Neoliberalism in Anthropology

Rex’s recent post on “neoliberalism” sparked some good discussion, but much of it was focused on trying to define the term rather than understanding the phenomenon. In a comment Rex tried to refocus the discussion:

Let me try rephrasing: is this conjunction of stuff indicative of a moment (perhaps passed) in anthropology? And if so, why are these two well-known authors thinking about it now, given that (as many of the comments on this channel have indicated) ‘neoliberalism’ has probably been around for decades?

One way of examining the question is to use the excellent database provided by AnthroSource. While somewhat limited in scope, it should be able to reveal broad trends in the discipline. Accordingly, I searched for all articles (in the past 100 years) that used “neoliberalism” in the title. The total number of results was 25 articles, of which over half were published in the past three years! Eleven were published in just the past year and a half. I’d say that’s a trend! The oldest article dates to 1996. [NOTE: Some of these are book reviews, I didn’t see any reason to treat them separately. The full list is below the fold.]

In my own comments on Rex’s thread I suggested that one of the reasons for this trend might be a rethinking of “globalization” and “transnationalism” in which scholars are moving away from issues of consumption and trying to focus on the impact of the organizations responsible for global governance, such as the IMF and WTO.

Of particular importance is the so-called “Washington Consensus“, defined by Wikipedia as:

a set of policies promulgated by many neoliberal economists as a formula for promoting economic growth in many parts of Latin America and other parts of the world. The Washington Consensus policies propose to introduce various free market oriented economic reforms which are theoretically designed to make the target economy more like that of First World countries such as the United States.

The Washington Consensus is the target of sharp criticism by both individuals and groups, who claim that it is a way to funnel economic productivity from less developed Latin American countries to large multinational companies and their wealthy owners in advanced First World economies. As of 2005, several Latin American countries are led by socialist governments that openly oppose the Washington Consensus, and many more are ambivalent. Critics frequently cite the Argentine economic crisis of 1999-2002 as the case in point of why the Washington Consensus policies are flawed, as Argentina had previously implemented most of the Washington Consensus policies as directed.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that over half of the articles using the term have followed in the wake of the Argentina crisis and the rise of left-leaning governments in Latin America. Although some of them date from all the way back in the 1990s, over half of the list of AnthroSource articles are related to Latin America.

The full list of AnthroSource titles containing the word “neoliberalism”:

Sawyer, Suzana. 2006. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. Journal of Latin American Anthropology 11 (1): 238-40.

LEWELLEN, TED. 2006. The Anthropology of Development and Globalization: From Classical Political Economy to Contemporary Neoliberalism the Anthropology of Development and Globalization: From Classical Political Economy to Contemporary Neoliberalism. Marc Edelman and Angelique Haugerud, Eds. Oxford : Blackwell Publishers, 2005. 406 Pp. American Anthropologist 108 (1): 240-41.

Sharma, Aradhana. 2006. Crossbreeding Institutions, Breeding Struggle: Women’s Empowerment, Neoliberal Governmentality, and State (Re)Formation in India. Cultural Anthropology 21 (1): 60-95.

Whitehead, Judy. 2005. The Neoliberal State in Disaster Management. Anthropology News 46 (9): 18-18.

GREENHOUSE, CAROL, J. 2005. Hegemony and Hidden Transcripts: The Discursive Arts of Neoliberal Legitimation. American Anthropologist 107 (3): 356-68.

FERGUSON, JAMES. 2005. Seeing Like an Oil Company: Space, Security, and Global Capital in Neoliberal Africa. American Anthropologist 107 (3): 377-82.

PEREZ, GINA, M. 2005. Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City. American Anthropologist 107 (3): 517-18.

GONZALEZ, M., ALFREDO. 2005. Inequality, Poverty, and Neoliberal Governance: Activist Ethnography in the Homeless Sheltering Industry. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 19 (3): 360-63.

Speed, Shannon. 2005. Dangerous Discourseshuman Rights and Multiculturalism in Neoliberal Mexico. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 28 (1): 29-51.

Hale, Charles, R. 2005. Neoliberal Multiculturalismthe Remaking of Cultural Rights and Racial Dominance in Central America. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 28 (1): 10-19.

Smith, James, H. 2005. Buying a Better Witch Doctor: Witch-Finding, Neoliberalism, and the Development Imagination in the Taita Hills, Kenya. American Ethnologist 32 (1): 141-58.

