Idea | Geographies of Resistance: Neoliberal Violence and Crisis

Following a recent student-organised conference at Oxford University, Amber Murrey reports on the event and situates its discussions within the global longue durée of capitalism's rise.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 16:32 - 2 Comments

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Geographies of Resistance - Ceasefire Magazine

A recent interdisciplinary academic conference held at the University of Oxford, Geographies of Neoliberalism and Resistance After the Crisis: The State, Violence and Labour, took at its crux the need to re-centre the discussion on the violence of neoliberalism alongside the occasions for resistance. It did so by engaging with the ways in which neoliberal policies, actions of the state, and shifts in labour patterns – including outsourcing, deregulation, pervasive joblessness, the workfare-prisonfare nexus and the feminisation of work – shape and inform how people organise, struggle and resist.

In the spaces of the global South, in particular, there is a sense that three and a half decades of neoliberal policies have produced greater socioeconomic inequalities, re-entrenchments of poverty and untenable ecological destruction.

Simultaneously – like Foucault’s ‘boomerang effect’ that had the violence and techniques of colonialism wrought upon places in the core after its perfection in the colonial peripheries – the violence and mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism rebound upon spaces of the global North, evidenced acutely in the post-crisis austerity measures in European countries that resemble those of the 1980s debt crisis in African, Latin American and East Asian countries. Alexander Baker, a graduate student at the School of Architecture at Newcastle University, argued that the eviction patterns and practices in the UK mirror Euro-American militarised engagements with insurgents in the global South.

While the conference was a powerful moment of engagement with the effects of neoliberal policies and practices, the dialogue simultaneously emphasised the need for a systematic analysis of the violence of neoliberal primitive accumulation in the current moment, particularly in the context of resource grabbing following the Global Financial Crisis. Aimé Césaire (1955) provides a scathing critique of the sacrifice of the life, labour and culture of people by colonisation in Discours sur le Colonialisme; a reconciliation of the violent sacrificing of life, labour and culture by neoliberal capitalist accumulation and extraction is necessary in our current moment.

Kofi Mawuli Klu, the Chief Executive Commissioner of PanAfriindaba, drew upon this call, criticising the appropriation of the discourse of violence by the neoliberal state through antiterrorist discourse in the post-9/11 Global War on Terror. At the same time that labour conditions and extractive projects are increasingly resembling the savage accumulation practices of colonial periods, transnational corporations and national governments have become increasingly adept at obscuring, deflecting and euphemising. Aggelos Panayiotopoulos, a lecturer at the University of Limerick, urged the audience to consider the rise of so-called ‘responsible’ capitalist practices, specifically the re-incorporation and re-branding of tourism as ethical consumption within the framework of sustainable tourism, including ethical, eco, pro-poor and community tourism.

If it is true that, as Klu argued, ‘we need to win the battle of ideas, again’, the imperialist monopoly on the discourse of violence and the naming of violence must be discredited and challenged.

Ward Churchill demonstrated what such a project might look like in his deconstruction of genocide. He began with a definition of genocide as any policy undertaken to disappear an identifiable people or group. Genocide, he argued, precludes killing. It includes the imposition of ‘slow death measures’, such as forced sterilisation. It also consists of measures taken to ensure that the group can no longer retain unifying cultural forms. He called these the ‘nonlethal forms’ of colonialism. His notion of ‘slow death measures’ is a useful tool for understanding certain forms of neoliberal violence, which unfold slowly, at multiple scales and through a myriad of actors.

For example, Nausheen Quayyum, a graduate student at York University, argued that the Tazreen Fashions factory fire in Bangladesh is ‘just one of the most visible manifestations’ of the increasing violent structures of neoliberalised labour. The violence of neoliberalism is bound up within patterns of globalised racialisation and patriarchy. In China, Quayyum explained, migrant labour is increasingly feminised, precarious and disposable as work is enmeshed within a structurally violent neoliberal political economy. Likewise, Hannah Schling, an editor at openDemocracy, argued that, ‘life itself is transformed’ as neoliberal labour regimes produce disposable and gendered bodies in urban China. Both presentations emphasised the turn towards women’s labour in neoliberalised spaces. On the other hand, Nicholas Simcik-Arese, a graduate student at Oxford, discussed the ‘endless idleness’ of suburban Cairo’s young urban poor, who produce new ways of practicing masculinity, appropriating perceptions of deviant laziness and reframing them as skilled gamesmanship in reclaiming a privatised gated enclave.

Klu touched upon the important legacy of anti-colonial movements, which were often organised around labour resistance, as in the case of the UPC (Union des Populations du Cameroun or Union of the Peoples of Cameroon) and the Mau Mau in Kenya. He spoke of the unification of labour organising with new anti-neoliberal, anti-imperialist projects as one potential avenue for present struggle and resistance.

Yet the effects of the neoliberalisation of labour – joblessness, pervasive unemployment and underemployment as well as the temporalisation and informalisation of labour – have dismantled collective bargaining and sabotaged critical knowledge of labour organising. Jamie Woodcock, a graduate student at Goldsmiths, for example, mentioned that during his work at a UK call centre that sells insurance to union members, most of the call centre employees did not actually know what a union did. Unions today, Woodcock offered on an aside, are more about access to cheaper insurance and car rentals than about ensuring rights in the workplace. The project of unifying labour movements and anti-imperialist movements must first address the effects of these significant shifts in the processes, mechanisms and management of the production of labour.

A teaching fellow at the University of London, Feyzi Ismail’s historical analysis of Maoist MLM revolutionary process in Nepal illustrated the need for a revolutionary framework that can apply to changing and shifting contexts, as Maoists, instead of determining their own distinct conception of struggle, believed that capitalism must always come before socialism. Samir Amin’s keynote on the differences between radical political movements seemed to respond to Ismail’s call by opening up space to reconsider unification across and between differences as we work to create the political and social imaginaries necessary for peace and wellbeing.

‘Capitalism is a bracket in history.’ Amin emphasised that capitalism is not inevitable nor indestructible, emphasising that although ‘someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism’ a perspective of longue durée or historical context dismisses this inclination. Capitalism, like the economic and political systems that preceded it, will transform as it continues to shift forms and mechanisms. There is tremendous hope in its temporariness.

As we move forward, Marxism, Amin said, should be understood as ‘the convergence of many rivers’: The goal is not to impose or prescribe a way towards sociopolitical transformation. Instead, the challenge today, Amin urged, is to create an imaginary with the audacity to replace capitalism, without illusions, ‘with a human face’. Within the larger tone of the conference, part of this audacity is the naming of the destructiveness and violence of neoliberal geopolitics as we unify the political and the analytical in meaningful – even audacious – ways.

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Amber Murrey

Amber Murrey is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Oxford with interests in decoloniality, PanAfricanism, militarism and structural violence, resistance and filmmaking in francophone Africa. She recently co-authored a piece with Horace Campbell in Third World Quarterly on the problematic of US military funded social science research in Africa.

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Geographies of Resistance: Neoliberal Violence ...
May 7, 2014 15:39

[…] Following a recent student-organised conference at Oxford University, Amber Murrey reports on the event and situates its discussions within the global longue durée of capitalism's rise.  […]

Conference reflection published in Ceasefire Magazine | geographiesofresistance
May 9, 2014 22:11

[…] Geographies of Resistance: Neoliberal Violence and Crisis […]

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