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Neoliberalism and Socialisation in the Contemporary City: Opposites, Complements and Instabilities

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This paper explores some dialectics of neoliberalism and socialisation in contemporary urbanism. The significance of socialisation—nonmarket cooperation between social actors—in both production and reproduction has tended to increase in the long term. Socialisation does not always take politically progressive forms, yet it always has a problematic relation with private property and class discipline. Socialisation of diverse forms grew during the long boom, but this exacerbated the classic crisis tendencies of capitalism and resulted in increasing politicisation. Neoliberalism offered a resolution of these tensions by imposing unmediated value relations and class discipline, fragmenting labour and capital and fostering depoliticisation. However, this has led to manifest inefficiencies and failure adequately to reproduce the wage relation. Many longstanding forms of socialisation have therefore been retained, if in modified forms. Moreover, substantially new forms of urban socialisation have developed in cities. This paper examines the role of business organisations, industrial clusters, top–down mobilisation of community and attempts at “joined–up” urban governance. It is argued that these fill gaps in socialisation left by neoliberalism. Their neoliberal context has largely prevented their politicisation, in particular heading off any socialist potential. Indeed, the new forms of urban socialisation have internalised neoliberal social relations and often deepened social divisions. Thus, paradoxically, they can achieve the essential aims of neoliberalism better than “pure” neoliberalism itself. Nevertheless, these forms of socialisation are often weakened by neoliberalism. Contemporary urban class relations and forms of regulation thus reflect both opposition and mutual construction between neoliberal strategies and forms of socialisation. The paper ends by briefly contrasting this theorisation with associationalist and regulationist approaches.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Northumbria at Newcastle, UK

Publication date: July 1, 2002


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