Janet Jakobsen and Elizabeth Bernstein: "Gender, Justice, and Neoliberal Transformations Project Proposal"

Gender, Justice, and Neoliberal Transformations Project Proposal
Principal Investigators: Janet Jakobsen and Elizabeth Bernstein

Gender, Justice and Neoliberal Transformations is a a transnational, interdisciplinary project that relies heavily upon scholars trained in feminist theoretical approaches as well as in ethnographic methods. Our aim is to foster and sustain a research collaboration that will enable scholars hailing from different institutions and geographic regions to regularly convene.  Ideally, this would involve six meetings beyond the initial planning meetings (the first of which took place at Barnard College in the fall of 2012), research and administrative assistance for the production of a collaborative book manuscript, as well as funds for a participatory action research pedagogical initiative.

This project was organized to bring a critical feminist lens to the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, including the reallocation of various forms of capital, state agendas of incarceration and social reform, the politics of immigration and housing, and emergent forms of sexual regulation. We hope to situate this crisis in terms of longer-term neoliberal transformations, of which the after-effects of 2008 are only the latest manifestation.  Moreover, to the extent that gender and sexuality are considered at all in these discussions, it is only as an “effect” of these transformations (in sociological parlance, they constitute the “dependent variable”).  Instead, this project considers how contemporary political-economic currents appear when seen as co-constituitive with questions of gender and sexuality, rather than taking the latter as simply derivative.  Forging an analysis of neoliberalism that can traverse issues, fieldsites, and interpretive frameworks is one of our primary ambitions for this project.  We have assembled a team of scholars that addresses issues that include addiction, homelessness, incarceration and healthcare in sites ranging from Buenos Aires to Copenahagen, Detroit, Hong Kong, and Mexico City, with a special emphasis on New York City where Barnard College is located.

We undertake this complicated, collaborative project so as to produce innovative ideas about how to address social issues more effectively and, thereby contribute to more just social relations.  There is a growing body of scholarly literature on the importance of connecting seemingly disparate issues in order to develop more effective means of addressing them.   Similarly, there is a growing feminist literature that documents how gender and sexuality are central to public (as well as private) issues, including the formation of the “welfare state” and its possible futures.  Placing individual issues in the context of larger processes like global migration and communications or free trade and economic competition also changes any analysis of possible responses.  And yet, the literature that actually makes these connections is sparse at best.  Part of this sparsity is due to the fact that building projects that bring together issues and the processes in which they are embedded is difficult and expensive.  By building a project based on collaboration among scholars with a range of already existing expertise, we hope to overcome some of these barriers so that pressing social problems can be more effectively addressed.
The Barnard Center for Research on Women took up this level of collaboration as an outgrowth of existing projects.  At Barnard, beginning in 2007, we initiated a series of projects interrogating the linkages among gender, sexual and economic justice (two reports in our “New Feminist Solutions” series, Towards a Vision of Sexual and Economic Justice, and Desiring Change, came out of these research projects).  Another conversation had been initiated via a 2009 Ford Foundation faculty seminar on inequality in New York City, in which faculty from various disciplines sought to forge cross-issue connections between issues such as homelessness and addiction, education and poverty, migration and policing.  These conversations made clear the need to situate the case of New York in terms of a broader global field, not only to better understand the empirical phenomena at hand but also as a way of challenging the self-evidence of our own theoretical constructs.  Neoliberalism means different things in Manhattan and Buffalo, in Seoul and in Buenos Aires.  How do these different meanings diverge as well as inform one another?

In order to answer this question, we have assembled an extraordinary group of scholars who are fluent in forging connections across spaces and domains (see list below). Although the sites and issues that we will address are often approached as separate fields of scholarship and action, we hope to build on analyses of late capitalism or neoliberalism by tracing some of the specific connections among fields, even as we maintain a focus on broader social forces and contexts that are formative for any given issue or intersection.  The goal of this project is thus to build a robust picture of context that includes key points of global comparison, chosen both for sites that highlight key aspects of the phenomena called “neoliberalism” or “globalization” and for the analytic interests of particular scholars in the collaboration. We are equally interested in empirical and theoretical assessments of developing activist responses to new austerity regimes, such as those that have informed the global Occupy and Precariat movements, as well those that have informed local efforts to pursue new forms of social change, whether in New York City, Detroit, Seoul, or Buenos Aires. Through collaborative research and theorizing, the members of this working group aim to analyze the multiple dimensions of global economic and cultural restructuring as they interactively circulate.