Hairong, Yan. 2003. Neoliberal Governmentality and Neohumanism: Organizing Suzhi/Value Flow Through Labor Recruitment Networks. Cultural Anthropology 18 (4): 493-523.

Hauser, Ewa, Krystyna. 2003. After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua.; Reproducing Gender: Politics, Publics and Everyday Life After Socialism. After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua. Florence E. Babb. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. 304 Pp. Reproducing Gender: Politics, Publics and Everyday Life After Socialism. Susan Gal and Gail Kligman, Eds. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000. 443 Pp. American Anthropologist 105 (2): 372-74.

Karam, John, Tofik. 2003. Intensified Eth(N)Ics: Arab Brazilians and the “Imagined State” in Neoliberal SÃO Paulo. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 26 (1): 1-27.

Graeber, David. 2002. The Anthropology of Globalization (With Notes on Neomedievalism, and the End of the Chinese Model of the Nation-State) Millennial Capitalism and the Culture of Neoliberalism. Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff. Durham, Nc: Duke University Press, 2001. 320 Pp. Consumers and Citizens: Globalization and Multicultural Conflicts. NÉStor GarcÍa Canclini. George YÚDice, Trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. 200 Pp. The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader. Jonathan Xavier Inda and Renato Rosaldo, Eds. London: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. 498 Pp. American Anthropologist 104 (4): 1222-27.

Ferguson, James, and Akhil Gupta. 2002. Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality. American Ethnologist 29 (4): 981-1002.

Byrnes, Dolores. 2002. After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua. Florence E. Babb. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001. Vii + 304 Pp., Photographs, Notes, Bibliography, Index. American Ethnologist 29 (4): 1046-48.

Colloredo-Mansfeld, Rudi. 2002. Don’t be Lazy, Don’t Lie, Don’t Steal”: Community Justice in the Neoliberal Andes. American Ethnologist 29 (3): 637-62.

Guano, Emanuela. 2002. Spectacles of Modernity: Transnational Imagination and Local Hegemonies in Neoliberal Buenos Aires. Cultural Anthropology 17 (2): 181-209.

Sawyer, Suzana. 2001. Fictions of Sovereignly: Of Prosthetic Petro-Capitalism, Neoliberal States, and Phantom-Like Citizens in Ecuador. Journal of Latin American Anthropology 6 (1): 156-97.

Stevenson, Mark, A. 1999. German Cultural Policy and Neo-Liberal Zeitgeist. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 22 (2): 64-79.

Babb, Florence, E. 1999. Managua is Nicaragua” the Making of a Neoliberal City. City & Society 11 (1-2): 27-48.

Smith-Nonini, Sandy. 1998. Health ‘Anti-Reform’ in El Salvador: Community Health Ngos and the State in the Neoliberal Era. PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 21 (1): 99-113.

Roseberry, William. 1998. Neoliberalism. Transnationalization, and Rural Poverty: A Case Study of Michoacan, Mexico Neoliberalism. Transnationalization, and Rural Poverty: A Case Study of Michoacan, Mexico. John Gledhill. Boulder, Co. Westview Press, 1995. Xi + 243 Pp., Figures, Tables, References, Index. American Ethnologist 25 (1): 53-54.

Kearney, Michael. 1996. Post-Melting-Pot Realism Neoliberalism, Transnationalization and Rural Poverty: A Case Study of Michoacan Mexico. John Gledhill American Dreaming: Immigrant Life on the Margins. Sarah Mahler. American Anthropologist 98 (4): 867-69.

UPDATE: Looks like the last two are reviews of the same book. But that doesn’t seem to change much. Although it might mean that John Gledhill is the one to blame for this trend.

I’m also wondering if one couldn’t use AnthroSource’s RSS feeds to create an automatic Trend Watcher™ that could alert one to new Anthropological fads?

19 thoughts on “Neoliberalism in Anthropology

  1. 1. Thanks for the list.

    2. As someone working institutionally outside anthro, I have zero interest in conference-hallway chatter about what’s hot and what’s not, the sneers and raised eyebrows, especially when that substitutes for actually reading people’s work and discussing it.

