The Neoliberal Imagination Symposium
21st February 2018
1:00 – 6:00pm
Room G33, Education Building, University of Birmingham
Dr Luca Follis (Lancaster University)
Dr Myka Tucker-Abramson (University of Warwick)
Dr John Narayan (Birmingham City University)
Paula Schwevers (University of Birmingham)
Dr Ross Abbinnett (University of Birmingham)
The concept of neoliberalism has, for a long time now, formed part of the conceptual apparatus of critical theory. The increasingly close relationship between economy and society that conservatives have understood as the evolution of the ‘free market economy’ has been characterized on the left as the strategic organization of human beings, common resources and technology into a dehumanized regime of capitalization. The central themes of this critique are now familiar and include the hyper-rationalisation of social relations, the abstraction of labour power, and the increasingly functionalized relationship between capital, economic growth and technological innovation. In recent years however it has become clear that the connection between capitalism and technology has exceeded the ‘natural’ limits that are implicit in the discourse of critical theory. Part of this process has been the evolution of ‘neoliberalism’ into a multiply determined ideology of expanded performance that encompasses not just politics, economics and technology, but also science, philosophy, art and literature. The central theme of the conference therefore is the emergence and development of this neoliberal ‘imagination’, that is, the set of tropes through which the future is presented, in plurality of different spheres, as the constant and unlimited perfection of human performativity. All welcome!
Luca Follis, Lancaster University – ‘Between the State and Market: The Commodification of Protest and the shedding of Outlaw Identities’
Hacktivism, in its overtly political guises, can be understood as a set of material practices referencing and promoting the imminent critique of industrial capitalism and unchecked state power. Yet hacktivists are also a group of practitioners that frequently draw the attention of authorities—as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution—for their radical transparency and information activism. Indictments and prosecutions bring with them notoriety and provide a platform for the public verification and validation of the accused’s technical proficiency and digital prowess. Such a situation sets up the rather contradictory position where once prosecuted and sentenced many former hacktivists go on to work as security experts or consultants for the very state, military and market forces they targeted as outlaws. This talk draws on legal and ethnographic fieldwork into the criminal prosecution of Hacktivists to explore the role played by dissent, protest and digital activism in the construction and maintenance of cyber security markets.
Myka Tucker-Abramson – ‘Novel Shocks: Urban Renewal and the Cultural Origins of Neoliberalism’
At the end of World War II, Harry Truman’s administration launched a nation-wide program of urban development that aimed to address the growing problems of slums, racial strife, and inequality and create a new urban modernity that would underpin American global hegemony. This paper argues, first that the roots and routes of neoliberalism lie not only in the ideas or ideologies of proto-neoliberal thinkers, but in the battles over the new and distinctly US urban and suburban sensoria of the 1950s and early 1960s. And second, that the myriad post-war novels set in and about these spaces – such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, William Burroughs’Naked Lunch, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and James Baldwin’s Another Country – are an important archive for understanding neoliberalism’s emergence. Turning to the example of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, this paper will show the economic, subjective affective fantasies of neoliberalism developed and emerged out of battles over the making and meaning of urban and suburban space.
Myka Tucker-Abramson is an assistant professor of American Literature at the University of Warwick. Her work has appeared in PMLA, Modern Fiction Studies, and Edu-Factory. Her book on urban renewal, post-war fiction and the origins of neoliberalism will be published next year with Fordham University Press.
John Narayan – ‘Huey P. Newton’s Intercommunalism: An Unacknowledged Theory of Empire’
Huey P. Newton remains one the left’s intellectual enigmas. Although lauded for being the leader of the Black Panther Party, Newton is relatively unacknowledged as an intellectual. This article challenges the neglect of Newton’s thought by shedding light on his theory of empire, and the present-day value of returning to his thought. The article centres on how Newton’s critique of what he called ‘reactionary intercommunalism’ prefigures many of the elements found in the work of Hardt and Negri on empire. This comparison will be used to show how Newton not only foresaw elements of the rise of contemporary neoliberal globalization, but also offered an idea of political solidarity and revolutionary politics for such a context. The article concludes by highlighting how Newton’s ideas about the need for a war of position based on ‘survival pending revolution’ presents a more theoretically and empirically salient conceptualization of resistance than his successors.
Paula Schwevers, University of Birmingham – ‘From Credit Expansionism in the 1970s to the Neoliberal Imagination’ of Money in a Digital Age’.
The social sciences today are full of buzzwords and notions that no one quite knows how to interpret. Funnily enough these words seem to provoke more fuzz than buzz. What is a neoliberal imagination and how does it affect our everyday experience? Following a Marxian analysis, terms such as neoliberalism and globalisation will be looked at from a critical political economy perspective putting the subject matter of class struggle back into the equation. We will look at the nature of credit and the origin of money. Looking back at the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, the move towards ‘going floating’ marked an important shift in capitalist social relations and an intensification of the credit system. In an age where we merely hold a plastic card close to a payment device which is ‘magically’ connected to the banking system, and so paying for our weekly grocery shopping, one can’t help but think about the perception of money in a digital age.
Ross Abbinnett, University of Birmingham – ‘The Aesthetics of the Anthropocene: Technology, Ecology and the Perfection of Nature’
The concept of the anthropocene epoch maintains that we must now consider the climatic, geological and biological systems of planet Earth as essentially bound up with the evolution of the technological systems that have been developed by human beings. This idea has been aesthetically configured through images of “spaceship Earth” and in the orbital pictures of light patterns emitted by human settlements across the globe. I will argue that this shift towards the idea of the anthropocene is complicit with a certain kind of technological messianism, which assumes that the most serious problems of climate change and environmental despoliation will be solved by future technologies. I will argue that the impact of this futural orientation, which includes the idea of transhumanist adaptations to the consequences of climate change, has been to intensify the nexus between technological development, capitalist economy and a certain heroism of experimentation that has come to inform the neoliberal imagination of the future. This, I will argue, has profound consequences for the way human beings orientate themselves to their ethical and political responsibilities in respect of climate change, human suffering etc.