Neoliberalism: What on earth are we talking about?

Neoliberalism: it’s a contentious term and one that is as hotly debated as it is carelessly thrown around.

I reflect on, and write about, neoliberalism a lot and have just recently come across Philip Cerny’s (2010) book Rethinking World Politics: A Theory of Transnational Pluralism wherein he provides a very clear description of neoliberalism that mirrors my own understanding. He writes:

[N]eoliberalism is not a seamless web doctrinally and discursively. It is not only a contested concept in theoretical terms but also a highly internally differentiated one, made up of a range of politically linked but potentially discrete and freestanding subcategories and dimensions. These can be manipulated and orchestrated in different ways by political actors, leading to a much larger spectrum of strategic options, policy prescriptions, and de facto practices than the original conservative version would suggest – including what are here called regulatory, managed and social neoliberalism. In this way, a wide variety of interest and value groups, as well as political actors, can latch onto specific parts of the package and claim them for diverse political projects. Neoliberalism is proving to be eminently flexible and politically adaptable – a discourse that increasing reflects the process of transnational pluralism (Cerny 2010:129-30).

For Cerny, and others, neoliberalism has become “embedded in twenty-first century institutional behavior, political processes, discourses and understandings of socioeconomic realities” (Cerny 2010:129). Through this processes of embedding it has become the “shared mental model” (Roy, Denzau and Willett 2007) of the evolving art of governmentality (Burchell, Gordon, and Miller 1991; Foucault, 2008), the contemporary Gramscian “common sense”: what is expected and taken for granted.

What is important to pull out of this is:

–          The multiplicity inherent in neoliberalism: neoliberalisms

–          The common-sense nature of neoliberalism

–          The multiple opportunities to co-opt/shape the discourse for various political ends accepting that these actions are confined to the (always contested and ever changing) barriers of embedded neoliberalism.

This raises important questions about social change (which I will address tomorrow by reflecting on Richard Day’s work on non-hegemonic activity). The other question I want to consider is: How have neoliberalisms proved useful for civil society organizations participating in global food security governance? How do CSOs make use of embedded neoliberalism to support their engagement in global food security governance while simultaneously critiquing it or claiming to reject it?

Following Cerny (2010), but also Chantal Mouffe, neoliberalism is maintained through tensions inherent to liberal democracy: Totalizing bureaucratization competes with the primacy of the individual. When it comes to CSO engagement in food governance, especially at the global level, we see the expectation of liberal democracy support the development of spaces to facilitate their engagement, which is evident, for example, through the enactment of a rights discourse.

Global governance are liberal order framework and participation in policy

So, I am having some trouble keeping to a regularly posting schedule. It seems to come in spurts and waves and then falls into the background, as I get distracted by all the many magic things that this life brings me.

Two major issues are dominating my thoughts at this moment:

1) Articulating shifts in global food security governance as part of a broader, deliberate project of (neo)liberalism. This corresponds nicely with Rosenau’s construction of contemporary global governance as fragmentation,  steals shamelessly from Ian McKay’s work on the Liberal Order Framework (in Canada), and is supported by David Harvey’s work on the enigma of capital. It pushes the state out of the centre of analysis making space for other social relations to emerge. It positions global governance as a project to be analysed through the expansion of a specific politico-economic logic: liberalism (see McKay 2000: 621). My own review of the food security literature suggests a disconnect, or lack of concern, for these broader politico-economic. These links need to be better articulated and mapped out so that we can better understand food security policy, not as a policy sphere unto itself, but as a policy project that is integrated into a larger project of global governance.

2) Alternative modes of organizing public participation in policy making. When I was in Jokkmokk, Sweden for Indigenous Terra Madre, I met with two delegates from Thailand who explained a system their community developed based on character traits  that are prevalent in their history (articulated through stories) and how this system is them enacted to better participate (and resist) development plans and policy that threaten their communities.

I am super keen to talk to ANYONE about these issues, so if you are interested, send along an email (jduncan.uoc (a) gmail . com)

A weekend of wine tasting in the Languedoc region of France awaits me but I hope to get back into blogging more seriously next week.

Deconstructing Development

Before moving on to a discussion on the what a human rights approach means for development, I think it is important to reflect on what development means, where it comes from and some of the implications associated with this very political and politicized term.

In the book The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Power as Knowledge, Gustavo Esteva (2001:8) warns that “development occupies the centre of an incredible powerful semantic constellation.” Esteva is suggesting that our application and use of the term necessitates careful reflection because in saying “development”, most people end up saying the opposite of what they intend to convey (Esteva 2001:6).

Continue reading Deconstructing Development

Shake a tree, make a rhizome

Last week I presented some of my reflection on global governance to my supervisors and others in the Department. I had some fun playing around with James Rosenau’s understanding of global governance and seeing how it could be approached using the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

The presentation is available here: Reflections on Global Governance and World Food Security (March 16th)

Reflections on Global Agri-Food Governance

Heritage maize for seed (Pays Basque, 2008)

I spend a great deal of time thinking and writing about global agri-food governance and in an attempt to coordinate, synthesise and share these thoughts, I have started this blog.

I will be posting regularly on issues linked to the regulation and governance of our food systems. The majority of the posts will be linked to my PhD research but I will also reflect on issues brought up in the courses I am teaching and other activities I participate in.

Continue reading Reflections on Global Agri-Food Governance