Special Seminar for Fall 2012
Neoliberalism and the Making of Contemporary Society
SOC 499 Social Issues and Change in Society (Section 2)
Open to both Undergraduate and Graduate Students
The last 30 years have witnessed a major transformation of most Western and many other societies around the world, culminating in the recent financial crisis. Nearly every person on the planet has been affected by the financial crisis. In the United States, poverty and inequality have increased, unemployment has risen dramatically, many businesses have gone bankrupt, and many people have lost their homes or seen the value of those homes decline dramatically. Minorities have been particularly hard hit. Moreover, what is true in the United States is equally true for much of the rest of the world. This course will look at the role played by a particular set of economic theories and policies, traceable largely to ideas initially expressed in the 1930s under the label of neoliberalism and first put into practice (differently in different places) in the latter part of the last century.
This course will examine neoliberalism as simultaneously a form of science with various knowledge claims. and a project to reform the state and society by creating, as one of its early proponents, Henry C. Simons, put it, 'a positive project for laissez-faire.' In short, it will examine the causes and consequences of a project designed to transform the negative 18th and 19th century project of creating markets as spaces outside of state control, into a positive project to encourage states to create, support, and maintain markets whenever and wherever possible – a project that included the creation of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, as well as what is often called 'globalization.'
Through analysis of both original documents produced by the founders of neoliberalism (e.g., Simons, Hayek, Friedman) as well as a number of critiques and post-critical analyses (e.g., Foucault, Harvey), we will attempt to answer questions such as: What is neoliberalism? How does it differ from the classical liberalism of Adam Smith? What insights into contemporary society do neoliberals bring to the table? To what extent is neoliberalism a utopian dream? What aspects of neoliberal theory have (not) worked out well in practice? Why or why not?
Special signup instructions: Students who have difficulty in signing up electronically for the class are requested to contact, Ms. Tammy Spangler (Rm 316 Berkey Hall, Tammy.Spangler@ssc.msu.edu, 517-355-6634). Upper division undergraduates and graduate students from sociology and other disciplines are welcome to sign up for the course! For further information about the course, contact Dr. Lawrence Busch at Lbusch@msu.edu.