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Department of Politics and International Studies

Key Debates on Neoliberalism

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4

 This module offers an advanced, multidisciplinary introduction to a set of key debates associated with neoliberalism. The neoliberal period is claimed to be characterised by an expansion in commercial markets and the privileging of corporations, the reengineering of government as an ‘entrepreneurial’ actor, and the imposition of ‘fiscal discipline’. The module provides a novel examination of these prominent trends by focusing on core concepts that have been tied to neoliberal ideas and practices. The concepts associated with neoliberalism – such as ‘market’, ‘competition’, and ‘choice’ – have become increasingly internationalised, used by actors across different countries, organisations, and fields. Despite the popularity of these concepts, they often remain confusing, the product of contested histories, meanings, and processes. In an effort to problematise these terms, the module has three aims. First, it offers students an understanding of the history of each concept, its diversity and shifts of meaning, and the critiques it engenders. Second, particular political, economic, or social interests are often attached to the everyday meanings of these concepts and, yet, these interests are frequently camouflaged due to an aura of ‘neutrality’ or ‘universality’. The module debates how the commonsense behind such concepts is not only a product of social construction, but often benefits powerful actors, sometimes to the detriment of others. Third, an inquiry into key concepts of neoliberalism also offers valuable building blocks for comprehending major questions of international relations and international political economy, including the organisation of power, processes of democratisation, and strategies of resistance.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

  1. Demonstrate detailed conceptual and empirical knowledge of issues associated with the study of neoliberalism.
  2. Demonstrate the ability to articulate one’s own ethical and political positions on questions related to the study of neoliberalism.
  3. Communicate effectively in speech and writing; and work independently and with peers to achieve common goals.

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction: Wading into the Definitional Swamp of Neoliberalism
  2. Capitalism as Master Notion to the Conceptual Slave of Neoliberalism
  3. Market
  4. State
  5. Competition
  6. Individual
  7. Choice
  8. Environment
  9. Partnership
  10. Freedom

Method of assessment

One 3 hour written exam which is 50% of the total module mark

Two assignments:

AS1: one 3000 word essay which is 25% of the total module mark

AS2: one 3000 word essay which is 25% of the total module mark

Suggested reading

Core Reading:

Boltanski, L. and Chiapello, E., The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2007).

 Dardot, P., and Laval, C., The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society (London: Verso, 2013).

 Davies, W., The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (London: Sage, 2014).

 Duménil, G. and Lévy, D., The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).

 Eagleton-Pierce, M., Neoliberalism: The Key Concepts (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).

 Harvey, D., A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

 Jones, S. D., Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

 Mirowski, P. and Plehwe, D., The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).

 Peck, J., Constructions of Neoliberal Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

 Wacquant, L., Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).