The Making of Neoliberalism: Historical and Social Science Perspectives

Conference | 13–14 July 2017, MPIfG, Cologne

With few exceptions, historians and social scientists have described neoliberalism as a predominantly political economic phenomenon. The social order that replaced the cracking New Deal order in the West has been depicted as a shift in governing techniques and principles from the state to market forces, collective solidarity to individual responsibility, and democratic to capitalist logics of social organization. The conference advances the idea that the strong focus on the political economic dimension of social change since the late 1960s has led to overly simplified historical characterizations of neoliberalism as a social order. The conference invites sociologists, political scientists and historians to integrate existing research and theories, and to work out a richer account of neoliberal social change and governing rationality.
We invite contributions that have developed provisional holistic accounts of neoliberalism as a social order and its governing logics and instruments. Going beyond narrow histories of economic policy and ideology, more recent scholarship provides histories of neoliberalism that emphasize its various intellectual strands, changing notions of democracy and governmentality, as well as neoliberalism’s contradictions between increases in individual freedom and new forms of collective control.
Recent political economic scholarship has begun to develop more complex understandings of changes in the relationship between the state, economy, and society since the 1960s. Contrary to diagnoses of a clear-cut retreat of the state, scholars now emphasize simultaneous developments of economic liberalization, re-regulation, and new forms of state intervention and associational politics. Rather than changes in state activism per se, studies have found shifts of focus, objectives, and instruments, transformations in the politics of state intervention, and breaks with former conventions of negotiation and accountability.
Further, recent research suggests that the composition of actors, groups, and social coalitions that drove neoliberal social change is more broad and conflicted than early accounts of the rising influence of supply-side economists, radical politicians, and business interests depicted. Changing understandings of democratic participation and “governance,” for example, may be equally important for recasting relationships between the state and business and between citizens and the state. The same can be said for changing notions of economic governance and political movements on the Left, for instance New Labor platforms in Western Europe or the Clinton Democrats in the United States.
Finally, research is starting to highlight areas of ambivalence and contradictions in neoliberalism. Western political systems since the 1960s integrated numerous progressive movements ranging from modern environmentalism and humanization-of-the-workplace initiatives to modern social rights movements. Recent sociological research underlines the “grey zones” between neoliberalism and libertarianism, between the promise of individual freedom and self-fulfilment and new forms of discipline and control, as well as between individual empowerment and emancipation on one side, and the “responsibilization” or “activation” of individuals on the other.

MPIfG: Conference "The Making of Neoliberalism: Historical and Social Science Perspectives" | [Last updated 20.06.2017 15:23]