Harvey, David

Assigned: Harvey, David. From A Brief History of Neoliberalism, “Introduction” and from Chapter 6. “Neoliberalism on Trial” 877 (1774-79). Also read the editors’ introduction (1772-73).

From A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005)


1. On 1774-75 top (“Future historians may well look upon…”), how does David Harvey describe the origins of the “neoliberal” movement instituted by world leaders such as Great Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, China’s Deng Xiaoping, and the United States’ Ronald Reagan?

2. On 1775 (“Neoliberalism is in the first instance…”), according to Harvey, what is the central tenet of neoliberalism, and what practices do its proponents put into effect once they gain power? What is the role of the state, according to those who favor neoliberalism?

3. On 1776 (“The process of neoliberalization has…”), what is meant by the term “creative destruction” that Harvey employs to describe the changes preferred by neoliberalism in a given nation’s social structure and employment environment, among other things? Why do neoliberal strategists, according to Harvey, put so much faith in “IT” (information technology) as a tool of economic progress, and why is there so much emphasis on the “short-term” nature of many labor and other contracts in the “late capitalist” neoliberal age?

From Chapter 6. Neoliberalism on Trial

4. On 1776-78 (“Neoliberalization seeks to strip away…”), what effects, according to Harvey, does neoliberalization of an economy and society have upon organized labor collectively and upon working people as individuals? For example, how does the “geographical mobility” (1777) of, say, large factory owners allow them to exploit laborers who are not so able (at least legally) to cross national borders? How, as well, are women in the world’s work forces affected by neoliberalization?

5. On 1778 (“So how, then, do disposable workers…”), aside from the ground-level economics of the neoliberal order, how does Harvey analyze the culture that develops within that order? How does the quip, “I shop therefore I am” sum up the ethos and lived experience of late or postmodern capitalism? (The phrase “I shop…,” as the editors point out, is a humorous adaptation of René Descartes’ famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am”—Cogito, ergo sum.) What critique is Harvey making against the materialistic quality of the societies structured and informed by neoliberal principles and practices?

6. On 1778-79 (“But for those who have lost their jobs…”), Harvey moves past the materialist ethos of neoliberal societies and addresses the effects he believes neoliberalism has on the great mass of the people who do not end up “winners” or denizens of a shimmering consumer paradise. How does Harvey describe the sensibilities of this majority? What mostly unhealthy compensatory ways of finding meaning and solidarity with others does he suggest thrive where neoliberal regimes prevail?

7. General question: The selection by David Harvey that we are reading, from A Brief History of Neoliberalism, dates to 2005, and his study The Condition of Postmodernity was published in 1989. How well has his 2005 analysis of postmodern capitalism and “neoliberalism” stood the test of time? Do you find it a reliable means of describing life in the United States and in large parts of the world? Why or why not? Some things to consider: the “gig economy” (temporary or part-time, at-will employment as the new normal); the widening gap between rich and poor; the continued atrophy of labor unions.

8. General question: David Harvey’s 1989 major study was titled, The Condition of Postmodernity, and the term “postmodern” is also operative (though in the background, by way of a reference to Jean-François Lyotard’s term “the postmodern condition,” Leitch 1776; for a Lyotard selection, see Leitch 1383-88) in our selection from his 2005 study, A Brief History of Neoliberalism. How do you construe the terms “postmodernity” and “modernity,” or, in the realm of the arts, postmodernism and modernism? Both movements recognize and are willing to take their material from the fragmented state of present affairs and understandings. But what differences soon arise? For example, to what extent did literary modernists reassert a “grand narrative” (i.e., an overarching philosophical/sociological “story” that makes sense of our existence as individuals and as a society)? Does postmodern art and theory make a similar attempt, or do its proponents instead suggest that such a reassertion of unified understanding is impossible? Explain.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake