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This intervention piece attempts to extend the ways neoliberalism and race are currently conceptualized in geography. Rather than thinking about these concepts as two separate entities, we insist on examining their co-constitutive qualities. Peck and Tickell argue that:

there is more to be done, both theoretically and empirically, on the specification and exploration of different processes of neoliberalization. This would need to take account of the ways in which ideologies of neoliberalism are themselves produced and reproduced through institutional forms and political action, since “actually existing” neoliberalisms are always (in some way or another) hybrid of composite structures (see Larner 2000) (Peck and Tickell 2002:383).

It is important to analyze the processes through which the ideology neoliberalism is actualized through various policies, discourses, and social relations. However, this theorization can limit analyses to what we call moments of eruption of racial discrimination from processes of neoliberalization. We argue that scholarship needs to do more than map how processes of neoliberalization have racialized results. Instead we suggest focusing on the ways neoliberalism (its underlying philosophy) is fundamentally raced and actively produces racialized bodies. Paying particular attention to the racialized discourses about immigrants in a Canadian newspaper, we argue that neoliberalism works to modify the ways race functions.

The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography

  1. Top of page
  2. The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography
  3. Methodological Approach
  4. The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References

Neoliberalism has a long history in geographical thought (Hyndman 2009; Viswanathan 2009). For this paper, we limit much of our analysis of neoliberalism to the work that has directly examined the concept in relation to race. Geographers have emphasized the impacts that neoliberalization has had on institutions and governmental policies (see Cope 2001; Peck and Tickell 2002; Theodore 2007). Scholarship has begun to map the impacts of neoliberal policy reforms in terms of their racially differentiated impacts. Nik Theodore's work, “Closed borders, open markets: Day laborers’ struggle for economic rights”, in its analyzing of the impacts of neoliberal policy reforms on the lives of day laborers, provides an example of this new direction. Theodore's work provides a compelling look at how neoliberal policy reforms can have significantly racialized impacts. As Theodore explains, “In the name of greater labor market flexibility, the neoliberal regulatory project has sought to dismantle or seriously weaken labor market insurance programs and job-protection legislation, and undermine trade unionism and worker collective action” (2007:252–253). The result has been the emergence of an informal economy of day laborers, who are largely comprised of “illegal immigrants”. Due to their precarious legal position bear the brunt of such social change as their access to legal recourses in regards to unfair employment practices are circumscribed. Day laborers, as a notably racialized group, provide a compelling example of the ways in which neoliberal policy reforms disparately impact certain racialized populations.

Theodore is not alone in examing the relationship between racism and neoliberalization. David Wilson's book, Cities and Race: America's New Black Ghettos (2006) also examines the connection between race and neoliberalism. Wilson explores the impacts of neoliberal policy reform on the entrenchment and expansion of the racialized ghetto within the American rust belt. He introduces readers to a cast of characters, such as “Welfare Queens”, “welfare-hustling men”, and “black youth gangbangers” that Ronald Reagan used to capitalize upon the fears of the country and direct them at the ghetto. In each of these terms, race, specifically blackness, coupled with anti-market behaviors become intertwined in the construction of the antithesis of the ideal neoliberal citizen in the black ghetto resident. In his analysis, race is mobilized to show that racialized subjectivities are essential in justifying certain impacts of neoliberalization that are experienced disproportionately within racialized communities. However, Cities and Race fails to provide a precise examination of how these black ghettos are connected to a wider racialized system within US (or Western) society. In fact, at several points in the book, Wilson quotes the language used to describe the ghetto that is highly evocative of the history of racism, such as “the inner city as primitive engulfers of societal resources” (2006:62) contrasting this with other “spaces of civility” within the city (2006:60), but he never fully unpacks the use of this language to explain how it historically connects global tropes to the dehumanizing history of race.

We draw from these two examples to demonstrate that, in both cases, the resulting theorization treats racism as an inevitable result of neoliberalization rather than mutually constitutive with neoliberalizing policies. The racist eruptions that result from neoliberal policies and practices are cited, but race is imagined as a fixed category, where individual racialized groups are seen as distinct and mapped onto neoliberal policy outcomes. Neoliberalization is understood as a socioeconomic process that has racial implications, but little is said about the ways that neoliberalism modifies the way race is experienced or understood in society. We suggest that this theorization is incomplete. We recommend a move from analyses of race and neoliberalism towards analyses that race neoliberalism. This kind of analysis more clearly delineates how race and racism are inextricably embedded in the neoliberal project. To begin the process of racing neoliberalism, it is essential to understand neoliberalism as a facet of a racist society that works to both reinforce the racial structure of society, while also modifying the processes of racialization. As other geographers have pointed out (Gilmore 2006; McKittrick 2006; Pulido 2006) race is a fundamental organizing principle in society. We suggest that there is a seductive, common-sense logic to neoliberalism that reproduces racist ideologies. We highlight the fruitfulness of this way of understanding race and neoliberalism in our case study.

