Course description

SLST 6028 3.0 credits

What is neoliberalism? The word is everywhere, but what does it mean? Is it just a new word for capitalism or does it indicate a specific kind of capitalism? This course will start with the proposition that neoliberalism involves a fundamental reconfiguration of the field of regulation that entails a reengineering of the state and a transnational field of market-oriented ‘regulatory transfer’. Regulation is shaped by law and state initiatives, but it is also “a social activity that includes persuasion, influence, voluntary compliance and self-regulation” (Braithwaite 2006: 19). This is especially the case under contemporary conditions of neoliberal ‘governmentality’, in which non-state actors (international institutions, NGOs, public-private partnerships, religious institutions, and corporations) increasingly engage in activities which govern populations and encourage people to adopt new forms of self-regulation.

We will explore neoliberal governmentality using the work of critical theorists and ethnographers of neoliberal practice. Drawing upon work influenced by late Foucaultian theory, students will be introduced to key concepts in debates in anthropology, geography, and political theory that are common to explorations of neoliberalism in spheres as diverse as criminal corrections, cultural heritage management, environmental protection, international development, social work, and urban planning. Emphasis is put upon studies based on ethnographic research.

The first five classes (after the introductory session) will provide students with fundamental framing materials, introducing key theoretical concepts including governmentality, technologies, subjectification, community, and biopolitics with an emphasis upon spaces of and resources for social agency (assemblage has been made an option given short length of the course). The remainder of the course will explore six topics that students will choose from amongst thirteen optional modules. Possible options include biotechnology, citizenship, social welfare, urban planning, culture as resource, environmentalism, international development, indigeneity, mental health, health policy. In our final week we might explore the concept of ‘postneoliberalism’ as it has evolved since the financial crisis of 2008, particularly in the Latin American context where a rejection or reformulation of neoliberalism appears to be most entrenched. If students choose not to do this as a final topic, we can have another optional module.

The course is global in terms of the discourses, institutions and relations of power it analyzes and the transnational networks with which it is concerned but puts emphasis on how these are locally experienced, understood, and rearticulated.

Syllabus PDF

Course Number: SLST 6028
Field: Socio-Legal Studies
School: York University
Date Published: January 12, 2021