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“Common–Sense” Neoliberalism: Progressive Conservative Urbanism in Toronto, Canada

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This paper argues that urban neoliberalism can best be understood as a contradictory re–regulation of urban everyday life. Based on an analysis of neoliberalism as a new political economy and as a new set of technologies of power, the paper argues that the urban everyday is the site and product of the neoliberal transformation. Governments and corporations play a key role in redefining the conditions of everyday life through neoliberal policies and business practices. Part of this reorientation of everydayness, however, involves new forms of resistance and opposition, which include the kernel of a possible alternative urbanism. The epochal shift from a Keynesian–Fordist–welfarist to a post–Fordist–workfarist society is reflected in a marked restructuring of everyday life. The shift changes the socioeconomic conditions in cities. It also includes a reorientation of identities, social conflicts, and ideologies towards a more explicitly culturalist differentiation. Social difference does not disappear, but actually becomes more pronounced; however, it gets articulated in or obscured by cultural terms of reference.

The paper looks specifically at Toronto, Ontario, as a case study. An analysis of the explicitly neoliberal politics of the province’s Progressive Conservative (Tory) government under Mike Harris, first elected in 1995, demonstrates the pervasive re–regulation of everyday life affecting a wide variety of people in Toronto and elsewhere. Much of this process is directly attributable to provincial policies, a consequence of Canada’s constitutional system, which does not give municipalities autonomy but makes them “creatures of provinces.” However, the paper also argues that Toronto’s elites have aided and abetted the provincial “Common–Sense” Revolution through neoliberal policies and actions on their own. The paper concludes by outlining the emergence of new instances of resistance to the politics of hegemony and catastrophe of urban neoliberalism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: York University, Toronto, Canada [email protected]

Publication date: 2002-07-01

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