The Subject of Economics: Rights Debates and Discourses in the Neoliberal Era
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This dissertation is an inquiry into the function of rhetoric in the neoliberal era. It argues that rhetoric functions as a technology of governance distributing neoliberal logics across and through institutions, social terrain, and the state making them useful for entrenching and extending neoliberal power and its networks. The diffuse nature of neoliberalism, its mutability from situation to situation, and its dynamic power relations exceed traditional models for deliberative rhetoric and rhetorical theories and requires supplemental rhetorical models and theories that recognize rhetorical agency as a productive energy circulating through neoliberal networks of power. It develops from the premise that neoliberalism works hand-in-glove with biopolitics to secure order within this mode of power. The intensification of neoliberalism and its articulation into governing and cultural institutions reorganizes relationships among people, institutions, and the state creating a seismic shift in the structural order of our lived realities and lived practices. Neoliberal order alters subjectivities, transforms spaces of social/political activity and coordination, and mobilizes discourses that reaffirm its logics. These changes alter our perceptions of truth, alter our understanding of justice and equality, and have us reconceive models of the state and human relationships. The fundamental changes to our lived realities manifest in rights debates, discourses, and scenes of recognition. These sites of conflict offer a lens into deeper structural changes and actual operations of neoliberalism and provides a means of theorizing resistance. Building on theories of rhetorical circulation from Ronald Walter Greene and Catherine Chaput, this dissertation traces rhetoric’s distribution of neoliberal power across sites of contemporary rights conflicts to secure and extend neoliberal order. Case studies examine the intensification of the economic subject in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001 to diminish the political subject at home and justify wars abroad, the adoption of economic subjectivities in the conflict over marriage equality and religious freedom leading to and following the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges that guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage, and how the Black Lives Matter movement threatens neoliberal order and how neoliberalism appropriates discourses of tolerance to delegitimize the movement. It concludes with brief examinations of the Occupy Wall Street movement and Standing Rock protests to theorize resistance to neoliberalism and possibilities for imagining and enacting alternative collective futures.