Drawing on Philip Mirowski’s account of the origins of neoliberal doctrine in Friedrich Hayek’s “Mont Pèlerin Society,” founded in the late 1940s, this essay asks two questions. First, how do we explain the historical gap between neoliberalism’s construction as a doctrine in the 1940s and its much later rise to ideological dominance in the 1980s? Second, how do we account for the difference between neoliberalism as a constructed philosophy and neoliberalism as a “commonsense” ideology? It explores these questions through a reading of “neoliberal subjectivity,” particularly the figures of the “entrepreneur of the self” and “human capital.” It argues that when we assume that these modes of subjectivity are dominant, universal, and new, we miss both the long history of exploitation and the particular form this exploitation takes in the present. It concludes with a reading of the possibility of revolutionary subjectivity formed around categories like wageless, precarious, and surplus
Serious Crises: Rethinking the Neoliberal Subject
Annie McClanahan is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Dead Pledges: Debt, Crisis, and Twenty-First Century Culture (2016) and is currently working on two new projects, one on service work and the gig economy, and another on the intellectual history of microeconomics.