Jennifer Lawn, Chris Prentice


This introductory essay situates the contributors’ articles in relation to the over-arching questions for this special issue: how has neoliberalism impacted on culture, and how is neoliberalism thought from cultural perspectives; or, what happens to the idea of culture under neoliberalism? We acknowledge extensive disagreement among commentators as to what neoliberalism is, its coherence as a concept, and its duration. We trace the different values attributed to neoliberalism, from social democratic inflections that decry growing disparities in wealth distribution, to those perspectives that emphasise its promise of self-determination and the individual, social and ethical potentials of self-determination and consumer choice in market relations. Noting that neoliberalism is a term used to explain wide range of contemporary cultural phenomena, we argue that it maintains enough coherence as a project to act as an influential force on material life, even if it operates in some spheres more as a ‘structure of feeling’ than an explicit platform. We trace its reorientation of the key principles of classical liberalism, and its relationship to, and ascendancy over, postmodernity and globalisation as terms that have been used to designate the current cultural conjuncture. Neoliberalism emerges out of the same moment and conditions, but more directly names a particular mode of political economy and governance that is inextricable from cultural life, from intra-subjective through to collective levels.

The remainder of this introduction groups the contributing articles under three headings, indicating the three spheres of cultural life that our contributors debate in particular. The complex interplay of neoliberal policies and Indigenous cultural rights, ranging from enthusiastic participation in the market economy to resistance, is discussed in the context of Aboriginal language policy by Sue Stanton, Chie Adachi and Henk Huijser. The articles by Juan Sanin and Eileen Oak are related by an interest in the contemporary ‘remoralisation’ of the market form, even though they address opposite ends of the consumption scale: Sanin analyses appeals to ethical consumption and patriotic values in Australian supermarket branding, while Oak’s study of neoliberal social policy in New Zealand observes the systematic demoralisation of those who are unable to participate in the formal economy. The issue concludes with two articles on the neoliberal university by Andrew Whelan and Edwin Ng. Although they draw on distinct intellectual traditions of (respectively) critical sociology and deconstruction, both authors raise concerns that the academic critique of the corporatised university threatens to further erode intellectual hospitality and community.


neoliberalism, culture, market relations, postmodernity, globalisation, consumerism

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