A Short Perspective on Neoliberalism and Space – (An individual insight)

This analysis is not wholly academic and yet not wholly polemic. It will explore neoliberalism and spaces from a broadly Foucaldian and Brownian perspective. This does not mean that this article is correct in its analysis nor does it mean it is incorrect; but a trail of critical thought from a student to encourage other critical thought on gentrification.

Neoliberal rationality

Here currently in the UK we are no longer facing just capitalism, but neoliberalism.

The question of the state and governmentality does not just concern discipline. Nor does it just concern sovereignty as it is not just concerned with the adherence to the law. Nor does it just concern purely government, as it is no longer just concerned with the status of things; instead it concerns a triad of all three. A relation of sovereignty-discipline-government, which has as its target the population and its right to life.

If we think of governmentality as ‘the conduct of conduct’, Governmentality is not merely a technique. There is a combination of the ‘microphysics of power’ with the macropolitical question of the state.’[1] Thus Governmentality is both internal and external of the state, where the tactics of government ‘make possible the continual definition and redefinition of what is within the competence of the state and what is not’.

This Governmentality has a rationality which adapts the tactics of government and the definition of what is within the competence of the state. Of course, this rationality is contingent, and not universal. This rationality can be adapted too, and is not active or receptive the exact same way in every discourse or institution, though parallels are present otherwise the rationality would not be coherent.

The current Governmentality rationality is neoliberal rationality, an order of normative reason. The first of the parallels, or rather the effects, seems to be the economization of previously non-economic domains, this includes domains that may not involve monetization. This economization of all spheres of life, does not just mean the marketization.

‘Rather, the point is that neoliberal rationality disseminates the model of the market to all domains and activities – even where money is not an issue – and configures human beings exhaustively as market actors, always, only, and everywhere homo oeconomicus.’[2]

Within this neoliberal rationality, capital is no longer just monetary, no longer just structural or material but the very subjects themselves, as human capital. Thus eroding homo politicus (political life) and leaving subjects only as homo oeconomicus.

The essence of this new form of the engulfing market, is no longer exchange as in the classic liberal capitalist sense, but competition. The effect of which being human capital’s aim to entrepernerialize its actions, adding value and increasing its ranking. Human capital seeks to ‘strengthen its competitive positioning and appreciate its value, rather than a figure of exchange or interest.’[3] Today, human capital not only focuses on production or the entrepreneurial self, but there is also an emphasis on investing in one’s self.

Human conduct as homo oeconomicus means that each sphere, institution, organisation is transformed, furthermore, the ‘purpose and character’ of each sphere, institution, organisation and the relations in them are altered and transformed too. In this way, neoliberalism has infested the very bricks in which build, or the very blood that runs through our veins. Though parasitic, I’m afraid of appearing to cast transcendental normativity on this matter, we must be reminded that this neoliberal rationality is not just destructive but productive as well. The two are sides of the same coin, but it does not mean that the productive side to neoliberalism is necessarily ‘good’, only that it ‘brings into being new subjects, conduct, relations, and worlds into being.’[4]

This neoliberal rationality means that human capital is both our ‘is’ and our ‘ought’. The neoliberal rationality ‘makes us through its norms and construction of environments.’

Here, I have drawn out two distinct but intertwining parallels of neoliberal rationality; one being the economization into previously non-economic domains resulting in the eroding of political life and the second being the change from the now all engulfing markets’ root principle from exchange to competition; both in flux with the subject now being that of human capital.

What Neoliberal rationality means for space.

By space in this context, I will mean physical space such as buildings or areas.

The neoliberal rationality forms and makes us ‘through its norms and construction of environments.’

Here, I would love to apply the metaphor of the Panopticon from Discipline and Punish or the biopolitics from The History of Sexuality, but neither are compatible because of the change in governmentality and rationality.

Instead, if everyone is human capital, neoliberalism ‘formulates everything, everywhere in terms of capital investment and appreciation, including and especially humans themselves.’[5] Thus ‘public goods’ become harder to defend. The government is not seen as the public or at least the public representatives, but yet another alternative market actor. This further individualizes everyone as competitors, investors or consumers and individualizes the government itself as a unit of human capital, not least a group of representatives for the citizens’ common good and not most the people.

How can there be public spaces, institutions, organizations, if there is no longer a ‘common good’, no longer ‘a public’, but instead units of individualized human capital?

As this rationality dismantles ‘the public’, any idea of community erodes away. Spaces for the community disappear, and we see subjects with higher human capital buying in areas to improve property monetary value, and even area value in terms of money. But it’s not just to ‘improve’ the property or area in terms of monetary value going up, human capital is constrained to self-invest in ways ‘that contribute to its appreciation or at least prevent its depreciation’; Including predicating and adjusting markets in housing. Neoliberal rationality not only alters an area or space physically but alters its purpose and character, thus we see and understand gentrification. The purpose of an area or a building is no longer in the public interest – as the idea of the public is being eroded – but rather an investment that a unit of human capital can partake in to add to their portfolio. This includes the government, as previously mentioned, the government are no longer at the very least a representation of the public, but another unit of human capital, competing with the rest of us. Thus when a building or space is owned by the ‘the public’ i.e. the government, it is no different to a privately owned building or space.

Resistance

The scary thing is, we as subjects, are neoliberal rationality and neoliberal rationality is us, we are human capital. How do we resist something that’s in the bricks we build upon and the blood in our veins? If the public no longer exists and if the government aren’t for the public anymore, but just a larger unit of human capital, and that means anything public is private, and anything private is solely for one unit of human capital’s benefit, then what are we to do?

Rebuild the public? Try to undo economization of everything? Daunting. We can reject that neoliberal rationality is our ‘is’ and our ‘ought’. We can take it as the ‘is’ and reject it as the ‘ought’. Space is political, space has been economized alongside everything else in this neoliberal world. The only thing we have to go on is that if neoliberal rationality is us and we are neoliberal rationality, and if the rationality adapts and is adapted to, we can change it.

[1] Lemke Thomas, Foucault, Governmentality and Critique, http://www.thomaslemkeweb.de/publikationen/Foucault,%20Governmentality,%20and%20Critique%20IV-2.pdf pg11

[2] Brown Wendy, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth revolution, Zone Books, 2015, p31

[3] Ibid pg33

[4] Ibid pg36

[5] Ibid pg176

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