Can the term neoliberalism be turned into a useful analytic tool? Answer: Yes, it can

Some time back (Jan. 7, 2014) I wrote a post entitled: Can the term neoliberalism be turned into a useful analytic tool?

At that point, I was convinced that neoliberalism wasn’t much use as a term.

I’ve since come across a couple of books, however, that have convinced me otherwise.

That is to say, when we speak of neoliberalism even in pretty vague terms, the concept can help us better understand some key things that have happened since the 1970s, when neoliberalism first began to gather steam.

Small Cities, Big Issues: Reconceiving Community in a Neoliberal Era (2018)

One of the books I came across last summer is entitled: Small Cities, Big Issues: Reconceiving Community in a Neoliberal Era (2018).

A blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library website (I’ve broken the text into shorter paragraphs) reads:

Summary/Review: Small Canadian cities confront serious social issues as a result of the neoliberal economic restructuring practiced by both federal and provincial governments since the 1980s.

Drastic spending reductions and ongoing restraint in social assistance, income supports, and the provision of affordable housing, combined with the offloading of social responsibilities onto municipalities, has contributed to the generalization of social issues once chiefly associated with Canada’s largest urban centres.

As the investigations in this volume illustrate, while some communities responded to these issues with inclusionary and progressive actions others were more exclusionary and reactive – revealing forms of discrimination, exclusion, and “othering” in the implementation of practices and policies.

Importantly, however their investigations reveal a broad range of responses to the social issues they face.

No matter the process and results of the proposed solutions, what the contributors uncovered were distinctive attributes of the small city as it struggles to confront increasingly complex social issues. If local governments accept a social agenda as part of its responsibilities, the contributors to Small Cities, Big Issues believe that small cities can succeed in reconceiving community based on the ideals of acceptance, accommodation, and inclusion.

Community: A Contemporary Analysis of Policies, Programs, and Practices (2011)

I am similarly impressed with a book I came across more recently: Community: A Contemporary Analysis of Policies, Programs and Practices (2011).

I’ve borrowed the book from the Stratford Public Library. A blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library website reads:

Community is an elusive yet frequently invoked concept. Terms like community health, community living, community schools, community policing, community development, and community renewal have become part of the contemporary lexicon.

What has led organizations, and particularly Western governments, to take such an interest in community, and why this interest now? What has caused the increasing acceptance of community as the primary vehicle through which a wide variety of government programs and services should be delivered? And what has this shift of focus meant for those living and working in communities?

Using real-life case studies that include affordable housing and environmental and crime-prevention initiatives, Community is the perfect primer for understanding the theoretical and practical elements of contemporary community policies and practices, ideal for those working, or training to work, at the local level.

Sometimes, community means the opposite of what standard usage may prompt a person to think it means. That said, if we understand how the term is used, we can approach pressing issues with a measure of hope, and the prospect of moving forward in addressing them in a useful way.

Neoliberalism and community defined

The book introduces neoliberalism with the following overview (p. 2):

Neoliberalism is both a philosophy and political approach to governing that emerged in a variety of forms in most Western democracies during the late 1970s. It is:

a loosely demarcated set of political beliefs which most prominently and prototypically include the conviction that the only legitimate purpose of the state is to safeguard individual, especially commercial, liberty, as well as strong private property rights (cf. especially Mises 1962; Nozick 1974 ; Hayek 1979) . This conviction usually issues, in turn, in a belief that the state ought to be minimal or at least drastically reduced in strength and size, and that any transgression by the state beyond its sole legitimate purpose is unacceptable (ibid.). These beliefs could apply to the international level as well, where a system of free markets and free trade ought to be implemented as well; the only acceptable reason for regulating international trade is to safeguard the same kind of commercial liberty and the same kinds of strong property rights which ought to be realised on a national level (Norberg 2001 ; Friedman 2006). (Thorsen and Lie n.d.)

The study introduces community with the following definition (p. 5):

Community can be defined as a distinct group of people who share connections, charac­teristics, or needs. These may include geographical space, social position, cultural beliefs, religion, occupation , or any other common set of values or interests that distinguishes their group from the larger society .

The most common definition of community is the people living in a specific (geographical) location. With the development of transportation and communication technologies, the geographic definition of community has become less dominant as new forms have emerged such as communities of interest, comprised of like-minded people who may or may not live close to each other, and virtual communities formed by people who meet and interact online in cyberspace.

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