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Visiting Speaker - Professor Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago, USA

Neoliberal Autocracy and its Unmaking in Syria

Sponsored by the Centre for Gulf Studies

Event details

This presentation is part of a larger book project focusing on "neoliberal autocracy" and its unmaking in Syria.  It charts changing power dynamics in the 2000s and early 2010s, but also provides a general theoretical account of ideological "interpellation" (to use Louis Althusser's felicitous term) - the differentiated way in which people are "hailed" or recruited into a system.  Centred on the novel mechanisms of social control that structured compliance in an era of market-oriented reforms, the book analyses the uneven uptake of these strategies - the pleasures, contradictions and incoherencies that help explain some citizens' ambivalence toward the uprising and others willingness to take extraordinary risks in an attempt to transform political life.

In this talk, Wedeen discusses the first year and a half of the Syrian uprising.  She asks: Why, in Syria's two major cities, Aleppo (the key commercial hub) and Damascus, did the population fail to mobilise in significant numbers even as inhabitants of many other areas did?  Although this question may seem remote from the current horror, it is crucial to understanding how compliance is secured and how it can become frayed; in this case, we see the neoliberal and the autocratic coalescing into forms of governance that were both seductive and fragile.

The rise of the Islamic State, to bring the narrative up to date, is to be understood both as a challenge to the specificities of the regime's dissemination of the good life and a symptom of neoliberal autocracy more generally.

Lisa Wedeen is the Mary R Morton Professor of Political Science and the College and the Co-Director of the Chicago Centre for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago.  She is the recipient of the David Collier Mid-Career Achievement Award and an NSF fellowship.

Lisa_Wedeen_A4_poster.pdfLisa Wedeen Poster (487K)


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