; Urciuoli 2008). The self is not only a bundle of skills from this perspective, the neoliberal self is also a bundle of alliances with an underlying goal of multiplying skills and alliances as much as possible. Yet the current moment has revealed precisely how unrealistic this vision of the self is-out of necessity, alliances must be cut as well as nurtured. The global economic crisis has required new interest not just in how neoliberal rhetorics are used to discipline selves, corporations, and nation-states, but also the ways in which neoliberalism shapes disconnection. In this special issue, we focus on this less explored area in which neoliberal perspectives are re-imagining the self-how the neoliberal self is expected to manage alliances as they end.

Rather than taking neoliberalism as a known or hegemonic condition, the authors of this volume use moments of disconnection to explore the ways in which neoliberal beliefs are constructed, embodied, and challenged. We analyze instances in which networks are cut or alliances are terminated, taking these moments to be ethnographically fruitful sites for illuminating the weaknesses or insufficiencies in neoliberal approaches to the social. We address the following question ethnographically: how does the labor of disconnection become a moral concern in neoliberal contexts?

When analyzing the neoliberal self and its alliances, the authors presuppose that the neoliberal self re-figures core attributes of previous incarnations of capitalist selves, and in particular, the classic liberal capitalist self. We argue that the possessive individualism that Macpherson (1962) suggests is at the heart of the liberal capitalist self has changed its core metaphors. If the liberal capitalist self owns itself as though the self was property, the neoliberal self owns itself as though the self was a business. Under the liberal capitalist perspective, to say that the self owns itself as property means that a person controls his or her body and capacities as objects that can be brought to the marketplace. As a corollary, social relationships can be understood through the lens of property as well- people's relationships are based on how people's capacities are traded or given to others. Under liberal capitalism, the idealized social contract ensures that individuals give up some of their autonomy in exchange for some security, economic or otherwise.

By contrast, to say that the neoliberal self owns itself as a business means that the neoliberal self is a conglomeration of skills and traits that can be brought into alliance with other conglomerations, but is not rented or leased. These alliances are relationships between two or more neoliberal collectives which unite, constantly aware that they must distribute responsibility and risk in such a manner that each participant can maintain their own autonomy as market actors. …

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