SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Key Debates on Neoliberalism

Module Code:
153402003
Credits:
15
FHEQ Level:
6
Year of study:
Year 3 of 3 or Year 4 of 4
Taught in:
Term 1

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. The module will feature a field trip to Wholefoods Market to explore contemporary approaches to consumerism and how such practices can be tied to neoliberalism.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

Workload

  • 2 hour Seminar per week

Scope and syllabus

1. Introduction: Neoliberalism and its Discontents
2. Capitalism and Ideological Critique
3. The Nexus Between State and Market
4. The Politics of Production: Competitiveness and Flexibility
5. The Politics of Consumption: Choice and Experience
6. The Ethics of Diversity
7. Greening Neoliberalism
8. Freedom and Power Reloaded
9. Capitalist Futures: From Reform to Post-Neoliberalism

Method of assessment

Exam: one 3 hour written exam which is 75% of the total module mark
Essay: one 3000 word essay which is 25% of the total module mark

Suggested reading

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

 

Important works
  • Boltanski, L. and Chiapello, E., The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso, 2007).
  • Brown, W., Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015).
  • Cahill, D. and Konings, M., Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017).
  • 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).
  • Harvey, D., A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • 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).
  • Slobodian, Q., Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018).
  • Streeck, W., Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (London: Verso, 2014).
  • Wacquant, L., Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

Disclaimer

Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules