Neoliberalism(s); an all-encompassing, ever present force in modern thought. The ideology that allows open markets and closed borders, global transactions and strengthened borders. It is often murky, loosely associated (in my mind) with Reagan, Thatcherism and the Gadsden Flag. Luckily, David Harvey provides a linear foundation for understanding and exploring the neoliberal landscape. His “brief history” is just that—an outline—to guide readers through mis/conceptions and territory we know too well to question and forget to examine. The accompanying readings by Guglielmo, Briggs, and Featherstone presented a more tangled web, less linear at times, exchanging ideas and interweaving popular theories. Guglielmo’s historical presentation of Italian immigrant women anarchists provided a “real world” view of what Featherstone would describe as forging solidarity by “creating from below” in his introduction to Solidarity: Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism. Laura Briggs’ essay, “Activisms and Epistemologies” caught my attention with its candid reflexivity and ability to use Guyatri Spivak and sonic metaphors to walk the reader through the relationship (or division) between intellectual work and activism (if the reader agrees with Briggs assumption that such division exists).
While reading the assigned texts for ASPT 6004, I have found myself in possession of a copy of Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts by James Scott and feverishly putting away craft supplies–yarn, needles, and pinpoint frames—summer is over. Scott’s work focuses on the unseen, the subversive resistance movements often misunderstood. This work has undoubtedly guided my reading of this week’s assignment. The process of knitting, threading, and mapping also stays with me. I am interested in how this is similar to the terrain we are studying—spaces we do not even know how to look for, cracks in borders and threads connecting global networks. In mapping (quite literally) the texts, patterns and similar paths began to emerge: conversations about form, freedom, nods to the subaltern, and a serious approach to reflexive scholarship.
In my readings of the texts, the form or shape of neoliberalism was best understood in comparison to forms of freedom or violence. Violence proved to be the most difficult, but persistent embodiment of neoliberalism in the articles. It is difficult to educe a public, visceral reaction to the violence of neoliberalism. The violence is real—from generations foraging to maintain a space that is their own, to “her deformed finger, the bone worn down into the shape of a hook” and “her body damaged from decades of quickly twisting cotton and biting button holes to save time” (Guglielmo, 24). Further, the damage and effects of neoliberalism alters the form of the space it inhabits. Spaces change. Counterhegemonic movements—while I hesitate to present contestation as reactionary—must respond or persist. Each author touches on the importance of the form of anti-neoliberal movements.
Gugliemo’s entire article seems to be compelled by questions of location. Diaspora communities whose roles alter in the home, outside of the home, and racially change as borders are crossed are the core of her research. Guglielmo provides a specific location (or form) for resistance to begin:
In addition to providing mutual aid, these groups sought to create a radical counterculture to the religious, patriotic, or apolitical societies, and established libraries, schools, food cooperatives, theater troupes, and presses. It was here that Italian immigrant women created spaces for feminist activism, especially in the years prior to the First World War. (14) (Emphasis added)
In short, a specific structure is required to support the movement. Further, the authors (primarily Briggs and Featherstone) relied on the work of Guyatri Spivak, who also relies on location and form to position postcolonial feminism.
It may very well be the lens through which I read, but Briggs seemed to elaborate on the metaphorical and literal importance of voice (vox). She writes, “[W]e are impoverished by the loss of this memory of the political power of artists and intellectuals in solidarity with disenfranchised people. We have become embarrassed to sing “Solidarity Forever” (84). Here Briggs is discussing the (forgotten) power of song to cross borders and transform individuals. More importantly is Briggs overarching theme which translates to each of the articles: movements alter depending upon location because location is more than place. For Briggs, when solidarity is sought in the academy, there is disconnect between the form activism takes within “intellectual” and “activist” circles that cannot be resigned. This altering of form to fit the function of neoliberalism, and neoliberalism’s ability to adjust to specific times and spaces is made stronger by its language or conceptual terms of endearment: namely, freedom.
Freedom is the term traced throughout each of the readings. Freedom is a term that was never clearly defined. Freedom is a term, much like violence that is understood in comparison or against something. Freedom from, freedom of, freedom to. Freedom is also intrinsic to Harvey’s definition of neoliberalism.
The founding figures of neoliberal thought took political ideals of human dignity and individual freedom as fundamental, as ‘the central values of civilization’. In so doing they chose wisely, for these are indeed compelling and seductive ideas. These values, they held, were threatened not only by fascism, dictatorships, and communism, but by all forms of state intervention that substituted collective judgments for those of individuals free to choose. (5)
In the United States, 9/11 presented an attack on freedom, as Harvey points out. It was met with President G.W. Bush’s declaration that “Humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to offer freedom’s triumph over all its age-old foes” (6). Guglielmo questions freedom by criticizing “civilizing missions” which “sought to “expose how ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ were elusive for most in the United States” (21). The question of freedom must be explored to fully understand the psychological, political and social power of neoliberal ideals.
The three articles present examples–hopes and even counter histories–for an alternative to neoliberal regimes. Always drawn to theories of place and space, it was interesting to compare the location of these alternatives or known histories of “subterranean solidarities” (Featherstone, 8).
Spivak’s postcolonial position on the subaltern’s inability to speak within current systems is a recurrent theme in what I read as a feminist discussion. This was most interesting in the conclusionary reflections of Laura Briggs article. “I am unlikely to again be young enough, poor enough, unemployed enough that I can count myself a full participant in activist movements—as a location I inhabit, not a thing that I do” (91). I was left perplexed: can transitioning identities not be heard? Who are the addressees for a transnational movement? What language and with what voice must one speak? Featherstone elaborates that change must “create from below” but when does that become a hindrance to revolution? Why is Brigg’s insisting on borders (which restrain her abilities) within a transnational movement? I am left with questions. I am just beginning to sort out, parse, and learn the textuality of neoliberalism—forces I have lived with, at times benefited from, and often been harmed by.
The very idea that this might be –just might be—the fundamental core of what neoliberalization has been about all along appears unthinkable. It has been part of the genius of neoliberal a theory to provide a benevolent mask full of wonderful-sounding words like freedom, liberty, choice, and rights, to hide the grim realities of the restoration or reconstitution of naked class power, locally as well as transnationally, but most particularly I the main financial centres of global capitalism. (Harvey, 119)
But where do these words get their weight? Was Moreton (?) correct in implying religious fervor?
 I am continually encouraged to continue this process by the work of Jen Hofer, Jill Magi and projects such as Visual Verse.
 My understanding of form and function is derived from the teaching of Annie and Joseph Albers, Bauhaus artists who taught at Black Mountain College.