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Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (Zone / Near Futures) Hardcover – February 24, 2017
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Melinda Cooper brings sharp feminist insights to clarify a range of topics in 'everyday neoliberalism' overlooked in the earlier literature. In particular, what is often retailed as endorsement of 'gender freedom' turns out to be a return to an older poor law tradition of 'personal responsibility' thrust upon families by means of a retasked welfare system plus expansion of consumer credit. This history is vital for an understanding of the modern neoliberal order.(Philip Mirowski, author of Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste)
This is the book I've been waiting for. With devastating effectiveness, Cooper returns kinship and intimacy to their central place in the postwar ordering of economy and power. This brilliantly argued synthesis leaves no room for left critique that cannot recognize sexual normativity as the keystone of both neoliberal and socially conservative efforts to contain the most radical redistributive potential of liberation movements.(Bethany E. Moreton, author of To Serve God and Wal-mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise)
In this intellectual tour de force that combines rigorous empirical evidence with breathtaking theoretical finesse, Melinda Cooper argues that neo-liberal economics breeds multiple forms of fundamentalism as well as structural inequalities that hit the most intimate aspects of our existence. She invites us to think again and to think harder about our analyses and our resistance to the social disintegration induced by contemporary capital. An absolute must read.(Rosi Braidotti, author of The Posthuman)
About the Author
Melinda Cooper is Associate Professor in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Sydney, Australia. She is the author of Life as Surplus: Biotechnology and Capitalism in the Neoliberal Era.
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While tracking alongside a story now well-told among political commentators - the rise and consolidation of neoliberal policy and government in the United States - distinguishing Cooper’s work is its attempt to tackle what ought to be a rather perplexing question: how is it that neoliberal approaches to family have so easily dovetailed right into the traditional remit of conservative social policy? That is: since when do neoliberals give a damn about the family, and indeed 'strong families', at all? Isn’t it all just a question of markets and economics? Well, ‘yes, but...’, is Cooper’s answer, insofar as it's been precisely on 'economic grounds' - or at least, a very specific set of economic grounds - that the neoliberal turn to the family has largely taken place. As the ever-rehearsed, thinly pitched argument goes, the less public involvement, the more 'efficient' the markets. To which one may append, in the wake of Cooper's painstaking research: and so much the worse for the family.
Thus, it's the story of the ever increasing social squeeze placed upon the family that makes up the bulk of this book, told in all its depressing detail. From its intellectual ferment among the halls of the neoliberal academe - think Milton and Rose Friedman, Gary Becker, Richard Posner, and others - all the way to it's enshrinement in both court and law, Family Values tracks policy implementation, legal decisions, social movements, capital flows, and shifting public moods, all the better to relate the growing precarity of the family form. And what it captures in depth so too does it in breadth: from healthcare to housing, education to welfare, charity and inheritance, each - and more! - are taken up to demonstrate the sheer magnitude and scope of the ever-tightening social and economic screws now applied everywhere to the family in the name of both liberalism and conservatism (the left gets it's own flack too, with Cooper taking to task writers like Wolfgang Streeck and Nancy Fraser for their own, particular, valorizations of family).
Finally, over and above the importance of the chronicle told within, are the methodological lessons this book coveys. As an internally differentiated social unit - by gender, age, and sexual orientation (at a minimum...) - Cooper shows how placing the family at the centre of social, economic, and historical analysis can pay off with radically vital results. Indeed it's simply the case that nobody, having read this, would ever be able to ignore the role of the family, not only in any account of the neoliberal condition, but of society as such. And this is to say nothing yet of the attention paid to class and race which similarly ranges across the topics dealt within. In the hands of anyone else, one imagines that juggling this mass of information and diagnosis would be a hapless task, but 'Family Values' is a book as clear as it is trenchant. Oh, and did I mention unsurpassable for understanding the world we live in today? Because it's that too. Read, learn - weep.