Dead Again? Mutant Neoliberalism and Crisis Reinvention

Editor’s note: Will the rise of new political forces and the explosion of global crises sound neoliberalism’s death knell? Or will ostensible challenges to existing political and economic orders instead catalyze new mutations in neoliberalism’s dynamic development? Mutant Neoliberalism, a recent edited collection, brings together leading scholars of neoliberalism—political theorists, historians, philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists—to rethink transformations in market rule and their relation to ongoing political ruptures. LPE blog is excited to host a symposium on this new and timely volume. Below is the first piece in the symposium series, an introduction by the volume’s editors William Callison and Zachary Manfredi. – LPE Blog

William Callison & Zachary Manfredi –

mutant neolib imageMutant Neoliberalism started as an attempt to wrestle with the complexities of a world transformed by the 2008 financial crisis. We both devoured the outpouring of critical commentary in the wake of that crisis, much of which alleged the demise of neoliberalism – “zombie neoliberalism” would soon give way to a new economic order and a new form of governance. With the political ruptures of the mid 2010s – the rise of far-right parties in Europe, the Brexit referendum, the Trump and Bolsonaro elections, along with ascendant authoritarianism in Turkey, the Philippines and elsewhere – we then witnessed another round of commentary predicting the “death” of neoliberalism. We were skeptical.

Neoliberalism wasn’t going to vanish, but it was changing – and it will change again. In our introduction to the edited collection, we synthesized the insights of the contributors into a broader theory of “mutant neoliberalism.” This was meant as a conceptual heuristic for interpreting different transformations of neoliberalism – whether understood as a form of institutional governance, a rationality of individual conduct, or an order of capitalist production. We sought to avoid reducing neoliberalism to a generic vituperative category, while also underscoring the manifold traditions of neoliberal thought and practice that emerged over the twentieth century. In proposing the metaphor of the “mutant” as an alternative to the “zombie,” we were not quarreling with projects that aim to abolish and replace neoliberalism with democratic and socialist alternatives. Rather, we hoped to challenge critiques that issue neoliberalism a premature death certificate. Chief among our concerns, in other words, was pushing back against narratives that a crisis of neoliberalism will serve as its own gravedigger: first the financial crisis of 2008, then the political ruptures of the mid-2010s, and now – perhaps – the fallout from the global pandemic of COVID-19.

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