The Language of Neoliberalism

I’m reading a book whose author tries to denounce neoliberalism in academia yet she uses neoliberal terminology like “emotional labor” and analyzes the grievances of a tiny identity subgroup.

Remember, neoliberal mentality turns every aspect of life into a marketplace. Talking about playing with your kids or sitting with an elderly relative as “uncompensated work” is neoliberal in the extreme. So is ditching the concept of workers in favor of a worldview that revolves around minuscule identity subgroups battling for scarce resources. The moment you hear things like “queer gender fluid academics of color,” please know that you are in the presence of a neoliberal ideologue.

12 thoughts on “The Language of Neoliberalism

  1. I would say: there is something to this idea of the identity subgroups as being part of a neo-liberal marketplace.

    But uncompensated labor is real. My father currently needs sitters 15 hours a day and he lets them do things he needs, but that he isn’t comfortable having me do. They cost $35/hr. If I did it I would have to quit my job and I would have to live somehow. And it’s real work: toe cutting, ear cleaning, diaper changing, bathing, helping to walk, taking to appointments, all sorts of things. If not compensated it would still be work. It’s not like what I do, socialize and also explain what all is happening. Although some of what I do, if another person did it, they would call it therapy or occupational therapy or something, and they would be licensed to do it, and they would charge. Now, if we didn’t have to pay money to live, we wouldn’t charge for as many things; I give a LOT of free academic advice to random people but I have a job; an unemployed person would have to be a life coach and charge for the same advice, I don’t begrudge them this given the way the world is set up now.

    And yes, women often do more of this work than men. I do way more service in my department than the men. They are thanked if they do anything, whereas I am criticized if I don’t do it exactly as people wish, or if some event I arrange is particularly successful and is praised, or if I don’t do something they want me to do. While they merely sit.

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    1. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. The more responsibility you take, the more criticism you get. Many meaningful jobs are thankless by nature. In IT, for example, if things are going well no one notices you (by design) but if things break then everyone is upset. I get very anxious if all I’m getting at work is thanks for merely sitting and no other feedback because that means no one cares about what I’m doing.

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        1. But at the same time: I find people so bossy about getting me to do work for them that I feel belabored, bullied, coerced, or also manipulated–depending. Doing work that isn’t seen when it’s in your job description is one thing. Getting yelled at for not doing people even more favors, when they themselves do none, is quite another matter and it has gotten out of hand at my place in the past few months. I just finally quit a role because people will not be civilized.

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    2. Many people don’t see taking care of your own loved ones as equivalent to taking care of someone else’ loved ones. I wouldn’t want to be paid to take care of my own mother or of a close friend/relative. I would for a random stranger.

      Having said that it is not true that compensations within families don’t happen. They are often informal, though sometime explicitly stated. After my father’s death my grandparents moved in with my mother and us children for support. My grandfather made sure to “compensate” my mother by always buying our groceries and paying the electricity bill. In another situation a cousin stayed with my mother for a while and my uncle bought me a computer later that year as a gift. Arrangements were verbally negotiated in that messy way that families operate. Material compensation doesn’t have to be monetary – it is often a network of intangible exchanges approximately transacted.

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      1. “wouldn’t want to be paid to take care of my own mother (…) I would for a random stranger”

        That’s just it the goal of neoliberalism is for everyone to think of everyone in their life as a random stranger, with whom economic agreements need to be worked out, it’s about monetizing every relationship because private economic arrangements are good for the economy and non-monetized relationships aren’t….

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          1. It isn’t business without the profit motive. If you and I put our wallets in the same drawer, that’s not business. A business exists to make money and stops existing when it stops making money.

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              1. Or preserve wealth. Strategic marriages were very important for the nobility in the middle ages. Pretty much all the royal families in Europe were related to each other by marriage.

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      2. I don’t have the expertise needed to take care of a person with the issues my father has, and I would have to quit my job, and there would still need to be a second person because humans must sleep.

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