Elizabeth A. Povinelli's Symphony of Late Liberalism is a "concept-image" intended to depict the relationship between simultaneous ongoing crises in the governance of markets and the "governance of difference," as she terms it. Various iterations of the Symphony have appeared in her books Economies of Abandonment and Geontologies. As part of the recent 8th Jerusalem Show, Povinelli was commissioned to create a further iteration of the Symphony that included a new "stanza" about the political economy of Palestine. Povinelli talked about the new Symphony in a public conversations with Raja Khalidi and Vivian Ziherl. Jadaliyya has published a transcript of the fascinating exchange. Here's an excerpt:
Raja Khalidi (RK): Why a symphony and why liberalisms?
Elizabeth Povinelli (EP): In Economies of Abandonment I used the phrase late-liberalism to describe a topological twist in the governance of difference—the emergence of a new tactic of the liberal governance of difference around the late 1960s and early 1970s usually referred to as liberal forms of social and cultural recognition or state multiculturalism. We were not seeing a break or a rupture in liberalism but rather a re-alignment of a strategy of governing difference. By the time I got to Geontologies—actually by the time I published Economies of Abandonment—I began using the phrase late liberalism to indicate a topological twist in the governance of difference and the governance of markets. Neither form of governance determinates the other, nor do either of these forms emerge simultaneously or homogeneously across the globe. That is why I am not saying Symphony of Capital, nor am I saying Symphony of Liberalisms per se—to say either of these would indicate that the one or the other is the determining structure. And that is why in the Symphony there is not a time or a place where late liberalism happens. Instead late liberalism happened and is happening. It happened because, under the unrelenting pressure of anti-colonial movements, new social movements including Black Power movements, Red Power movements, Radical Feminism, the Queer movements, etc. the way liberalism governed difference underwent a serious legitimacy crisis. That whole civilizational rhetoric in its multiple forms just does not fly anymore. Running parallel to this crisis was another—the failure of Keynesian economics. Thus the Symphony shows the unfolding movement of late liberalism across the two axes of crisis in the governance of difference and the governance of markets.
RK: Neither of which are compatible or have been able to align themselves with pure market fundamentalism?
EP: I think that’s right. They do not fully align themselves with each other, nor do they fully align themselves with market fundamentalism, meaning even the governance of markets in so-called neoliberalism was never pure Hayekian liberalism. That is where the recent US election—but also Brexit and Le Penism—is interesting for me. Each election has a very different national context even as all of them are marked by a rebellion of white working class populism against financial global capital—in this case a white working-class populism is rebelling against the late liberal governance of difference and markets. But, again, I do not see the governance of difference and markets composed of the same logic or in a base-superstructure relationship.
Image: Arabic version of Elizabeth A. Povinelli's Symphony of Late Liberalism. Via Jadaliyya.