The consolations of 'neoliberalism'

Barnett, Clive (2005). The consolations of 'neoliberalism'. Geoforum, 36(1) pp. 7–12.



Recent work on neoliberalism has sought to reconcile a Marxist understanding of hegemony with poststructuralist ideas of discourse and governmentality derived from Foucault. This paper argues that this convergence cannot resolve the limitations of Marxist theories of contemporary socio-economic change, and nor do they do justice to the degree to which Foucault’s work might be thought of as a supplement to liberal political thought. The turn to Foucault highlights the difficulty that theories of hegemony have in accounting for the suturing together of top-down programmes with the activities of everyday life. However, the prevalent interpretation of governmentality only compounds this problem, by supposing that the implied subject-effects of programmes of rule are either automatically realised, or more or less successfully ‘contested’ and ‘resisted’. Theories of hegemony and of governmentality both assume that subject-formation works through a circular process of recognition and subjection. Both approaches therefore treat ‘the social’ as a residual effect of hegemonic projects and/or governmental rationalities. This means that neither approach can acknowledge the proactive role that long-term rhythms of socio-cultural change can play in reshaping formal practices of politics, policy, and administration. The instrumental use of notions of governmentality to sustain theories of neoliberalism and neoliberalization supports a two-dimensional understanding of political power—which is understood in terms of relations of imposition and resistance—and of geographical space—which is understood in terms of the diffusion and contingent combination of hegemonic projects. Theories of neoliberalism provide a consoling image of how the world works, and in their simplistic reiteration of the idea that liberalism privileges the market and individual self-interest, they provide little assistance in thinking about how best to balance equally compelling imperatives to respect pluralistic difference and enable effective collective action.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions