Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2003


Neoliberalism at Work:
- restructuring and reregulation in the transatlantic city

Lecturer: Professor Jamie Peck,
Department of Geography,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Main disciplines: Human geography, Sociology
Dates: 28 July - 1 August 2003


Objectives
The objective of the course is to develop a critical and grounded understanding of "neoliberalism," with particular reference to cities and states in North America and Western Europe. As a political-economic project, neoliberalism is (sometimes loosely) associated with the Reagan and Thatcher administrations of the 1980s, with the establishment of a "Washington consensus" amongst multilateral institutions like the IMF and WTO from the early 1990s, with the wide diffusion of Chicago School economics, with the ascendancy of individualistic and market-oriented political philosophies, with structural adjustment programs in developing countries, with policy programs organized around "deregulation" and "small government," and with the emergence of globalization discourses. At the same time, neoliberalism serves as a shorthand description of the contemporary political-economic realities, as an ostensibly universal and all-embracing ideology, as a slogan of critics used by corporate globalization and state downsizing, and as an increasingly important keyword in critical social science. For all this widespread usage, however, the term is poorly defined, conceptually slippery, and politically ambiguous.

As a political-economic project, neoliberalism has been persistently misread and (in some respects) underestimated, perhaps especially by its critics. As George W Bush might put it, neoliberalism has been "misunderestimated." The course will seek to establish some clarity around the nature and consequences of contemporary neoliberalism, characterizing this as a process of mobilizing state power around the contradictory extension and reproduction of market(-like) rule (Tickell and Peck, 2002). This is a far more complex and multifaceted process than the notion of "deregulation" implies, for it involves the development of new and proactive forms of statecraft and new patterns of institution building-some concerned with extensions of the neoliberal market-building project itself (for example, trade policy, corporate governance, and financial regulation), some concerned with managing the consequences and contradictions of these same processes of state-guided marketization (for example, penal, welfare, and social policy). The basic policy package through which the neoliberal project has been projected has been described by Standing (2002: 26) in the following terms:

Neoliberal discourses tell a deceptively simple story about the logical, historical and philosophical superiority of markets, and of individualized and privatized economic relations more generally, coupling this with a concerted political program to defend and extend the spaces of market rule. But this simplicity really is deceptive in that it is very often necessary for neoliberals to deploy state power and public authority in pursuit of these goals. This underlines the reality that "markets" are not naturally occurring phenomena, but have to be made, steered, and policed. The reality of neoliberalism is therefore never as pure as its free-market rhetoric, while its oft-stated disdain for all things governmental sits uneasily with its actual practices of statecraft.

The course will explore critical aspects of "actually existing neoliberalisms" in the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on the issues of welfare reform and "workfare," labor market and employment policy, and urban restructuring. In addition to discussions of broad theoretical and political questions, the course will also feature a number of local and city-level case studies. Particular emphasis will be placed on the theoretical and methodological challenges involved in researching neoliberalism and related forms of contemporary state restructuring. In this context, the course will provide an introduction to recent developments in the field of political-economic geography, together with a discussion of the role of qualitative research methods and comparative case studies. The overall aim of the course is to provide a "grounded" understanding of neoliberalization as an ongoing project of state restructuring and market making, charting the reach and scope of these processes at the same time as pointing to their powerful contradictions.

Basic course texts

Outline of Lectures

Lecture 1: Orientation #1: Neoliberalization
This introductory session will establish a preliminary "take" on neoliberalism and neoliberalization, sketching its history and mapping out its geographical differentiation. The basis themes of the course will be established, along with key terms and terminology. A provisional definition of neoliberalization will be proposed, which will then be interrogated and refined through the subsequent lectures, case studies, and discussions.

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Further readings:

Lecture 2: Orientation #2: Space, scale, uneven development
The focus of this second orientation lecture will be "thinking geographically" in relation to neoliberalism. Developing a geographical sensibility involves a careful thinking through of the ways in which social processes are constituted through space and across scale. This is not just a (trivial) matter of distribution or location, but at a deeper level implies a mode of conceptualization in which social processes are transformed by the way in which they operate over space and across scales.

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Lecture 3: Approaches #1: contesting the economic
The lecture will examine the recent evolution of economic geography as a subdiscipline, focusing on its changing theoretical orientation. Since the early 1980s, economic geography has been fairly consistently antagonistic towards neoclassical or orthodox economics, developing-in the context of growing theoretical pluralism-increasingly close relationships with economic sociology, Marxism, institutionalist and evolutionary economics, and economic anthropology. The lecture will consider the extent to which the economic geographer's take on neoliberalization is a distinctive, compelling, and coherent one.

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Lecture 4: Approaches #2: motives and methods
Having established the basic shape of the economic-geographical approach, this lecture will focus on methods and practices in the subdiscipline. Economic geography represents a distinctive "way of seeing," and its associated methods and research practices are connected in a nontrivial way to its objects of study and to its theoretical foundations. Specifically, there is a growing-though still partial and contested-reliance on qualitative research methods, for the most part applied in the context of explicit theory development.

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Further reading:

Lecture 5: Restructuring cities #1: the entrepreneurial turn
This lecture will examine the theory and political practice of the entrepreneurial city, the widespread turn towards growth- and competition-oriented urban strategies in the period since the 1970s. In the context of the slow crisis of the Keynesian-welfarist city, urban administrations have increasingly adopted strategies based on aggressive place promotion, business development, "quality of life" measures, and downtown regeneration. The lecture will examine the limits and possibilities of this approach, reflecting on the case study of Manchester-one of Europe's more entrepreneurial cities.

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Lecture 6: Restructuring cities #2: neoliberalized cities
Exploring some of the wider implications of the entrepreneurial turn, this lecture considers contemporary urban strategies in the context of theoretical arguments around economic globalization and the "rescaling" of governance. The strategies of cities, it is argued, must be placed in the wider context of state restructuring, the intensification of uneven development, and neoliberalization.

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Lecture 7: From welfare to workfare #1: remaking labor regulation
"Workfare" represents the tendentially dominant form of neoliberal social and labor-market policy, at least in the Anglophone countries, combining objectives of welfare dismantling and entitlement roll-back with an insistent focus on the activation and enforcement of waged work. This lecture defines workfare as a mode of labor regulation and explores the political economy of the welfare/workfare transition, focusing on the US and the UK.

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Lecture 8: From welfare to workfare #2: fast policy transfer
This lecture will explore the relationship between regulatory change and spatial scale, drawing further on the case of welfare/workfare restructuring. This represents a form of regulatory rescaling in the sense that it is based inter alia on the selective appropriation of disembedded local programming models and their purposeful circulation around extralocal policy networks, the dumping of regulatory risks and responsibilities at the local scale and that of the "poor body," and the complex orchestration of ostensibly decentralized policy regimes by national states and transnational agencies and intermediaries. The rollback of Keynesian-welfarist institutions at the level of the national state provides the (scaled) context for the emergence of these neoliberalized political forms, but these forms are also beginning to exhibit their own distinctive dynamics and logics, explored here in terms of an ascendant regime of "fast policy" formation.

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Further readings::

Lecture 9: Restructuring work, remaking workers #1: the employability fix
This lecture examines the macroregulatory context of contemporary labor market policy, characterizing this in terms of an "employability" ethos. Employability refers to a package of labor-market programs focused on workforce activation, job-readiness, flexibility, and minimalist welfare. It represents the policy of choice for many neoliberalized states, tapping into the same vein of thinking which locates the causes of (and therefore the remedies to) unemployment on the supply-side of the labor market, which insists that the unemployed should be implored-and impelled, if necessary-to price themselves back into work, and which maintains that the state has neither the responsibility nor the capability to create jobs, but instead should work purposefully on the supply side to "flexibilize" and "motivate" the unemployed and the workshy.

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Lecture 10: Restructuring work, remaking workers #2: contingent cities
Cities are located on the front lines of many neoliberal restructuring strategies. This is particularly true in the case of low-wage labor markets, which have been sites of hyper-intervention for neoliberal reformers. For all the rhetorical efforts of neoliberal reformers to present markets as naturally occurring phenomena, the fact is that markets are substantially made and remade through state action. This even holds for the most "market-like" of markets, such as the spot market for day labor. Based on a case study of Chicago, this lecture will explore some of the ways that day-labor markets are socially structured, and how temp services are assuming new roles as privatized labor-market intermediaries within an ostensibly "deregulating" employment system.

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The lecturer
Jamie Peck has been Professor of Geography and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2000, having previously worked at the University of Manchester. An economic geographer, his main research interests are in theories of economic regulation and governance, labor market restructuring, employment and welfare policy, urban politics, and regional economic development.

Associated empirical work has been focused on the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, and includes sustained work on the cities of Manchester and Chicago. He is the author of Work-place: the social regulation of labor (Guilford, 1996), Workfare states (Guilford, 2001), and co-editor of City of revolution: restructuring Manchester (Manchester University Press, 2002, with K Ward), Reading economic geography (Blackwell, 2003, with T Barnes, E Sheppard & A Tickell), and Remaking the global economy (Sage, 2003, with H Yeung).

Jamie Peck is co-editor of Antipode, the radical journal of geography, and Environment & Planning A. He is currently working on two long-term research projects: (i) a comparative study of the restructuring of "sub-minimum wage" or contingent labor markets in New York City and Chicago, and (ii) an analysis of the diffusion of neoliberal ideologies and their associated forms of state reorganization and market-making.