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Chapter 2-1

CMNS 221 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2-1: Body Politic, Neoliberalism, Invisible Hand

Course Code
CMNS 221
Martin Laba

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Citizenship and consumption
Consumption and citizenship are today increasingly recognized as porous, indeed
overlapping domains
Civic life was in danger of being hollowed out by jostling private interests
Fascination with the civic potential of consumption has received an impetus from
neoliberalism and the backlash of new social movements
With older producer-oriented labour politics in crisis, political energy and legitimacy
have moved more easily to consumption as a site of action and mobilization
The reassessment of the civic dynamics of consumption came with the broadening of
the political beyond an inherited territorial conception of citizenship and a class-
based welfare state
Consumerism creates a new, liquid society, which hollows out a shared public
domain, transcends territorial identities and erodes more solid identities based in
work and locality
Consumer boycotts put to political use the ideal of freedom, choice and the sovereign
consumer given circulation by neoliberal discourse and policies
Most people have become more individualized, and less class-bound
We should be careful not to conflate a focus on categories of class, state and
production with the political and cultural realities of earlier societies
Consumption as a new resource of political identification and mobilization around
questions of fair trade, sweatshop products, and related issues of social and
environmental justice
Political apathy and the decline of party-based electoral politics
Watching television or boycotting a particular product has not diminished a more
general sense of public engagement
Consumption has for a long time functioned as an alternative sphere of political
action and inclusion for groups excluded from the body politic, both women in the
metropole and men and women in the colonies
In a liberal-radical tradition, indebted to the enlightenment vision of the softening
touch of commerce, consumption could even be seen as a peaceful, unifying bond
across nations
A focus on consumption disrupts a more linear narrative from liberal to social
Consumer politics has been anchored in a variety of traditions
The identity of the consumer as a subject and object of politics has been a second,
related field of controversy
Neoliberalism, drawing on the influential economic school of rational choice, gave the
consumer pride of place in the 1980s and 1990s in programmes to privatize
industries and extend the invisible hand of the market to social services
The consumers as the novel product of an “advanced liberal” form of governmentality
taking hold in the second half of the 20th century in which individuals are not merely
“free to choose”, but obliged to be free, to understand and enact their lives in terms of
The “advanced liberal” self maybe stronger in government texts than in the practices
and identities of everyday life
Who counts and who does not count as a consumer has implications for law and
regulatory politics to the present day
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