Neoliberalism and Its Histories

History 280U

Fall 2013
262 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
W 3-6P


This class will grapple with what neoliberalism is and how we might conceive of its histories.   Broadly speaking there are three competing (if sometimes overlapping) ways of conceiving and historicizing neoliberalism.   Firstly, there are those that seek to capture neoliberalism as a set of ideas that they trace from the political economy of German Ordo-Liberals of the 1930s through Hayek and the Mont Pelerin Society in 1940s to the Chicago school of economists and Milton Friedman from the 1950s.  This is a story of how marginal ideas moved center stage in the context of a diverse form of political, economic and cultural contingencies.  Secondly, those working in a broadly Marxist tradition see neoliberalism as a product of the structural contradictions of global capitalism that has enabled the consolidation of finance capital as the governor of the globe. Finally, after Foucault, others focus on how new rationalities and practices of government produce a new kind of neoliberal subject, homo economicus, by instilling market logics in to all areas of social and political life.

Our readings will try to map the terrain of some of this scholarship and the histories it evokes focusing primarily, but not exclusively, on the Euro-American world.  As a set of ideas, economic structures and techniques of government neoliberalism is always on the move and is by definition a transnational phenomenon that takes shape in locally specific ways.  It is the specificity of these local iterations and their changing forms over time that will chiefly preoccupy us.  Readings will range widely across disciplines but it is the historicity of neoliberalism - the contrasting accounts of when, where and why it emerged and how it has changed over time - that we will try to stay focused on.

Each week students will be expected to write short weekly responses to the readings that will be shared with the group as a whole.  In addition, there will be a final analytical paper that will either interrogate the scholarship on a particular topic or seek to map out a research agenda around a specific historical question.