In Viewpoint Magazine, Ben Mabie interviews Melinda Cooper, author of the recent book Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and New Social Conservatism. As Mabie states, Cooper’s book “argues that the recomposition of the family is at the heart of the neoliberal revolution from above.” In the interview, Cooper highlights the differences between neoliberal and right-wing conceptions of the family, and argues that some currents of socialism have very traditional gender roles at their core. Read an excerpt from the interview below, or the full text here.
MC: Neoliberals had a more minimalist understanding of family responsibility. For them, family responsibility meant that the family or the couple should be the primary source of economic security and in this way function as a substitute to the welfare state. They were in general much less normative about the particular form of these relationships and as I detail in my analysis of the neoliberal response to the AIDS crisis, were some of the first advocates of same-sex marriage, which they understood as a kind of mutual insurance contract. Alternative kinship relations were not a problem for them as long as these relationships could successfully internalize the health and welfare costs of partners and children. When people failed to internalize these costs, the neoliberals thought that kinship relations should be legally enforced in the form of family responsibility rules. Foucault was half right: neoliberals were not at all attached to the normative disciplines that grew up around the 20th century welfare state, the sciences of deviance and perversion that informed everything from eugenics to psychology and criminology. They were variously in favour of decriminalizing prostitution, sodomy and recreational drugs. But Foucault misses the big proviso that goes along with all of this. All social costs (the costs of raising children, the economic fallout from divorce, health care costs, STIs) need to be internalized by the parties to the sexual contract – kinship relations, marriage and parenthood, are the legal means through which the state can enforce these costs. What Foucault called “care of the self” is a central imperative of neoliberalism, but it would be better defined as “care of kin.”
Image: Heather Benning, Dollhouse. Via Viewpoint Magazine.