Prof Rosalind Gill, University of London
Rosalind Gill is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at City, University of London. She researches media, intimacy, gender, sexuality, surveillance, work and academia. Her most recent books are Aesthetic Labour: Beauty Politics in Neoliberalism (Palgrave 2017, with Ana Elias and Christina Scharff) and Mediated Intimacy: Sex Advice in Media Culture (Polity, 2017, with Meg-John Barker and Laura Harvey). She is currently editing a book about ‘cultural hubs’ and writing a book about gendered neoliberalism.
The affective life of neoliberal capitalism
Neoliberalism has shown itself to be remarkably durable and resilient. Colin Crouch (2012) has pondered its strange ‘non-death’, Philip Mirowski (2013) discusses it ability to withstand both global economic crisis and political resistance, and Paul Heideman (2014) dubs it ‘bullet proof’. In this paper I will argue that part of its durability has to do with the way it has penetrated emotional life and reshaped subjectivity. It has made itself, in Stuart Hall’s (1988) famous formulation, not just part of ‘them’, but also ‘one of us’. It has worked its way into the ‘nooks and crannies of everyday life’ (Littler, 2017), including our emotional lives.
In this presentation I will pull together three broad approaches to thinking about affect and emotion in neoliberalism- each from a key feminist scholar. I will consider the work of Wendy Brown on entrepreneurial subjectivity, Eva Illouz’s ideas of ‘emotional capitalism’, and Arlie Hochschild’s argument about the way in which we increasingly ‘outsource’ our intimate lives, and with them key aspects of the self. Building on these valuable approaches I will propose that neoliberal capitalism has a distinctive ‘mood economy’ (Silva, 2013), ‘feeling rules’ (Hochschild, 2003) and a particular kind of affective life.
I seek to extend current thinking about the cultural features of this moment of capitalism by taking seriously its psychic (Scharff, 2015) and affective life. Building variously upon Raymond Williams’ (1961) notion of ‘structures of feeling’, Arlie Hochschild’s (1983/2003) ‘feeling rules’ and Barbara Ehrenreich’s idea that ‘positive thinking …has made itself useful as an apology for the crueller aspects of the market economy’ I will argue that neoliberalism increasingly engages with character, affect and emotion, operating by governing what and how people are allowed or enabled to feel.
To illustrate the broader theoretical argument, I will discuss the contradictory neoliberal regulation of affective dispositions for women, which prescribe confidence (Gill & Orgad, 2015) or alternatively, the pleasing, lighthearted readiness to ‘not take the self too seriously’ (Kanai, 2015). Seen in mainstream commercial media through celebrity culture, self-help books and advertising, as well as in girls and young women’s digital practices, I suggest that the entanglement of neoliberalism and media culture mandates that women remain positive and upbeat in the face of continuing inequalities, pathologising affective responses such as vulnerability and insecurity that register injury under neoliberalism. The effect of these neoliberal ‘feeling rules’ (Hochschild 1983/2003) is that only certain ways of being and feeling are rendered intelligible, casting others as ‘affect aliens’ or ‘killjoys’ (Ahmed, 2010). This analysis thus responds to Lisa Blackman’s call for critics of neoliberalism to take seriously affect and emotion, helping to illuminate some of the distinctive features of this moment of capitalism.
Dr Christina Scharff, King's College London
Dr Christina Scharff is Senior Lecturer in Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London. Her research on gender, subjectivity and culture has been published in various, international journals, including Sociology, Feminism & Psychology, Feminist Media Studies and Theory, Culture & Society. She is author and co-editor of several books, including Repudiating Feminism: Young Women in a Neoliberal World (Ashgate, 2012), Gender, Subjectivity and Cultural Work: The Classical Music Profession (Routledge, 2017), New Femininities: Postfeminism, Neoliberalism and Subjectivity (with Rosalind Gill; Palgrave, 2011) and Aesthetic Labour: Rethinking Beauty Politics in Neoliberalism (with Ana Sofia Elias and Rosalind Gill, Palgrave, 2017).
Scharff, C. (2015). The psychic life of neoliberalism: Mapping the contours of entrepreneurial subjectivity. Theory, Culture & Society, 33(6), 107-122.
Scharff, C. (2015). Blowing your own trumpet: Exploring the gendered dynamics of self-promotion in the classical music profession. The Sociological Review, 63, 97-112.
The psychic life of neoliberalism
The neoliberal self has been described as an entrepreneurial subject. This talk draws on innovative, empirical research to explore how entrepreneurialism is registered, negotiated and lived out. In particular, it maps the contours of entrepreneurial subjectivity and shows, for example, that entrepreneurial subjects relate to themselves as if they were a business and hide injuries. Crucially, the talk also reframes existing accounts by arguing that competition in neoliberalism is not only other-directed, but also self-directed, thus presenting a ‘deeper’ form of exploitation. In presenting these and other arguments, the talk adds to discussions on neoliberalism in two key ways. First, it addresses questions of the ‘psychic life’ of neoliberalism. Second, based on empirical data, it explores entrepreneurial subjectivity from the ground up.