Neoliberal affective transformation of key social fields

The aim of this chapter is to map out the neoliberal project and to set the context for the discussion of recent transformations of service work in private enterprises and in public service organisations (Chapter 4), and for the presentation of our empirical fieldwork (Chapter 5). We develop first our understanding of neoliberalism, then we examine the neoliberalisation of politics and the state in Western democracies, and finally discuss transformations of the economic field and in consumption practices. Changing labour relations are embedded at the macro-level in the development of the fields of politics and economy, which demand specific attention as forces that structure processes of governing and subjectivation.

Neoliberalism as governmental rationality

Our point of departure is that the scholarly and public attention to feeling, emotion, and affect, as discussed in Chapter 1, is symptomatic of far-reaching transformations in society, economy, politics, and the state. Affects are re-shaped in these processes and take on new functions, values, and meanings in people’s lives and work. We assume that the liberal social, economic, and political affective constellation has undergone a fundamental transformation towards, what we term, ‘neoliberal affective governmentality’. Affects modulate the self-government and identity projects in new ways and lead to new political modes of subjectivation. i.e. new notions of citizenship and relationships between citizens and the state (Fortier, 2010).

In this chapter we focus particularly on two social areas that we consider crucial for the affective transformation of (paid) labour and bureaucratic work, as they provide the conditional framework for the changes in work conditions: on the one hand politics and the relations between state and economy, and on the other hand economic changes — the transformation from industrial to service and knowledge economies — including consumption (where affects have played a key role since the 19th century, manifest, for example, in promises that shall make up for the hardship of wage labour). Our examination attempts to assess the role of affect in these social fields, and moreover the significance of genderdifferences and gender relations modulated by affect. We want to make clear in particular what we regard as ‘typical’ neoliberal conditions since the 1990s, including the arrangements of affect.

Despite the hegemony of markets, neoliberalism cannot be understood as a merely economic or fiscally induced process and definitely not as an automatism of the market. Rather, neoliberalism is a political project in which numerous social and economic, state and political actors participate. Referring to Michel Foucault, the German social scientist Alex Demirovic (2008: 24) writes: ‘The freedom of the market [shall] become the organising and regulating principle of the state and society’. Hence, neoliberalism denotes the blurring and redrawing of boundaries between the market, the state, and the household economy with respect to work and leisure time, between production and reproduction, the public and the private. In (post-war) European welfare states, the boundaries and dividing lines between these spheres have been secured by an array of (gender-specific) institutions, norms, and models (Sauer, 2010). With the recent shift of boundaries, the logics and values of the spheres also change — in an exchange process, so to speak, of value orientations from one field to another.

The redrawing of boundaries between the economy and the state resulted in the deregulation of markets and the tendency of markets to expand beyond nation-state borders towards global networks. State interventions in the economy are partly reduced, leaving labour, product, and service markets to the invisible hand or to new regulators such as banks and financial agencies (including new public institutions to promote competition), with the effect of finan-cialising capitalism. New boundaries, drawn between the state and the family or reproductive economy, led to the withdrawal of the welfare state from safeguarding life and to the reprivatisation of risks, such as health and aging. These responsibilities, wherever possible, are left to the market in the form of private health and retirement insurances or markets for care work. Thus, the public safety net in European welfare states has visibly eroded, and concern for the future has been placed in the hands of‘self-reliant’ individuals. These transformations are connected to shifting boundaries between professional life and privacy, leading to a removal of temporal and spatial delimitations of (paid) labour and thus to new challenges and constraints at the workplace. These shifting boundaries are constitutive for the gender-specific grammar of neoliberalism (ibid.: 184), and they also unleash new affective dimensions.

The state is a key actor in this process of economic and social changes. In accordance with Loi'c Wacquant (2012: 67), we conclude that neoliberalism must be conceptualised as a set of contingent political, economic, and cultural discourses and practices of transformation: as an open, complex, and varied process (ibid.: 70), in which (nation-)states play an active role as organisers of the social order, societal consensus, and hegemonic ideas, both historically and currently.

