How does neoliberalism govern us? From institutions to subjectivity

On  the  occasion  of  both  the  presentation  of the research center MIRCO (Multilingualism International   Research   Center  &  discourse  Observatory)  and  the  launch  of  our  book Language  and  Neoliberal  Governmentality  (Martín  Rojo  &  Del  Percio  in  Routledge  2019), MIRCO  -in  its  twentieth  anniversary  as  a  research  group-,  we  host  an  international  and multidisciplinary    seminar,    which    will   be   also   integrated   into   the   doctoral   training programme of the UAM. The aim of the seminar is to reflect on a crucial issue today: How does neoliberalism govern us? Today, neoliberalism is a form of governance that extends its market   logic   beyond   the   economy,   molding   our   public   and   private   lives.   Neoliberal principles of a free market like globalization, deregulation, flexibility, and competition have permeated  health  and  educational  institutions,  imposed  the  entrepreneurial  productive model,  and  turned  us into clients of public services. Education prioritizes the formation of new  elites  with  access  to  global  mobility,  and  punishes  those  who  don’t  reach  this  goal, ultimately  restricting  the  porosity  of  borders.  The  commodification  affects  both  human expressions  and  the  management  of  common  goods.  We  used  to  build  connections  and create  community  with  languages;  now  languages  are  the  key  to  compete  in  the  job market.  At  work,  flexibility,  mobility,  and  insecurity  are  constant  realities  that  generate inequality  and  create  paralegal  spaces  due  to  their  lack  of  transparency.  All  professions respond to a corporate logic, which makes us consultants or entrepreneurs. In this way, we are   encouraged  to  manage  ourselves  as  businesses,  acquire  competencies,  titles,  and language  skills,  exploit  ourselves  to  survive  in  a  competitive world, and increase our own productivity  as  well  as  that  of  the  organizations  for  which  we  work.  As  entrepreneurial subjects, we sometimes feel like winners, but many other times, like losers.

Many unanswered questions emerge from this situation, and we must respond. What makes it possible for neoliberal principles to colonize the different spheres of our lives? How can we counteract this neoliberal rationality and revert the practices and techniques that govern our conduct and mold our subjectivities? How is neoliberal discourse constructed and what role does it have? How can we avoid reproducing and internalizing it?

With   the   goal   of   answering   these   questions   this   seminar, organised as a transdisciplinar training activity for PhD students, brings together several researchers with long trajectories studying neoliberalism, such as Christian Laval and Edgar Cabanas,  as  well  as  young  researchers  who  will  facilitate workshops about their research interests  (from  the  neoliberalization  of  education  and  the  stylization  of  youth poverty to the presentation of neoliberal subjects on Tinder). In this same framework, we will present the book Language and Neoliberal Governmentality (Martín Rojo & Del Percio in Routledge 2019),  which  addresses  many  of  these  topics  through  an  empirical  study  of  neoliberal rationality, and the discursive and linguistic mechanisms through which it permeates society and subjects. Furthermore, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the UAM research group MIRCo (Multilingualism, Social Identities, Intercultural Relations and Communication).


Dates and venues to be determined.

Image: Kosmur

Session 1- Opening Lecture: The Two Faces of the Contemporaneous Neoliberalism

Speaker: Christian Laval (Paris 10). In French with simoultaneous interpretation.

Date to be determined. Conference Hall-Centro cultural La Corrala

Neoliberalism is not a completely homogeneous doctrine, nor is it a once and for all rigid form of power. The concept of neoliberalism refers to the forms of power that impose a market logic on society and a certain type of social and subjective operation on individuals, one of the entrepreneur of oneself or one of human capital. Therefore, it is essential to understand the profound transformations in society. However, this concept should be used in a flexible and broad enough way to allow us to identify and analyze the historical metamorphoses of this form of power and the different national contexts in which it unfolds.

Session 2 – Neoliberal Subjects and Language (book launch)

Speakers: Eva Codó (UAB), Alfonso del Percio (UCL) and Luisa Martín Rojo (UAM).
Moderated by: Marta Castillo

Date to be determined. Bookstore Traficantes de Sueños

Authors of the book Language and Neoliberal Governmentality (Routledge 2019) examine how the current vision of languages and multilingualism is spreading and naturalizing a neoliberal rationality, both in education and in the labor market.

Neoliberal globalization has turned languages into commodities that are traded on markets and ensure the global circulation of capital, goods and people. In this framework, people are pushed to treat languages as mere resources, or capital, in a symbolic way. They accumulate language knowledge as if it were only a personal investment to achieve personal (such as a more attractive and cosmopolitan social image) or professional goals.

