Neoliberalism and Communication
- Peter K. BsumekPeter K. BsumekDepartment of Communication Studies, James Madison University
Neoliberalism has become a central topic in critical cultural studies and communication. Broadly speaking, neoliberalism refers to economic theories, political discourses, and cultural practices that support free markets and private property. It is a political project dedicated to rolling back “the welfare state” and instituting a society based on market principles, as well as the ideologies and forms of governance that justify and enable such reforms. Neoliberalism is seen by many in the critical cultural tradition as a threat to enduring values such as justice, equality, and the ideals of “the public good” and the “common interest.” Others are critical of it as an explanatory concept, arguing that it lacks coherence and is used promiscuously as an all-purpose category of denunciation.
In general, communication scholars have approached neoliberalism in two main ways. On the one hand, they have attempted to analyze communication about neoliberalism by focusing on the ways that communication is utilized to represent, enable, and justify neoliberal ideas, policies, and practices. This scholarship is largely concerned with the persuasive effects of communication and rhetoric. On the other hand, they have focused on the forms of communication that produce the cultural and material realities of neoliberalism. These scholars are generally concerned with the circulation of communication and rhetoric. It should come as no surprise that the distinction between the two approaches is not always neat and tidy. This is so, at least in part, because the critical traditions that inform this scholarship do not necessarily agree upon what exactly neoliberalism is. Communication scholars have engaged neoliberalism by aligning with, building upon, and mobilizing a variety of critical cultural scholarly approaches. Three of the most common approaches are discussed: neoliberalism as hegemonic project and ideology, neoliberalism as governmentality and biopolitics, and neoliberalism as political project and process. Each of these traditions assumes that neoliberalism constitutes, to a significant degree, the world we now inhabit.