A closer look at five major theoretical approaches to neoliberalism

The original title of this piece was Riding the Wave: Structure, hegemony, and agency in neoliberal deconstruction

Let us define the cycle, then, as a continuing shift in national involvement, between public purpose and private interest.

—Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Cycles of American History

This blog seeks to determine whether the assumptions contained in Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (Part 1) lend themselves to a useful interpretation of the nature and forces driving neoliberalism with reference to the structure-agency problem. The analysis takes on three dimensions: the first consists in examination of those conceptual frameworks presented in the documentary; the second compares the heuristic tools explored in the text with ideational, Marxist, Foucauldian, human geography/processual and institutional accounts by means of a critique; and the third traces the dilemma of structure and agency through each school in order that a synthesis is appraised. The paper concludes that Commanding Heights does not provide a useful account of neoliberalism to the extent the show’s producers and participants fail to account for ‘actually existing neoliberalism’ and its derivative hegemony.

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Reconciling Foucault’s ‘universal reign of the normative’ with Heller’s ‘awareness of contingency’

Foucault speaks of the ‘universal reign of the normative’ as characteristic of modernity while Heller argues it is characterised by a ‘growing awareness of contingency’. What do these authors mean by these characterisations and is it possible to reconcile these two evaluations?


Power, progress, personhood:

Beyond the antinomies of freedom


Can the modern individual capture subjectivity without sacrificing freedom? If so, how? This paper seeks to show that, in synthesising the works of Agnes Heller and Michel Foucault, one can begin to answer said questions in a non-totalising, non-normalising manner. The main proposition is that the intentions of Heller and Foucault, hermeneutically speaking, follow a reconcilable sequence of reasoning—through the mechanisms of power and progress—to a cumulative theory of personhood, centred around issues of ‘otherness’ beyond the antinomies of freedom. In the analysis that follows, contradictions are drawn from the respective texts in question before points of convergence are located and the two philosophies are shown to be, upon closer reading, reconcilable.

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