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Interview with Wendy Brown on her new book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution


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Dissent magazine has an interview with political theorist Wendy Brown about her new book Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Dissent describes the book thus: “A searching inquiry, the book is part historical study, part philosophical treatise, and part engaged polemic. Scholarship on neoliberalism is booming, but Undoing the Demos highlights a subject too often neglected: the political consequences of viewing the world as an enormous marketplace. Her conclusions are grim, but that makes grappling with them all the more urgent.”

In the interview, Brown clarifies what she means by the ubiquitous but nebulous term “neoliberalism”:

In this book, I treat neoliberalism as a governing rationality through which everything is “economized” and in a very specific way: human beings become market actors and nothing but, every field of activity is seen as a market, and every entity (whether public or private, whether person, business, or state) is governed as a firm. Importantly, this is not simply a matter of extending commodification and monetization everywhere—that’s the old Marxist depiction of capital’s transformation of everyday life. Neoliberalism construes even non-wealth generating spheres—such as learning, dating, or exercising—in market terms, submits them to market metrics, and governs them with market techniques and practices. Above all, it casts people as human capital who must constantly tend to their own present and future value.

Moreover, because neoliberalism came of age with (and abetted) financialization, the form of marketization at stake does not always concern products or commodities, let alone their exchange. Today, market actors—from individuals to firms, universities to states, restaurants to magazines—are more often concerned with their speculatively determined value, their ratings and rankings that shape future value, than with immediate profit. All are tasked with enhancing present and future value through self-investments that in turn attract investors. Financialized market conduct entails increasing or maintaining one’s ratings, whether through blog hits, retweets, Yelp stars, college rankings, or Moody’s bond ratings.