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Freedom after Neoliberalism

Friday 9 June 2017, 9.00AM to 10 June 2017

Speaker(s): Keynote Speakers: Nikolas Rose (King’s College London), Paul Crosthwaite (University of Edinburgh), Jane Elliott (King’s College London)

Over the last three decades, the rise of the socio-political formation widely referred to as neoliberalism has seen a particular model of freedom – the freedom of free markets, property rights and entrepreneurial self-ownership – gain prominence in a variety of ways around the globe.

More recently, there has been a surge in critical activity around neoliberalism, which has led to the emergence of an increasingly settled understanding of its political, economic and cultural mechanics. Most critiques, however – whether undertaken from a Marxist, Foucauldian, or sociological-historical perspective – have proven reluctant to engage neoliberalism on the territory that it has so conspicuously made its own: namely, freedom.

This surge in critical activity has been matched by a similar surge in attempts to imagine a future beyond capitalism, flying in the face of Zizek’s famous phrase, ‘it’s easier to imagine the end of the world…’. Inventive approaches from Paul Mason, Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, and Peter Frase all attempt to envision what a postcapitalist society might look like. Necessarily imperfect, these texts have nevertheless opened up a space to think beyond the confines of current socio-economic formations. By taking neoliberal capitalism as their object of critique, these texts raise an interesting question: is freedom after neoliberalism also freedom from capitalism? Or might capitalism after neoliberalism be transformed or accelerated into something conducive to freedom?

This conference aims to rethink, re-evaluate and perhaps renovate the many meanings of freedom beyond its limited economic function in neoliberal theory and practice, and to imagine what freedom might look like in a world beyond neoliberalism. We seek to explore the broad cultural impact of neoliberalism on art and culture, identity and subjectivity, politics, ecology, and more, and to try to imagine if, and how, we might disentangle these various concepts from the web of what Mark Fisher has called neoliberalism’s ‘business ontology.’

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Location: Berrick Saul Building, University of York