    3. There’s an unfortunate need in some analysis to name a world-spirit, a single great worldwide process of historical change with a single consciousness, whether it’s named capitalism, late capitalism, modernization, modernity, postmodernity, industrialization, development, or globalization. The work of Jameson, Harvey, Sassen et al. in the 1990s suffers from that problem. Perhaps some folks are using neoliberaism in the same way. But I can assure the SM readership, having begun the book, that Ferguson is not up to anything as silly as that.

    4. Re

    “a rethinking of “globalization” and “transnationalism” in which scholars are moving away from issues of consumption and trying to focus on the impact of the organizations responsible for global governance, such as the IMF and WTO.”

    I’m not sure what lit is being referenced under “issues of consumption.”

    There’s an old literature on the IMF and World bank, and some recent efforts to apply the governmentality literature to them, among them one on the list. Along those lines I’d emphasize the role of the Bretton Woods institutions as producers of knowledge. Anyone with access should check out the latest e-version of the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, and pay attention to the data series they have added on impediments to enterprise.

    5. How about we all read Ferguson and reassamble and discuss an actual text? Anyone up for that?

  2. I don’t know if your search method necessarily works because I have found anthrosource to be wonky when looking for specific theoretical concepts. Sometimes it misses articles which contain key words (try looking for literature on the invention of tradition or invented traditions and you’ll find that certain articles are missed despite having either phrase in multiple parts of the article.) Also, it misses any work done by anthropologists in Britain as well as any anthropological work in both Anerican anthropology journal and American non-anthorpology journals produced outside the AAA (especially Marxist journals). I think if we did a more exhaustive search we’d find that neoliberalism burst onto the seen much earlier among anthropologists (and other social scientists, especially Marxists) but was not necessarily “mainstream”. Though by the mid-1990’s you already have people like Bourdieu talking about neoliberalism. If for example one does a search in google scholar and limits the dates to before 1996 (the cut off for neoliberalism in the anthrosoure database), you’ll find numerous references to neoliberalism in numterous journals (even in articles that are not explicitly about the term). So the term has been around in English speaking scholarship for a while (and it should be noted, not just focused on Latin America).

    Now whether or not the term is useful for describing a particular set of government economic policies is an entirely different question. (I personally think that it makes these policies seem more benign than they actually are.)

  3. I think Colin’s real difference with me is that I am interested in EXACTLY “conference-hallway chatter about what’s hot and what’s not, the sneers and raised eyebrows” — in a word, fashion in anthropology! I don’t think its really fair to accuse me of doing a bad job of something (‘not reading their articles’) when the job I was trying to do is quite different. If turn about where fair play I’d chastise Colin’s reading group suggestion as a pathetic attempt to turn the vivid, living blogosphere into a dry academic seminar. But it isn’t and I won’t — instead I’ll say it sounds like a good idea. But until that happens…

    I don’t work outside of anthropology (as Colin does) and I don’t study ‘neoliberalism’ (as Colin does). I am not interested in what happens when people “actually read people’s work and discuss it.” On the contrary I’m interested in how anthropologists come to feel that a work is important WITHOUT having read it or knowing anything about its subject. How do people come to feel the discipline has a direction or thrust? This often involves nonspecialists feeling that ‘the hot thing’ is somewhere else, away from them. In fact I think one of the things that marks anthropology is the fact that people feel ‘the hot thing’ needs to be uncovered and is hidden somewhere that can only be disclosed in hushed tones at the AAAs.

    Kerim’s list definitely shows that there has been increasing interest in ‘neoliberalism’ despite how old the topic actually is. The question I asked was: Did Ong and Ferguson miss the wave or did they catch it? If we did have AnthroTrends it would be interesting to see what happened eight years from now.

    My personal guess is that anthropological populism alternates between celebrating the power, agency, diversity, and uniqueness of some grassroots people and denouncing the injustices visited upon them. I think that the original mood of globalization tended towards the celebration of Flows Of Grassroots Culture Everywhere. Then we remembered Power (real world events made it impossible to forget) and globalization + denouncing injustice = studies of ‘neoliberalism.’

  4. Rex, it’s all well and good to try to identify trends and the process of trend making, but I’m not sure that it makes sense to identify a trend without a knowledge of the literature. I don’t think that your question about why Ong and Ferguson have produced books with “neoliberal” in the title actually makes sense in light of the work that they have been doing over the past twenty years. There has been a growing consensus that the term “neoliberal” is useful for referring to issues that they have been studying, and this doesn’t seem like a departure from earlier work so much as an outgrowth from it. The case is similar, I think, with many of the people publishing with “neoliberal” somewhere in their title or key words.

