Neoliberalism and its Discontents: The World since 1968

Tutor: Sam Wetherell

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00099M

Credits: 20

This module is a history of the world during the last fifty years organized around the often slippery and enigmatic term ‘neoliberalism’. Traditionally ‘neoliberalism’ refers to a system of economic and political thought that prioritizes the deregulation of national economies, the private ownership of infrastructure and the extension of marketplace ideas to many domains of life including education, healthcare and even personal relationships. Traditionally associated with economists such as Milton Freidman and Friedrich Hayek and with the politics of figures such as Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Ronald Regan in the United States and Deng Xiaoping in China, many believe that since the 1970s and 1980s neoliberalism has been a dominant force in most nations and international institutions.

Part of this course is an introduction to the political and economic history of the last fifty years, focussing on the erosion of social democratic welfare states in Britain and elsewhere, the stalling of economic growth in many western countries and the rise of inequality since the 1960s as well events such as the oil crisis in the 1970s and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s. The course will also look at how these events and transformations have been theorized and understood by historians, philosophers and economists and their intersection with ideas of gender and race in different parts of the world. Students will be encouraged to develop their own ideas about the definition and utility of the term ‘neoliberalism’.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

    • Inequality and economic growth post 1945
    • Neoliberal economic thought
    • Globalization and the national economy
    • The 1970s and the end of the social democratic order
    • The neoliberal city
    • New ideas of the self and the community
    • Thatcherism and its afterlives in Britain            
    • The 2008 financial crisis and the uncertain future


Preliminary Reading

    • Rogers, Daniel T. Age of Fracture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012
    • Beckett, Andy, When the Lights Went Out: Britain in the 1970s, London: Faber, 2009
    • Fourcade-Gourinchas, Marion and Babb, Sarah L. “The Rebirth of the Liberal Creed: Paths to Neoliberalism in Four Countries” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 108, No. 3 (November 2002): 533-79


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.