NEO Liberal feminism

Christina Scharff on Gender and Neoliberalism

Scharff photoGender and Neoliberalism: Exploring the Exclusions and Contours of Neoliberal Subjectivities

by Christina Scharff

Gender intersects with neoliberalism in various ways and it is not my intention to provide an overview of these complex entanglements here. Such an overview would depend on our understanding of ‘gender’ and ‘neoliberalism’, which are concepts that have been defined and used differently, depending on disciplinary orientation, political outlook, and spatial and temporal context, to name just a few. Instead, I want to use this blog entry to hone in on discussions about gender and neoliberalism in contemporary Western European contexts. Feminist research has suggested that women, and in particular young women, have been constructed as ideal neoliberal subjects. By adopting a Foucauldian approach to neoliberalism – more on this later – this body of work shows that public, media and policy discourses have positioned young women as subjects of capacity who can lead responsibilised and self-managed lives through self-application and self-transformation. By drawing on the findings from empirical research, I will explore these gendered, neoliberal subjectivities, focusing on exclusions and the ways these subjectivities are lived out emotionally.

Neoliberalism is a contested concept and regarded variously as a theory of political economic practices that champions private property rights, free markets and free trade (Harvey, 2005), a historical thought collective of increasingly global proportions (Mirwoski and Plehwe, 2009), a political philosophy and ideology that affects every dimension of social life (Giroux, 2004), a cultural politics (Duggan, 2004), a form of common sense that revolves around the naturalness of the market, the primacy of the competitive individual, and the superiority of the private over the public (Hall et al., 2013), and – crucially – a process that is historically and geographically contingent (Peck and Tickell, 2002). To be sure, more approaches to neoliberalism exist (see William Davies’ blog entry). As John Clarke (2008) has argued, neoliberalism suffers from promiscuity. Indeed, he suggests that the concept has been stretched too far to be productive as a critical tool.

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