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Modern Language Association 2019 Conference Panel Proposal
Chicago, 3–6 January 2019
Neoliberalism: Between Utopia and Dystopia
This panel seeks to examine utopian representations of (neo)liberalism in 20th century literature and culture, emphasizing comparative connections to (neo)liberal political philosophy and economic theory.
In his famous work The Great Transformation, liberal political economist Karl Polanyi writes “civilization will continue to exist when the Utopian experiment of a self-regulating market will be no more than a memory.” Critical of the pure market society, Polanyi argues that the 19th century utopian vision of a pure market society eventuates in the end of civilization itself—a veritable dystopia of constant social unrest. Jaime Peck argues more recently that the “galvanizing utopian vision of freedom” neoliberalism promotes is nonetheless “a vagarious and crisis-strewn course.” In each case, the neoliberal utopian ideal of individual freedom in market society marks the impetus toward a dystopian society of alienation, inequality, and social instability.
Neoliberal thought itself (in the work of Karl Popper, Mark Levin, and others) has also been characteristically skeptical of utopianism; for them, however, utopias are typically “socially engineered” totalitarian dystopias for which market society is the cure. “The Utopian attempt to realize an ideal state,” writes Popper, “is one which demands a strong centralized rule of a few, and which is therefore likely to lead to a dictatorship.”
Nonetheless, Robert Nozick outlines a theory of liberal utopia in his influential 1974 book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and liberal Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek argues in his Road to Serfdom that “we must be able to offer a new liberal programme which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia...a truly liberal radicalism.”
Drawing comparatively from 20th century literary and theoretical texts, we welcome papers that focus on one or more of the following questions: How, if at all, has a (neo)liberalism conceived or represented utopia? Conversely, how has (neo)liberalism concieved of dystopia? How might (neo)liberalism itself be understood as utopian or dystopian? How are utopia and dystopia connected to the (neo)liberal notions of the “pure market society,” market anarchism, the minimal state, market fundamentalism, individual liberty, personal responsibility, negative liberty, property rights, property ownership, free trade, rational choice theory, “creative destruction”/“disruptive innovation,” “spontaneous order,” the achievement ethic, or Michel Foucault’s neoliberal “governmentality”?
Topics of interest and comparison include:
- Utopianism and anti-utopianism in liberal/neoliberal political thought
- Utopianism and anti-utopianism in liberal/neoliberal economic thought
- Utopianism and anti-utopianism in liberal/neoliberal think tanks
- Neoliberalism and utopian projects: startup cities, seasteading, libertarian utopias
- Utopianism and anti-utopianism in liberal/libertarian literature (Ayn Rand, Robert Heinlein,
- Utopia and the privatization of the public sphere
- (Neo)liberal utopia/dystopia in speculative film and fiction
- Corporate utopia and dystopia
- Utopian and dystopian market societies
- Mythologies/ideologies of the entrepreneur
- Mythologies/ideologies of the free/rational individual
- State-phobia and statelessness
- Neoliberalism and the frontier/frontier capitalism
- Liberal and neoliberal governmentality (Michel Foucault)
Please send paper/presentation proposals of 300 or fewer words to email@example.com on or before February 25th, 2018.
Sean P. Connolly, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Humanities
Bluefield State College