Methodological Approach

  1. Top of page
  2. The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography
  3. Methodological Approach
  4. The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References

For our analysis, we examined the ways that immigration and immigrants were positioned in a leading Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. We conducted an archival search of The Globe and Mail from 1 October 2002 to 30 September 2006 to create an initial dataset made up of all articles containing the term “immigration” in their title, abstract, and/or within their text. Our initial archival search produced a data set of 3754 articles that included the word “immigration” in the title, text or abstract during this period. From this dataset, we pared the sample down to 896 articles by eliminating those articles not about immigration, immigrants or refugees in Canada. Within our analysis, we chose to include editorials, opinion pieces, guest columns, and letters to the editor to grasp a full picture of what a typical reader might read about immigration in The Globe and Mail. Each article and letter was treated the same for purposes of coding. From a set of 55 sub-themes, several major themes emerged as distinct ways in which The Globe and Mail communicated stories about immigration. While certainly the sheer number of stories that touted immigration as important to increased economic success (14% of the articles) or the number that linked immigrants to criminal activities or terrorism (24% of the articles) influenced our findings, our approach was to examine the discourse at a more macro level by examining the ideals and discourses that appeared to be underpinning The Globe and Mail's choice of coverage.

Extending Harald Bauder's (2008) analysis of immigrant portrayals, where he outlines the connections between immigration and utility, we also found that many stories in this paper celebrate the virtues of immigration and its link to a successful Canadian economy. However, while Bauder's investigation of the economic-utility perspective of neoliberal restructuring of Germany's immigration policies is similar to our work, we more specifically engage with the racialized representation of the immigration and its relationship to neoliberalization. In fact, neither the word “race” nor “racialization” ever appears in Bauder's analysis. In other words, we are interested in the ways in which the discourses that Bauder identifies work to modify how race is understood and experienced as a result of neoliberal policy reforms (and their corresponding discourses). Our analysis starts from a similar place as Bauder by examining a strikingly similar set of discursive constructions of immigrants in the Canadian newsprint, but works towards a different theoretical end.

Through a focus on the utility and productive nature of immigrants for Canada's growth, immigrants are depicted as adding significant utilitarian value to the Canadian economy. This is, of course, a strongly neoliberal argument (Bauder 2008). Articles such as “Labour shortage woes loom, research says” (Scoffield 2005), “New Canadians can keep the lights shining on the Prairie” (Simpson 2005), and “Ontario eyes brightest immigrants” (Howlett 2006) underscore the need for immigrants to shore up Canada's economy. Immigrants are seen as a way to solve many of Canada's pressing concerns from low fertility rates and an aging population, to the growing demand for skilled labor and doctors, to fuelling hot housing markets. Racism and its accompanying stereotypes associated with immigrants (high fertility, non-professional aspirations) are effectively mobilized as desirable whereas historically these were seen as negative attributes of immigrants. These presumed features of the potential immigrant population are part of a racist lexicon that was previously employed to denigrate immigrants. Now, the same discourse is manipulated to present immigrants as a more “desirable” population (who at the same time know their place). A few examples of this theme follow:

For governments, success will mean overhauling pension rules to allow older people to work longer; it means abolishing the fear that immigrants will take away jobs from Canadians, removing impediments to immigrants who want to work here and bringing in more of them; it means luring women into the work force with larger daycare subsidies and flexible hours (“Plenty of work, not enough bodies”; Brethour and Scoffield 2006:B4).

and

Mr. McGuinty will outline plans to attract a steady influx of new Canadians by capitalizing on the province's rich multicultural heritage, said senior government sources. “The province's diversity is one of our biggest economic advantages if we leverage it properly,” one of the sources said. The emphasis on immigration—and Ontario as a place where newcomers can build a better future for their families—will mark the first time a government attempts to link the province's cultural diversity to its economic prosperity. (“Ontario eyes brightest immigrants”; Howlett 2006:A7).

Such stories recognize the importance of recruiting immigrants, emphasizing that Canadians should embrace immigrants because they add value to the Canadian economy. However, there is another side to this story. Despite the calls to embrace immigrants because of their contribution to Canada's wellbeing, beneath the surface lies a much more pernicious level of discourse that persistently racializes immigrants as not-quite-Canadian. What is of interest to us here is the way that the immigrant is effectively positioned as, paradoxically, both the “good guy” and the “bad guy”. On the one hand, the immigrant is seen as contributing to a particular segment of the nation's economy. On the other hand, the immigrant is effectively demonized as deviant, criminalized and tarnishing the supposed Canadian way of life. We suggest that we might begin to understand this complex and complicit relationship as being fundamentally shaped by neoliberalism in contemporary Canada.

