Special Issue: Psychology in the Social Imaginary of Neoliberalism

AHP readers may be interested in the most recent issue of Theory & Psychology, a special issue devoted to “Psychology in the Social Imaginary of Neoliberalism.” Guest edited by Wade Pickren (right), the articles in the issue are currently available open access. Full titles, authors, and abstracts below.

“Psychology in the social imaginary of neoliberalism: Critique and beyond,” by. Wade E. Pickren. Abstract:

This is an introduction to the special issue on the impact of neoliberalism on the sociality, politics, and governmentality of contemporary psychological life. The articles suggest that Euro-American psychology writ large has not been a force for human freedom. Still, the articles are additional evidence of the historical and current lines of resistance and activism that indicate a move toward an emancipatory psychology.

“Homo neoliberalus: From personality to forms of subjectivity,” by Thomas Teo. Abstract:

Based on a Neo-Sprangerian approach to forms of life in Western cultures, and drawing on humanities-based ideas about personality, a critical-hermeneutic description of a neoliberal form of life and its corresponding form of subjectivity is presented. In the neoliberal form of subjectivity, the self becomes central, but in a way that the distinction between an ego and the self is no longer relevant. Neoliberal thinking is reduced to utilitarian, calculating thinking in all domains of life from work, to interaction, and to identity. Feeling is considered to be more relevant than thinking and is used to manage stress while aiming for happiness, which is core to this subjectivity. It is argued that agency is reduced to self- and family-interests while consequences for the conduct of life are presented. Concepts such as new nihilism, reduction of individuality, and (im)possibility of resistance in neoliberalism are discussed.

“Neoliberalism and IQ: Naturalizing economic and racial inequality,” by Andrew S. Winston. Abstract:

How did IQ become an important means of naturalizing economic and racial inequality and supporting neoliberal visions of a fully privatized, free market society? I show how post-WWII neoliberals and libertarians could employ ideas of “innate intelligence” to promote the reduction of government funding of social programs. For extreme libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, inequality among individuals and ethnicities was self-evident from human history and the a priori examination of the “natural order,” but IQ data could also be employed in the fight against “egalitarianism.” Any attempt to interfere in this “natural order,” such as civil rights legislation, was viewed as inherently evil. For libertarian Charles Murray and more mainstream neoliberals such as Milton Friedman, empirical research on intelligence was an effective means of influencing public perception and policy on welfare, affirmative action, and immigration. I discuss recent work on “national intelligence” in relation to neoliberal projects and enduring fears regarding reproduction and family.

“Feminism, psychology, and the gendering of neoliberal subjectivity: From critique to disruption,” by Alexandra Rutherford. Abstract:

Numerous feminist scholars have argued that women, especially young women, have been constructed as ideal neoliberal subjects. Informed by Foucauldian approaches that extend neoliberalism beyond a set of free market principles to a dynamic that creates new forms of subjectivity, these scholars have demonstrated the elisions between “postfeminism” and neoliberalism in the positioning of young women as consumers, self-helpers, and “empowered” agents par excellence. The psy-disciplines have actively participated in the gendering of neoliberal subjectivity and I selectively review feminist critiques of this complicity. These critiques problematize discourses of empowerment, agency, and choice, even as they have seeped into feminist psychology itself. I then consider the theoretical resources that are available within and beyond feminist psychology to disrupt and even displace neoliberal forms of subjectivity. Building on insights from psychosocial studies, intersectional and decolonial approaches, and critical history and conjunctural thinking, I brainstorm some alternatives that feminist psychologists could offer.

“Decolonizing culture: Euro-American psychology and the shaping of neoliberal selves in India,” by Sunil Bhatia, Kumar Ravi Priya. Abstract:

Adopting a decolonizing framework, this article examines the role of mainstream Euro-American psychology in shaping neoliberal conceptions of self in many postcolonial nations such as India. We specifically draw on our respective ethnographic research to analyze identity formation in Indian cultural contexts. Our article is organized around three goals. First, we show how Indian outsourcing industries have become heavily reliant on Euro-American “personality tests” and are used for recruitment, screening, promotion, cross-cultural communication, and to motivate employees to become happy and positive workers. Second, we examine the tensions around identity or values that Indian youth face while embracing the ideology of Western corporate culture and acquiring new transnational identities. Third, we analyze how mental health in India is being shaped by neoliberalism by investigating the villagers’ narratives in Nandigram, who encountered brutal acts of political violence by the state of West Bengal in India.

“The poison in the cure: Neoliberalism and contemporary movements in mental health,” by Lisa Cosgrove, Justin M. Karter. Abstract:

Neoliberalism reaches beyond economic policy and material conditions and reformulates the subject and psychological life and therefore is best understood as an attitude toward science, knowledge making, and subjectivity. In a neoliberal climate, markets give us truth and individuals are encouraged to be self-concerned agents rather than members of a polis. Thus, at the very moment that neoliberal policies transfer responsibility to individuals, there is a simultaneous increase in surveillance in order to reinstall certain patterns of human behavior. Mental health research and practice risk becoming commodities dedicated to enforcing this logic. In this article, we explore medical neoliberalism in some of its recent manifestations: global mental health interventions, routine depression screening, and the monitoring of social media to assess mental health. We also consider the ways in which popular reforms in the mental health field are founded on neoliberal assumptions and may be abetting these ideological aims.

“From resisting neoliberalism to neoliberalizing resistance,” by Michael Arfken. Abstract:

For theoretical and philosophical psychologists exploring the nature of human thought, recent interest in neoliberalism provides fertile ground for interrogating a wide range of issues that emerge at the intersection of political, economic, and psychological theory. This article reviews the various contributions to this special issue on neoliberalism and psychological theory. In addition to investigating the role that psychological theory can play in illuminating various aspects of neoliberal theory and practice, this review also explores the way that critique functions within a neoliberal context.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.