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Tuesday, July 28 • 14:46 - 16:15
"Neoliberal Subjectivity: What Social Media Reveals"

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Author: Matthew Flisfeder

Background: This paper addresses the Theories & Methods topic for the conference, and seeks to develop a theoretical model for studying, analyzing, and understanding social media and society. My paper begins by asking what social media reveals about subjectivization in the context of neoliberal capitalism. Referring to Michel Foucault’s (2008) reading of neoliberal subjectivity in his lectures on biopolitics, I question the extent to which the rational choice ethic of neoliberal entrepreneurialism produces subjectivity, as Foucault claims. Instead, using social media as an exemplar, I propose that the neoliberal conception of “human capital” involves a way of further reifying and commodifying all aspects of everyday life; and, furthermore, that social media has now become the space in which the subject advertises and brands the “Self” as an object. My analysis also challenges Hardt and Negri’s (2000) conception of biopolitical production in which, they claim, subjects produce, not objects, but subjects and subjectivities. Looking at social media, I argue instead that biopolitical production still involves a process whereby subjects produce objects to sell on the market, and that further to this, neoliberal subjects now produce primarily two objects: both labour power, and the Self as brand image. In my analysis, I propose, as well, that given what social media reveals about neoliberal forms of reification, Marxist categories of analysis, such as commodity fetishism, alienation, unpaid labour time, absolute and relative surplus value, etc., still provide a better representation of the forms of neoliberal exploitation than do concepts such as “human capital.” 

Objective: As a work in progress paper, I aim to develop my line of inquiry and hope to gather feedback from conference participants about possible directions that my research might take, particularly around methodology, as I am in the process of drafting grant proposals to fund this research. 
At stake in my analysis is the way that social media can be used to demonstrate the continued relevance of Marxist methods and concepts (particularly the labour theory of value, commodity fetishism, and the length of the working day) for critiquing of neoliberal capitalism, as well as a conception of subjectivity that expresses the emancipatory potentials of ideology critique. 

Methods: This paper looks primarily at Michel Foucault’s lectures on biopolitics and contrasts his approach with that of Marxist critical political economy. Social media is used as a case study for questioning the poignancy of Foucault’s conception of neoliberal subjectivity. This paper also uses a Lacanian psychoanalytic model as well as a semiotic approach to develop a conception of subjectivity that contrasts with Foucault’s. Both conceptions are assessed by showing how they each relate to social media, and how depending upon the notion of subjectivity used, social media can show either a conception of subjectivity supportive of neoliberalism, or one that demonstrates the existence of neoliberal forms of exploitation. 
Methods are largely interpretive, and include Marxist hermeneutics, post-structural criticism, semiotics, and psychoanalysis. 

Future Work: I’m currently in the proposal stage. Future work will involve gathering of data to test my hypothesis. 

References: 
Foucault, M. (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979. (G. Burchell, trans.). M. Senellart (Ed.). New York: Picador. 
Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2000). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.

Speakers
avatar for Matthew Flisfeder

Matthew Flisfeder

Assistant Professor, Ryerson University
Dr. Flisfeder’s interdisciplinary research addresses questions about the intersection of media, ideology, and subjectivity, and examines the role of media and popular culture in reproducing ideological hegemony and in interpellating subjects compliant in the dominance of capitalism and neoliberalism. His research contributes to debates on media and society, ideologies of postmodern and consumer culture, subjectivity and identity, and... Read More →


Tuesday July 28, 2015 14:46 - 16:15
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

Attendees (11)