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Stephen Gill’s “Globalisation, Market Civilisation, and Disciplinary Neoliberalism”

Despite the annoying use of American spellings (the epic z vs s struggle), Stephen Gill’s article “Globalisation, Market Civilisation, and Disciplinary Neoliberalism” is a remarkable essay on neoliberalism, especially given that it was written in 1995, a time when, I believe, not very many people on the left had yet been able to grasp the context, magnitude, and implications of the neoliberal shift that was well underway. Gill combines a Marxist historical materialist approach with Foucault’s ideas of discipline and panopticism. The place that these two approaches intersect is in Gill’s argument that the neoliberal system is an example not of hegemony (or, ideally, justice) in a Gramscian sense, but rather of supremacy. A situation of hegemony would seek to absorb, undermine, and corrupt opposition movements, while supremacy just dominates and seeks no compromise, because there is not a cohesive opposition:

“When we introduce the issues of power and justice into our examination of neoliberal forms of globalization, what is emerging is a politics of supremacy, rather than a politics of justice or hegemony. For example, a situation of bourgeois hegemony implies the construction of a historical bloc that transcends social classes and channels their direction into an active and largely legitimate system of rule. This implies a fusion of economic, political, and cultural elements of society (the state and civil society) into a political alliance or coalition that combines coercion and consent. That is, the creation of such a bloc presupposes opposition and a means for incorporating or defeating it in a process of struggle. Whilst there is no compromise by the leading class fraction on the fundamentals of the mode of production [i.e. capitalism], there is nevertheless an inclusion, politically, of a significant range of interests. Subordinate classes thus carry weight within the formulation of state policy. By a situation of supremacy, I mean rule by a non-hegemonic bloc of forces that exercises dominance for a period over apparently fragmented populations, until a coherent form of opposition emerges.” (400)

Another main argument of his, I think, is that the neoliberal dominance is temporary because it of its relying upon a politics of supremacy rather than on a longer term hegemonic strategy. I think that it is in this context that Gill brings up Polanyi’s idea of the ‘double movement’, which involves seeing capitalism as a ‘stark utopia’: “as Polanyi pointed out, a pure market system is a utopian abstraction and any attempt to construct it fully would require an immensely authoritarian of political power through the state.”(420) Polanyi’s theory of the double movement is about, I think,  the idea that when social structures are threatened, (for example as they are by the imposition of market values upon things and concepts that they don’t fit (e.g. water), or in Polanyi’s terms when the market becomes disembedded in society and society becomes embedded in the market), there will be a backlash by social force against these dehumanizing changes. This backlash takes different forms, from the recent rise in the political success of fascist and authoritarian governments to the election of populist socialist governments across Latin America.

On the ‘market civilization’:

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