The simultaneous atomisation and massification of neoliberal reason


  • Kiasha Naidoo University of Stellenbosch



culture industry, neoliberalism, atomisation, massification, means and ends, own-ness


Neoliberal reason is often defended for its supposed radical individualism. While critics of neoliberalism are right to problematise the atomising effects of this sort of individualism, an immanent critique of neoliberalism helps us to see that this atomisation does not necessarily lead to the development of individuality. That is, I will suggest that neoliberal individualism does not make room for individuality at all. I will focus on the neoliberal tendency to constrain human activity to the ends of the firm and argue that because of this, neoliberal reason cannot create the conditions for subjects to act on their potentiality. Rather than allowing for individuality, I will suggest that the neoliberal proliferation of the logic of the firm has an effect that is instead massifying. Horkheimer and Adorno’s critique of capitalism in their chapter on the culture industry helps us to understand and critique capitalist massification by offering the notion of pseudoindividuation. I will argue that the massification of people occurs when they are subjected to some end outside themselves, such as participation in the maximisation of capital. When we turn to a discussion on neoliberal reason, drawing on Foucault and Brown, we are interested in how a kind of capitalist logic comes to dominate every aspect of our lives. While the concepts seem to be at odds with one another, I will read Foucault and Brown to suggest that neoliberalism is both atomising and massifying. That is, the neoliberal goal of maximising capital puts subjects in competition with one another while simultaneously subjecting them all to the same end outside of themselves. Yet, capital maximisation is not a substantive end in itself, since capital is, by definition, only a means to some other end. Neoliberal reason thus leaves subjects in a state of discontent that is brought about by the constant striving toward a goal which can never be met – more capital can always be had. Capital, by definition, cannot be understood as an end, but can only be understood as a means. That is, the neoliberal subject is not only socially alienated (atomised) but is also constrained in the potentiality for participating its own ends, and thus has no real opportunities for individuality.


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