Preparing for a talk at the Sorbonne University, January 2020.

30 Oct

Therapeutic Neoliberalism and the Reproduction of White Racial Subjectivity

Recent critical work on “neoliberal governmentality” has uncovered a neoliberal logic, or style of management centered on the production of a highly individualized, self-aware worker, student or citizen. Self-awareness, in this sense, becomes a technical problem of psycho-medical expertise, in which institutional conduct is viewed through the lens of mental health. In Professor Binkley’s discussion, this critique of neoliberal governmentality is extended to the problem of racial tensions in organizational settings. In recent years, in the United States, white racism has been increasingly defined in psycho-medical terms as an acquired state of psychosis or denial, in which psychic defense mechanisms are mobilized to bypass the reality of one’s own racism. Through cultural competency training, sensitivity workshops and diversity programs aimed at disarming these denial defenses, the unaware “privilege” that defines white habits is governed through a strategy that combines technical expertise with therapeutic authority. The psychotic white subject is brought before an omniscient, objective, therapeutic “other” typically represented either directly by a person of color or by an expert representing a person of color’s perspective. This therapeutic authority, as the “subject presumed to know,” purports to know the truth of the white subject herself. In this way, the self-aware subject of neoliberal government is realized through a hermeneutics of the self, or a search for self-authenticity mediated by this managerial/therapeutic other. While productive in modifying explicitly racist behaviors, this arrangement, it is argued, has the undeclared consequence of reproducing precisely the subject of white racism it purports to transform.

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