CFP: Rethinking Neoliberalism, AAG

Call for Papers – Association of American Geographers Conference 2016 – San Francisco, 29 March – 2 April 2016

The Mont Pelerin Plague? Revisiting and Rethinking Neoliberalism

Kean Birch (York University, Canada)
Simon Springer (University of Victoria, Canada)

From its initial conceptualization in Mont Pelerin in 1947, neoliberalism has now become a ubiquitous term. In geography, and elsewhere, it is used to theorize everything from the development of ecosystem services through urban regeneration to financialization (Springer, Birch & MacLeavy 2016). Across a range of disciplines it is conceptualized in various ways as, for example, a geographical process; a form of governmentality; the restoration of elite class power; a discourse; a political project of institutional change; a set of transformative ideas; a development policy paradigm; a radical political slogan; an epistemic community or thought collective; an economic ideology or doctrine; a particular form of violence; and so on. Such variety and diversity in intellectual analysis (i.e. an explanatory framework) and substantive topic (i.e. a thing to explain) have produced a glut of concepts, theories, and analyses. While this medley might be seen as a necessary – and fruitful – outcome of such a hybrid and heterogeneous process, it also has the potential side-effect of leaving us more confused than enlightened. It is increasingly difficult, on the one hand, to parse or synthesize this intellectual (yet often contradictory) abundance and, on the other hand, to apply it to policy or practical issues facing diverse communities, societies, organizations and individuals around the world. It also risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, where despite our hesitancies, we come to believe that there really is no alternative. A body of literature is emerging that is critical of current conceptions and understandings of neoliberalism, highlighting these issues (e.g. Boas & Gans-Morse 2009; Barnett 2009; Weller and O’Neill 2014; Flew 2014; Birch 2015; Venugopal 2015).

It is time to take stock of what we are left with by adopting neoliberalism as a key spanner in our analytical toolkit. Consequently, the aim of this session is to revisit and rethink neoliberalism as an abstract concept and as an empirical object. We invite contributors to critically revisit dominant conceptions of neoliberalism, to rethink how we use neoliberalism as an analytical and methodological framework, and to offer new ideas about how to productively
(re)conceptualize neoliberalism. Below we outline some broad questions that contributors might like to consider engaging, although others are welcome:

1. How conceptually useful has neoliberalism been in geography?
2. How has the concept of neoliberalism evolved over the last two decades?
3. How are we plagued by neoliberalism, or are we plagued by its ongoing prioritization?
4. Does neoliberalism represent the most useful or critical way of understanding the
current state of the world?
5. Does neoliberalism need updating as a critical concept in ways that take us beyond
hybridity and variegation?
6. What is missing from debates on neoliberalism in contemporary geographical
7. What makes neoliberalism such a popular analytical framework in geography?
8. Are there alternative ways to conceptualize neoliberalism?
9. Are we in need of finding alternative conceptions that break with the language of
‘neoliberalism’ altogether?
10. What might new visions beyond neoliberalism yield in terms of our collective political

Abstract Submission
If you would like to participate in the session, please submit an abstract (250 words max) by 19 October 2015 to both and If you would like to participate in other ways (e.g. discussant) then please feel free to contact us as well.

Please note: once you have submitted an abstract to us, you will also need to register AND submit an abstract on the AAG website. The AAG abstract deadline is 29 October 2015:

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