Carolyn Hardin (2012), Finding the ‘Neo’ in Neoliberalism, Cultural Studies
‘Liberalism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ have become important shorthand terms in critical work that seeks to incorporate issues of economics into ideological and epochal analyses. Yet, these terms incorporate theoretical histories and refer to historical contexts so vast that they can seem ambiguous and boundaryless. This ambiguity threatens to reduce the analytical usefulness of the terms liberalism and neoliberalism. In this paper, I map the legacies and meanings of the terms liberalism and neoliberalism and diagram the complexity and specificity of what neoliberalism is today. First, I engage a small set of definitions and uses of these terms to try to make sense of liberalism and neoliberalism as historical-theoretical concepts. Second, I group current academic uses of the term neoliberalism into Foucauldian, Marxist and epochalist camps, explaining the limits of each. Third, drawing on a fourth minor strand of work on neoliberalism that opens a path to better defining and using the term, I present my own definition of neoliberalism that distinguishes between a theoretical mode and an articulation mode. I conclude by proposing that what is new in neoliberalism is what I call corporism, the privileging of the form and position of corporations.