Thus, the needs of the global marketplace shape personal choices. Furthermore, neoliberal discourses persuade us that lack of competences (even not speaking as natives) in languages valued by the international market, such as English, entails a personal failure. We thus assume as personal responsibility something that is nothing more than the effect of growing social, educational and mobility inequality.

Session 3 – Round Table: The Disturbing Expansion of Denialism

Speakers: Angela D. Buscalioni (CIPb, Centre for the Integration of Paleobiology, UAM), Jesús Ignacio Catalá Gorgues (Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera. Valencia)

Date to be determined. Sala D (Mixta) Plaza Mayor UAM.

Denialism presents the history of knowledge and of humanity as a set of ideologies whose facts are shown as mere beliefs organized to manipulate individuals. Denialism delegitimizes scientific theories related to the history of living beings (evolution), climate change and its future effects, and introduces suspicions about the proofs we have on holocausts and gender inequality. Therefore, denialism has strong political and cultural roots that must be analyzed, especially through the paradigm of postmodern culture. The objective of this round table is to discuss what the different types of denialism have in common and classify them according to their social and cultural representations. Through this analysis we can understand how denialism has seized significant spaces in our societies, and explore its potential links with neoliberalism.

Session 4 – Plenary Conference: Happiness, Education and Neoliberalism: Positive Education and its Problems

Speaker: Edgar Cabanas (Universidad Camilo José Cela)

Date to be determined. Conference Hall – Centro Cultural La Corrala

Happiness has become and epidemic phenomenon that has enormous impact on capitalist societies. Over the past two decades, concern (or obsession, rather) with subjective wellbeing “positive emotions” and personal development has taken center stage in the spheres of psychotherapy, work, and of course, education on a global scale. In this respect, the movement known as “positive education” is particularly relevant. Promoted by positive psychologists (in cahoots with big corporations, capitalist lobbies, large banks and other private foundations), the apparently scientific and ideologically neutral project of “positive education” is to establish happiness as the priority and most important objective of any educational institution, mainly in primary and secondary schools.

Session 5 – Closing Lecture: Language and Securitization

Speaker: Ben Rampton (London King’s College).  In English without simoultaneous interpretation.

Date to be determined. Conference Hall – Centro Cultural La Corrala

This presentation explores the relationship between linguistics and critical security studies (CSS) in contexts where legacies of violent conflict, unease and (in)security permeate everyday life more and more deeply, where schools, nurseries, hospitals and community centres are becoming sites of security, and the security apparatus is becoming more diffuse and routine. Drawing on two projects studying language socialisation in contexts affected by large-scale conflict, as well as on an interdisciplinary dialogue developing between CSS and linguistic ethnography, it questions the adequacy of applied linguistic concepts developed in conditions of peace and stability, and considers some alternatives.


Workshop 1: Uncovering and Resisting Neoliberal Discourse: Quality, Freedom, Competition, Law, Compromise, Change, Business

Speakers: Marta Castillo (UAM); Noelia Fernández (UAM);

Date to be determined. Black Classroom – Centro Cultural La Corrala

We often surprise ourselves when we use terms like management, ranking, activities, and trajectories. We talk about how we manage our competencies and abilities, calculate costs and benefits, self-impose jobs or recur to the accumulation of competencies, certificates, or languages…Immersed in the accumulation cycle, we tell ourselves over and over again that this will be the key to a professional future, or even to success. To understand how we have created our neoliberal discourse, in this workshop we will show its complexity, which relies on others for inspiration like social democracy and progressive discourses. Moreover, we will examine some of the signifiers that neoliberalism has appropriated and analyze the reduction of others like “quality,” “liberty,” etc. Lastly, in terms of subject testimonies, we will explore how the colonization of neoliberal discourse can be eroded and look for tools to unlearn the internalization of neoliberal discourses, self-discipline, self-surveillance, etc.

Workshop 2: Love in the Tinder Era: Neoliberals, Cosmopolitans, and Polyglots

Speakers: Constanza Araya (UAM) and Luisa Martín Rojo (UAM)

Date to be determined.  Black Classroom – Centro Cultural La Corrala

What images, text, and emoticons have you chosen for your Tinder profile? How do you describe yourself on your profile: a wanderluster, travel addict, world traveler, explorer, world citizen, global or digital nomad? What are your likes and desires? Neoliberal subjects, which are entrepreneurs of themselves, eternally self-taught, and obedient to the “happycracy”, find a flexible, fluid, liquid stage to construct themselves on Tinder profiles. And how can you play this game if you refuse to do what others do, such as taking pictures of yourself making a heart with both hands? What are the alternatives? We will take on these questions among others in this workshop, which will allow us to reflect on love, subjectivity, and neoliberalism.