Hegemonic neoliberal discourses and practices construe new ‘necessities’ or constraints: they re-configure social, political, and symbolic spaces at local, national, and international levels and frame contemporary restructuring processes in a competitive, efficiency-, and efficacy-oriented (i.e. economic and market-like) way. The market becomes the organising principle of the state, politics, and society'. Economic efficiency', efficacy, and calculability become the guiding ideas of social and political institutions. New forms of government and new concepts of society are bound up with this — in particular the adjustment of social and state institutions according to the model of the private enterprise (Burchell, 1996: 29), a quasi-corporatisation of organisations and institutions. Carolyn Hardin (2012: 215) thus speaks of the neoliberal logic of‘corporism’.

These changes create the context for the contemporary' affect discourse and for the growing significance of affective labour. They coincide with renewed attention to the role of affect in spheres once considered free of feelings — namely' the economy' and the world of work. In a certain sense these areas become ‘affective corporations’. The shifting of boundaries between work and leisure in terms of time, space, and place — not only; but primarily; in the service sector — means that the labour process increasingly' demands the ‘whole person’ with her/his bodily; mental, and affective capacities. People shall realise their feelings, their passions, and their engagement as human resources in the work process. This leads to a restructuring of the gender-specific affective capital and the conditions of its acquisition and utilisation in professional life. Renewed attention to affect means several things: for one, increased perception of and emphasis on affects as part of service tasks, and also greater mobilisation and instrumentalization of affects as preconditions for labour participation. Ultimately; the political sphere is also ‘re-affected’ when we consider the more-than-ambivalent use of affect as a resource for political mobilisation.

Like all hegemonic discourses, neoliberalism further implies a reshaping of everyday life and a reconfiguration of social experiences. Neoliberal constellations are grounded in social and political practices in which people (re-)cre-ate identities and interests and form new norms and institutions. Neoliberalism therefore also implies specific patterns of thought and belief systems that are deeply' rooted in peoples minds and bodies and which give meaning to and explain the world and bring forth new constellations of subjectivation. At the core of the new capitalist affective subjectivation strategy' is the maintenance and improvement of people’s employability with the goal of increasing their competitiveness (and also that of businesses). People are interpellated as creative and selfresponsible individuals who are able to discipline themselves allegedly voluntarily and in a desirable fashion. With Foucault neoliberalism can be characterised as a rationality of government that aims at producing truth regimes and tailoring of the population and includes new governmental strategies, such as responsibilisa-tion (for the self and the community') and précarisation (i.e. spreading insecurity') (Foucault, 2008: 185—213; D’Aoust, 2014: 274; Newman, 2018: 22).

A typical form of the government of the self becomes visible in the figure of the ‘entrepreneur of himself’ (Foucault, 2008: 226; also Newman, 2018: 22). This self is characterised by its orientation towards individual achievement and its focus on self-responsibility and -care; and the entrepreneurial spirit is coupled to the moral imperative so as not to become a burden to society. Ulrich Bróckling (2016) points out that the governmental technology of entrepreneurship, of the ‘entrepreneur of the self’, is called into being at the same time as Illouz’ (2007) and Kaus (2010) homo psychologies enters the stage. The neoliberal rationality of government thus aims at subjects’ acquisition of a relationship to their selves ‘according to principles of competition, efficiency and utility’ (Dardot and Laval cited by Wacquant, 2012: 70). This entrepreneurial self must manage its affective resources to be competitive and successful. Entrepreneurial subjectivation includes a new kind of interpellation of affects, as the boundaries of affects are also redrawn in the neoliberal shifting of boundaries. The neoliberal economisation of affect institutes new technologies of affective (self-)conduct, as affects are made to serve the neoliberal project of economic hegemony. Neoliberalism requires and seeks to constitute ‘compassionate, ethical and feeling citizens’, i.e. ‘moral neoliberals’ (Muehlebach, 2012). Thus, neoliberalism ‘valorizes feminized forms of work that the state no longer provides, thus mediating the effects of its own withdrawal’ (Newman, 2018: 22).

Therefore, entrepreneurial self’s realisation of affect consists in a highly ambivalent disciplining and generating of feelings. We assume that the homo oeco-nomicus gets complemented, not replaced, by the homo ajjectus. Sighard Neckel (2009: 181f), in his analysis of self-help literature, terms this as ‘emotional selfmanagement’and ‘emotion by design’. We will further elaborate on the concept of affective self-entrepreneurship as our study proceeds (Chapter 4).

