Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can You Speak Post-Modern? Embedding Neoliberalism: Crisis, Sexuality and Social Reproduction

This comes from an abstract for a lecture to be given at Ohio State next week, sponsored by the Women’s Studies Department along with the Center for Latin American Studies and the Mershon Center for International Studies. The speaker is Dr. Kate Bedford of the University of Kent UK.

Embedding Neoliberalism: Crisis, Sexuality and Social Reproduction

The talk seeks to intervene in a vibrant and publicly prominent debate within development studies about the role of crisis in “postneoliberal,” or Post Washington Consensus, policymaking. Gender and, especially, sexuality are largely absent from that debate, Dr. Bedford asks: What do contemporary experiences of crisis reveal about the complex interconnections between rupture and shock on one hand, and gender and sexuality on the other? In concrete crisis conditions, which common sense groundworks of the present (re Nikolas Rose) get unsettled, which get re-entrenched, and what is the role of the development industry in this process?

The talk will address how possibilities for alternative regimes of gender and sexuality are affected by economic crisis, using a case study of the World Bank’s response to the 2001-2 Argentine crisis. Using interviews with NGOs and Bank policymakers and fieldwork on a family – strengthening loan entitled PROFAM, Dr. Bedford will argue that the denaturalization of free markets was articulated, in part, through the re-naturalization of monogamous heterosexual couplehood. Changes in the Bank’s agenda were articulated in part through discourses of restoring gender harmony disrupted by economic crisis and in part through a “civilizing” rhetoric that linked “better, more caring” development to the emergence of better, more caring couples. This raises crucial questions about the new regimes of gender and sexuality under construction in contemporary development practice.

Here is my attempted translation and commentary:

This talk is a response to an important debate (at least something that Dr. Bedford thinks is important) within the study of global capitalism’s use of crises now that we have moved past traditional Western thought and now that America is no longer that important (Cheer). Those in power and making policy decisions have not fully embraced radical leftist attempts to change how society views the relationship between men and women. Dr. Bedford asks: What do the experiences of crisis today tell us about connection between change on one hand and about the relationship between men and women on the other? In specific crisis situations, in which the basic groundworks of today (re Nikolas Rose) are removed, what are the values (that we on the left were supposed to have eliminated) that have (unfortunately) managed to survive, and what is the role of global capitalism in all of this.

The talk will suggest how the economic crisis gets in the way of (leftist) attempts to redefine the relationship between men and women, using the specific case of the World Bank’s response to the 2001-2 Argentine crisis. Using interviews with NGOs and Bank policymakers and fieldwork on a family – strengthening loan entitled PROFAM, Dr. Bedford will argue that the destruction of society perpetuated by free markets has been helped along, in part, by the strengthening of traditional marriage. Changes in the Bank’s agenda were articulated in part by arguing for traditional relations between men and women, which had been affected by the economic crisis, and in part by arguing that caring families made for a caring society. This raises concerns whether those people making policy decisions in developing countries are fully on board with (leftist) attempts to change how men and women relate to each other.

In summery the point of this piece seems to be that the World Bank is encouraging traditional family values Argentina and we should not be happy about that.

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