    Asking whether “neoliberalism” has been adopted as a catch-phrase to grab attention at the conference book-stands verses whether it articulates something useful and of genuine interest to anthropologists is a worthwhile question. However, I don’t think that you can get at an answer without some knowledge of the literature. If “neoliberalism” refers to something that is analytically useful, then the increase in its use could simply reflect that: it is useful, therefore more people use it.

    On the other hand, if people are beginning to use the word to cover such a wide variety of things that its analytical use has been compromised (or if it was never particularly illuminating) then we can say that this is likely a trend and represents a “fashion” in anthropology that may be of limited usefulness and staying power.

    However, neither case can be established by noticing the word in titles. It would require a sampling of the literature to understand how the term is being used and whether newcomers are simply tacking it on or whether they are illuminating something interesting with it.

  5. It might also be worth noting that a JSTOR search on “neoliberalism” yields over 1700 results starting in the 1940s. Narrowing the search to the journals in the anthropology and area studies sections still gets over 1300 results starting in the 1960s. Make of it what you will.

  6. I still am going to go ahead and COMPLETELY IGNORE EVERY SINGLE WORD EVER WRITTEN ABOUT NEOLIBERALISM and STILL TALK ABOUT IT. It’s like Durkheim says: You don’t have to ask someone why they’re about to jump off a bridge as long as you know how many other people in their zipcode also took the plunge.

    I’m not factoring in the area studies journals in this, because they seem to full of sensible and intelligent scholars. Instead I want to study those SLAVE TO FASHION ANTHROPOLOGISTS despite my TOTAL IGNORANCE OF THEIR WORK.

    But seriously. Searching for the keyword ‘neoliberalism’ on JSTOR’s ‘advanced search’ through all the ‘anthropology’ journals it has results in 79 hits (note I’ve not checked that N actually adds up to 79 here — this is just a very rough tabulation):

    1991 1
    1992 111
    1993 1
    1994 1
    1995 11
    1996 1111
    1997 111111
    1998 111111111
    1999 111111111
    2000 111111
    2001 111111
    2002 11111111111
    2003 1
    2004 111
    2005 111111111
    2006 1111

    I don’t know whether the moving wall of content on JSTOR biases these results — for some journals they do include them in their catalog and search and just link to fulltext elsewhere. So, for instance, American Anthropologist is included in the 2006 results. A quick look at the search:

    reveals that many of the hits from the late 1990s have to do with Mexico and Latin America. NAFTA was signed in 1994 (by Clinton). So the first peak of results we get from 1998-1999 is almost certainly a result of that. Or so I would imagine since I HAVEN’T READ ANY OF THOSE ARTICLES AT ALL AND AM TALKING ABOUT THEM WITHOUT CITING THEM 😛

    Next question: how does that initial interest tie to a post-9/11 interest in it?

  7. Whatever. I still don’t see how you can tell the difference between a slave to fashion anthropologist and a sensible scholar without seeing what they actually said. Unless your premiss is that anthropologists are by definition slaves to fashion. In which case, your analysis would still be pretty much meaningless since you’ve excluded all of the anthropologists who published in area studies journals from your search.

  8. Is the JSTOR archive limited on english language? Are you talking about US American anthro fashion? Overflew half of the background info pages there but found no info on this. Maybe I m too tired atm or jetlacked or both.

    “NAFTA was signed in 1994 (by Clinton). So the first peak of results we get from 1998-1999 is almost certainly a result of that.”

    By ‘almost certainly’ you cannot argue anyway.

  9. Rex, I don’t see how you can look at a “trend” in anthropology without reference to other social sciences. Neoliberalism has clearly been an idea that started with other social sciences. Lets look at some numbers in other fields:
    Political Science
    1980 11111
    1981 1
    1982 11
    1983 11111
    1985 1111
    1986 11
    1987 11111
    1988 1111111
    1989 111111
    1990 11111111
    1991 1111111111111
    1992 111111111111111111111
    1993 11111111111111111111111
    1994 111111111111111111111111
    1995 111111111111111111111111111111111
    1996 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111
    1997 67 (too many 1’s)
    1998 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111
    1999 69 (too many 1’s)
    2000 57 (too many 1’s)
    Available journals drop off after this point (most only go until 2000)
    2001 26
    2002 35
    2003 3