With reference to Foucault, the German sociologist Alexandra Rau (2010) identifies new politics of the self, a newly emerging ‘psychopolitics’, as she calls it, as a signum of neoliberal conditions. She argues that at the end of the 20th century, ‘a new mode of government took shape, which, taking the psyche as a starting point, provides technologies by which people govern themselves and are governed’ (Rau, 2015: 197). In Eva Illouz’ (2007: ch. 2) study this becomes evident in the last thirty years through the boom of psychotherapy. We understand Illouz’ analysis to indicate above all the transformation of a specific body of knowledge about the psyche in neoliberalism, which laid the ground for new forms of self-government. Consequently, new technologies of the self took shape that became especially important in professional contexts, such as in consulting, customer care, or in burnout prevention. ‘To understand how emotions become entangled in neoliberal projects and rationalities’, Anne-Marie D’Aoust (2014: 274) suggests, ‘we must turn to specific policy projects and examine how they mobilize emotions to achieve certain ends.’ However, Janet Newman (2013: 134) doubts the capacity to ‘constitute new forms of governable subject’ by highlighting affective contradictions of neoliberal austerity measures, which ‘disaffect’consent (ibid.: 134). Neoliberalism is ‘paradoxical’, a hybrid form and not at all unified (Newman, 2018: 22). These ‘different registers’ of neoliberal governance (hierarchy, managerialism, networks, selfgovernance) ‘suggest different possible resolutions to the relationship between governance and emotion’, including ‘different emotional repertoires’ (ibid.: 23, 32; Newman, 2013: 133f.). Therefore, neoliberal subjectivation projects are not necessarily successful (Newman, 2013: 144).

Vassilis Tsianos and Dimitris Papadopoulos (2006), however, speak of ‘embodied capitalism’ and in that respect, of new body politics. Their argument is that capitalist added value is increasingly facilitated through the body and with the body, whether in reproductive medicine or in the mobilisation of the whole person for paid labour. ‘The novelty we are witnessing is the centrality of living labour that is not consumed and not reduced to dead labour in machinism’, explains Yann Moulier Boutang (2011: 54). Tsianos and Papadopoulos (2006) add that the constitutive moment of the contemporary system of production is its embodied realisation. Consequently, they identify affectivity as one of the primary characteristics of the regime of embodied capitalism: for the production of bodies that are capable of working in the immaterial production process. ‘Bodies are made through their capacity to change their own mode of existence by way of affecting others and being affected by others, not by means of pure linguistic or verbal communication. Embodied capitalism works with bodies, not with minds’ (ibid.: n.p.). Thus, a new system of ownership emerges, more concerned with the control of the products of the subjectivities of immaterial workers than with the control of the means of production (ibid.), as evident in the debate on open access and copyright. In this context Tsianos and Papadopoulos (ibid.) define precarity as the exploitation of the ‘continuum of the everyday, not only of labour power’. As components of such bodily exploitation and precarity, they indicate labour flexibility, constant availability, and relatedness to work across space and time — a constant demand of mobility and the dispossession of time (ibid.).

The neoliberal mode of government also has consequences for gender relations. To the extent that the social and political institutions of modernity are eroding — namely the family and male breadwinner model, nation-states, the social security of the welfare state, and continuous employment — the genderspecific structures of feeling that are enclosed in these models are re-ordered: feelings can no longer be confined to the traditional private sphere of the family, where a single person, regularly the wife, is responsible for ‘satisfying’ them (Flam, 2002: 12f). The politicisation of society and of the private sphere since the late 1960s - so that gender and intimate relations become negotiable — rather led to an intensification of feelings of women and partly of men in the private sphere, but, as we will show, also in professional life. Relational and care work are no longer only unpaid and performed ‘out of love’; they are paid, albeit often precarious, forms of labour at the intersection of gender and ethnicity/nationality (Gutiérrez Rodriguez, 2010: ch. 3). This resulted in a new kind of affect management in the family-qua-workplace, namely, between domestic service employers and employees, both of them regularly women. Furthermore, female capacities, or better: attributions, became the basis of capitalist value creation, as we will illustrate in Chapter 4.

In the following we will elaborate on the affective side of the neoliberal transformation process in two fields of government, the state and politics, on the one hand, and economy and consumption, on the other hand. The aim of the next sections is to lay the groundwork and provide the context for the analysis of our central area of interest and empirical research: the neoliberal affective transformation of service work in state administrations.

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