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Workshop 3: Neoliberalism and Rhetorical Scholarship: Definitions, Uses, Implications

Workshop Leaders:

Rob Asen and Rebecca Dingo 

Across a wide range of academic disciplines, “neoliberalism” has circulated as a key term of contemporary scholarship. Often referring to the proliferation of market frameworks, norms, and practices in ostensibly non-market realms, neoliberalism has been invoked in diverse cases, and scholars have promoted a multitude of meanings and conceptualizations. Perhaps because of its prominent and promiscuous circulation, the term “neoliberalism” has become, in geographer Jamie Peck’s words, “an unloved, rascal concept.” In this workshop, participants will work together to understand and apply various definitions and uses of neoliberalism, and to appreciate their implications for rhetorical scholarship. 

Referring to important contemporary social forces, institutions, and practices, neoliberalism portends important potential consequences for rhetorical theory and practice, namely the marketizing of all human activity. Born in public, rhetorical theory and practice confront a contemporary skepticism about the efficacy and ethics of public engagement. If a democratically oriented public sphere putatively pales in comparison to a market-based public as a site of productive human relationships, then how may rhetoric advocate ameliorative social change? If the market serves as the ultimate standard for human action and people’s relationships with each other, then how may scholars approach such rhetorical concerns as ethics, epistemology, identity, ideology, production, and more? What are the implications of neoliberalism for rhetorical pedagogy? 

The workshop will proceed with a combination of group discussion of common themes and readings, as well as attention to individual projects and interests. Prior to the workshop, the co-facilitators will circulate a set of readings to be discussed at the Institute. In addition, prior to the workshop, participants will be asked to share with the group papers that address a work in progress on the theme of neoliberalism. Participants will be asked to read all of the papers and will be divided into small groups during the workshop to provide feedback. The papers will also help ground the discussions over the course of the workshop. 

Contact Information:

Rob Asen: robert.asen@wisc.edu
Rebecca Dingo: rdingo@umass.edu

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