    1980 1
    1981 1
    1982 1
    1983 11
    1984 111
    1987 111
    1988 1
    1989 1
    1990 1
    1991 1
    1992 11111111
    1993 111
    1994 11111
    1995 1111111111
    1996 11111111111111
    1997 1111111111111111
    1998 1111111111111
    1999 1111111111111111111111111111
    2000 11111111111111111111111111111111111111
    2001 11111111111111111111
    2002 11111111111111111111111111111111111111111
    2003 111111111111111111

    African Studies
    1980 to 2006 77 using neoliberal 25 neoliberalism (may be overlap)
    Asian Studies
    1980 to 2006 43 using neoliberal 19 neoliberalism (may be overalap)
    Middle Eastern Studies
    1980 to 2006 14 using neoliberal 9 neoliberalism (may be overlap)
    Slavic Studies
    1980 to 2006 40 using neoliberal 9 using neoliberalism
    Latin American Studies
    1980 to 2006 836 using neoliberal 484 using neoliberalism

    So what does this information tell us.
    1. Rex’s conclusions about neoliberalism being important to people studying Latin America do appear to be correct.

    2. That being said, in the “general” literature of social sciences, we can observe a trend of increasing scholarship on neoliberalism post-Soviet Union in political science and at about the same time in sociology in anthropology. This makes me wonder whether the trend in anthropology is in actuality a response to political science literature or a larger trend in social sciences. If its part of a larger social science trend, then we have to examine factors beyond those within anthropology.

    3. Finally, we don’t know about anthropologists who publish in area studies journals (or for that matter “generic” social science journals). I’m sure that among those 484 Latin American Studies articles that there could be many anthropologists using neoliberalism. It’s possible that we are only witnessing the migration of these anthropologists from area studies journals to “mainstream” anthropology journals. (I’m too lazy at the moment to do absolute date breakdowns for the area study journals or examine the disciplines of individual authors).

  10. So is there an anthro blog somewhere for people who read? Rex’s militant Philistinism is (a) an effort to discourage conversation outside a narrow disciplinary group, and (b) used in a disciplining way to discourage discussion of substance. This is not the first time I’ve run into this kind of crap here, and not only from Rex. I’m not asking for zero snark, only a snark/substance ratio that does not approach infinity.

  11. I personally never read books, and I suggest Colin do the same — it is much easier to lecture on them that way. You can just make stuff up. Really, reading is really over-rated. Also why talk to anyone except other anthropologists? It’s all about the cabal, baby! If you don’t like it, go hang out at Genetic Expression!!!!

    No just kidding.

    I hope that Colin participates in the summer reading circle I announced above, in which I promise to focus on what people read and write and not anything else.

    Also GSG has done some interesting work. Apparently ‘neoliberalism’ perhaps has a briefer genealogy than the Reagan/Thatcher version some mentioned earlier. It’s also interesting to see what way in which anthropology’s research interests _aren’t_ unique and are quite tied to other disciplines, and to the area studies of individual anthros fieldsites.

  12. Colin I can see why you’d be put off by Rex not wanting to read either of the works in question. I’m sure they’re very good reading and they’re worth discussing. However, from what I gather, you seem to be criticising him as being a philistine for actually just wanting to have a different discussion than you do. Rex doesn’t care what either of the works actually says (at least in the context of this discussion) because he’s not trying to discuss them. He used them as examples, of the sort of thing he’s noticed which is the increased use of the word “neoliberalism” as a general trend. For the purposes of this discussion, he’s interested in the growth patterns of the trend in question, not, it seems to me, what anybody in particular has to say about neoliberalism specifically.
    Anyway, to address that point, I DO think that quite a few folks are using “neoliberalism” as a sort of world-spirit-encapsulating word, or in better cases, a sort of metonymy for it, pointing toward some relatively concrete trends in policy, being unable to speak directly of the vague and general trend in world economics over the last n decades. That’s been my experience, anyway, and I’ve heard a few making the connection that since neoliberal policy is encouraged by some people identified as neoconservative that the two must be roughtly identical. It’s a mess. I do think that when hearing the term, one can’t be blamed feeling the need to try and discern how “seriously” the author is using it as a concept: is it a descriptive tool they’ve taken to based on it’s merit, or is it the hot word right now for gesticulating towards a vague gear in the global economy.

    I’ve already spent too much time lately bemoaning words but here goes: I’m also uncomfortable with “globalization” though I have to admit it’s entered my usage only as of late, after it was even Cool. I’ve never used “late capitalism” but I have used “hopefully late capitalism”.

  13. red fox: “I do think that when hearing the term, one can’t be blamed feeling the need to try and discern how “seriously” the author is using it as a concept: is it a descriptive tool they’ve taken to based on it’s merit, or is it the hot word right now for gesticulating towards a vague gear in the global economy.”

    I agree completely with this and I think it’s an interesting question. I still don’t see how you can determine the answer to this question by looking at frequencies of words in a title.

    I think that Grad Student Guy has given us a good example of the kinds of conclusions that you can draw from frequencies of a word in a title, which are considerably more narrow in scope than the questions that either red fox or Rex have posed.

  14. In Latin America, the 1990s weren’t only a period of free-market triumphalism, but also a period of transition from the military governments that dominated much of the region in the 1970s and 80s to electoral governments. This is one of the reasons for the importance of the term here in Lat Am (I’m writing from São Paulo). It also means that in discussions in and of Latin America, the “liberalism” in question sometimes evokes a social liberalism (sorta like “liberalism” as it popularly used in the US, as sneered by Rush Limbaugh, say) even though it is more often used to describe “Washington consensus” type economic policies. This muddiness is important, though.

    Also, without any list of Jstor 1s to back me up I’m going to assert my general sense that anthropologists are much less likely to use neoliberalism as a meta-historical-key-for-explaining-everything than they were pre 9-11-2001/ Iraq war, etc. Military power has just become too obvious since then to sustain those narratives. I could be wrong on this, though.

    Finally, and I touched on this in my post on the previous thread (posted just as stm—I’m new to this whole blogging/ posting business and uncertain about the kind of internet persona I’ll adopt, but to hell with anonymity…), I’m sympathetic to many anthropological uses of neoliberalism (although I don’t tend to use it in my own work), because they often don’t use the term simply to talk about economic policy, but rather to think about political imagination in a world in which something like socialism is seldom on the plate. People often use neoliberalism somewhat vaguely to talk about the ways in which politics and culture are shaped in an era in which political respectability and responsibility tend to mean respecting the liberalization of capital. I do think that this is somewhat less true about political respectability and responsibility than it was 5 years ago, but (despite the rise of anti-neoliberalisms) it’s still a massively significant feature of the post Cold War era, with all kinds of everyday cultural and political ramifications. I think that this has been mostly missing from this discussion and I think that it’s what a lot of anthropologists gloss as neoliberalism when they are studying whatever kinds of culture and politics.

  15. Carmen, I almost completely agree with you too. Any questions I’ve posed have been unintentional or by association and I don’t think I’ve suggested a way to answer them.

    Sean, I also agree with you & would sometime like to hear about what São Paulo is like right now.

  16. My personal guess is that anthropological populism alternates between celebrating the power, agency, diversity, and uniqueness of some grassroots people and denouncing the injustices visited upon them. I think that the original mood of globalization tended towards the celebration of Flows Of Grassroots Culture Everywhere. Then we remembered Power (real world events made it impossible to forget) and globalization + denouncing injustice = studies of ‘neoliberalism.’

    But Rex, no! This is not based on a rigorous definition of populism! As Ernesto Laclau informs us, populism essentially and universally involves 1)chains of equivalence among signifiers, 2) a moment of indetermination 3)partial hegemonies and totalities and 4) must, when you cut through the verbiage, vaguely resemble Peronism in Argentina in the 1960’s and 70’s, which of course doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that that’s where Laclau was living at the time.

    But seriously, folks-

    I think Rex’s point was just that you can talk about the existence of fashion without getting wrapped up in the question of whether or not Academic Fashion is Bad-did he not say that or did I miss it?

    You have the same thing, in slightly more abstract form, with the theory feeding frenzy over Agamben-lots and lots of people trying to Find Homo Sacer in India, Japan, The People’s Republic of Symbonia, wherever. The only thing that’s going to ensure the quality of the work over time is the quality of the reading people did of Agamben.

    Whether people are seriously thinking about what it means for social theory to be antifoundational, or the history of human rights, or the role of sacred power in the modern State, is a deeper question.

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