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Eagleton-Pierce, Matthew (2016) 'Historicising the Neoliberal Spirit of Capitalism.' In: Springer, Simon, Birch, Kean and MacLeavy, Julie, (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Neoliberalism. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 17-26. (Routledge International Handbooks)

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What is new about neoliberalism? Such a question immediately implies that certain objects and processes can be defined as ‘neoliberal’ and, importantly, that the contents of the ‘neo’ can be explained by reference to a larger phenomenon called liberalism. A veritable galaxy of things are now attached to the term ‘neoliberalism’, if not as some primary identifying marker then at least as one descriptive property among others. This chapter seeks to offer a window through which to problematize and analyse this core, if recalcitrant, question. In keeping with other debates in the social sciences, it proposes that the frame of neoliberalism tries to capture something about developments in capitalism since the 1970s, with commodification, financialization, and general moves towards ‘market-based’ modes of regulation or governmentality being major debates in the literature (Harvey 2005; Brenner et al. 2010; Peck et al. 2012; Springer 2010, 2012). While accepting this temporal frame as a starting point, the chapter seeks to contextualize the history of neoliberalism in two ways. First, the chapter sheds a sharper light on the relationship between capitalism and its mechanisms of legitimation, particularly at the level of everyday experience. Second, within the inevitable space constraints, the argument traces certain threads of meaning that connect the history of the liberal tradition to the present, specifically the themes of individualism, universalism, and meliorism. Thus, the chapter aims to reveal how justifications for neoliberal capitalist practices are the product of a long history of social struggles that are, moreover, often confusing, multifarious, and even contradictory. Ironically, once this perspective is recognized, the task of deciphering contemporary neoliberalism arguably becomes harder, particularly concerning efforts to understand where certain ideas and values tied to neoliberalism acquire their commonsensical power. If neoliberalism is a moving concept then scholarship needs to be equally adept at moving with it.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Politics & International Studies
Legacy Departments > Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > Department of Politics and International Studies
ISBN: 9781138844001
Copyright Statement: © 2016 Simon Springer, Kean Birch and Julie MacLeavy. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in The Routledge Handbook of Neoliberalism on 21 June 2016, available online:
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2015 16:29

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