Academic journal article Human Organization

GED Privatization as a Social Determinant of Health

Academic journal article Human Organization

GED Privatization as a Social Determinant of Health

Article excerpt

Neoliberalism as Arbiter of Tangible Possibilities

Since the early 1970's, the neoliberal agenda has come to dominate not only the United States political and economic landscape but also the architecture of our collective mindset. Neoliberal ideology has taken on a hegemonic ubiquity in public discourse to the extent that assumptions about the need for cutting taxes, limiting government spending and activity, eliminating regulations on business, supporting "free trade'' regimes, and privatizing public services and resources routinely go unchallenged in the media. Government has become the enemy rather than a mechanism for enacting the public will. Camouflaged in a positive framework of expanding freedom, neoliberalism has become a powerful myth that appeals to American individualistic sensibilities. To many people, the appropriateness and wisdom of neoliberal approaches and policies now seem obvious. However, neoliberalism's myopically focused valuation of capitalist dynamics and economic growth has had negative implications for individual and social welfare that have been well documented and critiqued in the social science literature (e.g., Cassiman 2008; Goode and Maskovsky 2001 ; Piven 2009). Adverse personal impacts and community outcomes have been demonstrated across domains including food security (e.g., Alkon and Mares 2012; Dickinson 2014; Page-Reeves 2014), housing policy (e.g., Hodkinson, Watt, and Mooney 2013; Kamel 2012; Rolnik 2013), civil society (e.g., Baillie Smith and Jenkins 2011 ; Carroll and Jarvis 2015; McQuarrie 2013; Mele 2013), health (e.g., LeBesco 2011; Mooney 2012; Nkansah-Amankra, Agbanu, and Miller 2013), and education (e.g., Blum and Ullman 2012; Bozalek et al. 2013; Johnson 2013; Lakes and Carter 2011).

Although ostensibly predicated on people enacting their individual freedom through "choices," neoliberal ideology instead creates a zero-sum antagonism between the needs of individuals and the operational dynamics of a system that privileges corporate capital through political subterfuge anchored in a myth of market-based competition. In fact, Eve Tuck (2013) and Wendy Brown (2010) see neoliberalism as a form of nihilism that undermines the social fabric and controverts the basic premise of any meaningful social contract. Tuck (2013:16) writes that the binary logic inherent in the neoliberal adversarial framing of the individual versus the government limits the realm of social and individual possibility in a way that creates functional despondency and despair, and as such, "because of its nihilism, is an unworkable logic." The everyday implications of this are what Brown (2010: n.p.) refers to as "quotidian nihilism," a mundane, underlying violence that hinders people's ability to respond effectively to challenges. The adversarial framework of neoliberal logic places people who just want to be given a chance for a better life into an oppositional stance as dissenters or resisters when few people are willing or able to dissent or resist. The binary nature of this positioning makes it difficult or impossible to imagine or enact alternatives that may follow a different logic or exist somewhere between the binary endpoints. At the same time, however, Tuck (2013) suggests that although the threat of despair in this context is palpable, it is possible to find inspiration to overcome this nihilistic tendency by "disbelieving" the neoliberal logic at the heart of the ideology.

Suspending Belief

Such an act of "disbelief' is being played out in what is perhaps an unlikely arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The authors, a public health advocate/community activist and a cultural anthropologist, are members of a community health coalition that is involved in an initiative at the intersection of education policy and public health-part of an emerging paradigm that recognizes the central role of social determinants in the health of individuals and communities (e.g., Braveman et al. 2011; Schulz and Northridge 2004). …

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