Colloquia

Fall Faculty Colloquium 2016
The Cultural Lives of Neoliberalism

Director: Benjamin Chappell, American Studies

The term neoliberalism names a set of theories and principles that emerged as arguments against both socialism and Keynesian capitalism in the 20th century. Neoliberal tenets include the effectiveness of markets to determine value, the relative efficiency of private enterprise over public works in delivering goods and promoting general welfare, and the tendency of human beings to act as rational and self-interested consumers. In the past ten years, intellectual support for neoliberal economic theory has been truncated by factual evidence emerging out of economic crisis and corporate debacle, leading even such strong believers as Alan Greenspan to admit publicly that some of the ideas he held most dear about markets were flawed. Yet these challenges to the scientific validity of neoliberal theory have done little to undermine the near-ubiquitous acceptance and application of neoliberal logic.
 
Rather than claiming to conduct a totalizing analysis of neoliberalism, participants in this colloquium will each analyze a particular aspect or site in which the ordinary workings of neoliberal cultural logic come into view. This group will bring together scholars who offer various disciplinary frameworks, conceptual and methodological equipment, and comparative reference points in order create a conversation that will make our collective works generative and complementary. They may do so through using any number of specific methods such as historical genealogy; critical reading of film and media, fiction, or public discourse; ethnographic analysis of a site or sector of everyday life; cultural history; and others.

Examples of questions that participants may bring to the colloquium include:
• How is mobility, a key feature of modernity, reshaped in a neoliberal framework—for example, how does the priority on free markets square with nation-states
that may be more inclined to regulate the movement of people across their borders than capital and goods?
• How do notions of “management” and “leadership” drive educational objectives and their execution today, with what effect on ideas of educated citizenship?
• When neoliberal management terms like “disruption” stand as tokens of progress and discovery, what is the fate of accumulated archives of knowledge, or of
the cultural traditions of demographic minorities?
• Have neoliberal patterns in administration made possible the return of organizational forms such as indentured labor, debtors’ prisons, the poll tax, or others previously presumed to have fallen by the wayside of progress?
• How does the notion of a rational market shape assumptions about the cultural impact of the internet-mediated “crowd” and its capacity to determine truth and value?
• What notions of creativity have coincided with the rise of the entrepreneur as a model of imagination and productive energy? Have the arts been shaped by this, or responded to it thematically?
• What work have the ideas of rational markets and competitive self-interest as universal human nature done to generate support for positivist epistemologies, as
opposed to the “situated knowledges” or culturally specific standpoints proposed by critical theorists in the 1980s?

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