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Subjects or Subjected? The Puzzle of Identity in Neoliberal Times

Brock, T and Carrigan, M (2017) Subjects or Subjected? The Puzzle of Identity in Neoliberal Times. In: Edges of Identity: The Production of Neoliberal Subjectivities. University of Chester Press, pp. 134-160. ISBN 1908258241

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Abstract

What concerns us here is how to best make sense of the proliferation of subjectivities under neoliberal circumstances in a way that recognises the role of agency without falling into the trap of voluntarism. This is what we see as the puzzle of identity in neoliberal times. As Gill (2008: 433) has pointed out, those studying neoliberalism have a rich array of conceptual tools available for minutely dissecting cultural forms and, yet, there “is very little understanding of how culture relates to subjectivity, identity or lived embodied experiences of selfhood”. Our chapter represents a modest attempt to address this gap in the literature by offering an account of social identity which draws on Margaret Archer’s (2007) work on biography and reflexivity but also incorporating Foucauldian concerns into the picture so to conceptualise the production of subjectivities in terms of the iterative unfolding of agency and power over the lifecourse. We elaborate this perspective through a brief case study of the asexual community, drawing out some of its implications for other areas of research and arguing that it offers useful resources for making sense of contemporary subjectivities in a way that avoids both voluntarism and determinism.

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