Neoliberalism + Biopolitics Working Group | Neoliberalism and Marxist Legacies

Michael Kowen

In this meeting we discuss the potential uses and limitations of Marxist approaches to the contemporary theorization and study of neoliberal capitalism. While some have described neoliberalism as a modification in the mode of production, entailing new ideological categories and a retrenchment of class power, others have emphasized its non-unified character and its unique forms of governmentality, which have reconfigured relations between the state, economy, and citizen-subjects. This session hopes to engage and think with Marxist traditions by asking which central insights remain essential to account for neoliberal capitalism–from surplus value and capital accumulation to commodification and fetishism–and whether new analytical tools are required to grasp changes in contemporary capitalist power relations. This interdisciplinary dialogue may consider the distinctive elements of neoliberalism such as financialization, human capital, economization, and entrepreneurialism.


Wendy Brown, “Neoliberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy” in Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005): pp. 37-59.

Michael Burawoy, “Marxism after Polanyi,” in Marxisms in the 21st Century, (eds.) Michelle Williams and Vishwas Satgar (Johannesburg, South Africa: Watts University Press: 2013): pp. 34-52.

Colleen Lye, “Unmarked Character and the ‘Rise of Asia’: Ed Park’s Personal Days,” MS, forthcoming in Verge: Studies in Global Asias, 2015.

Wendy Brown is Class of 1936 First Professor of Political Science at the University of California Berkeley, where she is also affiliated with the Department of Rhetoric and interdisciplinary graduate program in Critical Theory. A scholar of historical and contemporary political theory, her most recent books are Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (2010), The Power of Tolerance (with Rainer Forst, 2013), and Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (2015).

Michael Burawoy has studied industrial workplaces in different parts of the world — Zambia, Chicago, Hungary and Russia — through participant observation. Throughout his career he has engaged with Marxism, seeking to reconstruct it in the light of his research and more broadly in the light of historical challenges of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Colleen Lye is Associate Professor of English at UC Berkeley. She is the author of America’s Asia: Racial Form and American Literature, 1893-1945 (Princeton University Press, 2005), a study of the making of “Asiatic racial form” through the interactions of naturalist literature and U.S. policy in an era of U.S. expansion across the Pacific. Currently she is working on a new project on Asian American literary formation after the 1960s and its relationship to the globalization of knowledge economies.

Richard Walker’s research is focused on economic geography, regional development, capitalism and politics, cities and urbanism, resources and environment, California, class and race. Professor Walker’s best known work is in economic geography, especially The Capitalist Imperative: Territory, Technology and Industrial Growth (Blackwell, 1989), with Michael Storper – one of the most cited books in the field.

The Neoliberalism + Biopolitics Working Group and Conference  is supported by the University of California Humanities Research Institute, organized by UC Berkeley graduate students William Callison (Political Science) and Zachary Manfredi (Rhetoric), and supervised by The Program in Critical Theory faculty Martin Jay (History) and Wendy Brown (Political Science).

Introduction: William Callison, PhD. Candidate in Political Science, Designated Emphasis Critical Theory, UC Berkeley