This post outlines the research project I am working on, together with Dr Nour Dados, at the University of Sydney.
Recent social theory has been greatly concerned with the world-wide transition in economy, society and culture that Boltanski and Chiapello in France summed up in their much-quoted phrase "the new spirit of capitalism". Neoliberalism, globalization, market society, Empire, economic rationalism, are other terms in play.
Most well-known theories assume that this new era can be understood by generalizing concepts that have originated from Europe and the United States. This is not adequate for 21st century social theory. Market society is worldwide, and has been produced by a restructuring of global economic and social relationships. The periphery, as well as the metropole, is a very rich source of social thought. We follow the logic that Chandra Talpade Mohanty calls “decolonizing theory”, bringing knowledge production from the global periphery to work on a global problem.
Southern analyses of market society. In this part of the project, we are collecting and studying books and articles about market transitions, neoliberalism and market society that come from four world regions: South Asia, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. We are making extensive Web-based searches to go beyond the more familiar sources. But we are conscious of the biases of Web-based information (towards Northern and English-language publications), so we also rely on word of mouth and pay attention to non-English sources.
Transitions to market society. In this part of the project, we are collecting and studying the social research that describes historical moments of transition to market society. This transition has occurred at different times in different regions, and along different paths, so the story is extremely complex. To focus our searching and analysis, we have chosen certain institutions to focus on: large-scale corporate organizations; policing institutions, including the private security industry; school systems, including vocational training colleges; marriage and alternative forms of household and intimate relationship.
Theorists of transition. In this part of the project, we will meet and interview intellectual workers who have contributed to contemporary research and theory about market society, in the four regions mentioned earlier. We will ask about the biographical and social context of their work, the networks they have created, the way they do intellectual work, the development of their ideas, and the futures they see.
Large questions! We welcome advice and help. (Seriously: if you would like to share thoughts about this project or these issues, please send them to email@example.com.)