While it would be short-sighted and incorrect to understand the racialization of the immigrant as something brought about by the rise of neoliberalism, since this process obviously has a much longer history in Canada as elsewhere, it is important to understand how the neoliberal moment has allowed for the development of new discourses that reinforce this process.

The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism

  1. Top of page
  2. The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography
  3. Methodological Approach
  4. The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References

Neoliberalism in Canada has effectively reshaped the ideal conception of the relationship between the citizen and the society (and the corresponding obligations that each has to the other). As Dana-Ain Davis explains in “Narrating the mute: Racializing and racism in a neoliberal moment”:

Neoliberal practices pull into its orbit a market of ideas about a lot of things including the family, gender, and racial ideology. It is, as Lisa Duggan (2003) notes, “saturated with race” (xvi) using capitalism to hide racial (and other) inequalities by relocating racially coded economic disadvantage and reassigning identity-based biases to the private and personal spheres (Davis 2007:349).

Specifically, it has meant the establishment of a market orientation to this relationship. Ideally, within a neoliberal theorization of society, the success of the individual is directly related to his/her work output. Modalities of difference, such as race, do not predetermine one's success as each individual is evaluated solely in terms of his or her economic contribution to society. What becomes clear is that this ideal relationship is not equally realized by all members in society. For immigrants to Canada, there appears to be a different set of rules and expectations. Herein lies the double-edged sword of neoliberalism. Constituting the immigrant as not-quite Canadian allows for the continued disconnect between their ability to play the neoliberal game and the rewards that they receive for successful play. This can be seen through policies that continue to disregard foreign degrees or other credentials that is at the heart of the deskilling process, for example. Yet, as immigrants are racialized within the economy of Canada, claims of racism under neoliberalism are fundamentally ruled as outside of the way in which society—especially Canadian society—is structured. Davis, again, provides a useful articulation of this process:

Under neoliberal racism the relevance of the raced subject, racial identity and racism is subsumed under the auspices of meritocracy. For in a neoliberal society, individuals are supposedly freed from identity and operate under the limiting assumptions that hard work will be rewarded if the game is played according to the rules. Consequently, any impediments to success are attributed to personal flaws. This attribution affirms notions of neutrality and silences claims of racializing and racism (Davis 2007:350).

As a consequence, neoliberalism effectively masks racism through its value-laden moral project: camouflaging practices anchored in an apparent meritocracy, making possible a utopic vision of society that is non-racialized. David Theo Goldberg's articulation of racist culture is particularly useful in understanding how race is both evoked and suppressed under neoliberal discourse. Goldberg's project in Racist Culture: Philosophy and the Politics of Meaning is to “map the overlapping terrains of racialized expression, their means and modes of discursive articulation, and the exclusions they license with the view to contending and countering them” (Goldberg 1993:9). His central thesis is that modern racist culture is marked, fundamentally, by its refusal to acknowledge the role that racism plays in everyday structures of society and how these structures work to fundamentally disguise and, simultaneously, reify the power of racism within society. He intricately describes the ways liberalism sanctions racist institutions and reproduces racial knowledge with every outwardly progressive gesture, which works to normalize racism as just an aspect of life.

Along similar lines, Henry Giroux insists that the meanings and definitions of racism alter for each generation, and that the challenge for scholars is to develop a new language for understanding how race redefines the relationship between the public and the private (Giroux 2008). Giroux points out that race, and in particular, long histories of racism and injustice are effectively eradicated within neoliberal discourse because human agency is understood as a series of individualized choices: “success is attributed to … entrepreneurial genius while those who do not succeed are viewed either as failures or utterly expendable … neoliberal racism either dismisses the concept of institutional racism or maintains that it has no merit” (Giroux 2008:65, 71). Thus, in trying to understand the connection between race and neoliberalism, it is important to examine not just the momentary eruptions of race or racism that seemingly result from neoliberal policy reforms, and instead consider race as an organizing principle of society that neoliberalism reinforces and modifies. As Giroux reminds us, “even more than being saturated with race, neoliberalism also modifies race” (Giroux 2005; see Davis 2007:349). Neoliberalist policy is sneaky because it can force the hand of apparent race-blindness by insisting that race does not play an important role.

What our analysis of the discourses on immigration in The Globe and Mail suggests is that the neoliteral myth that contribution to society will translate into acceptance is undermined by processes of racialization and racism within Canadian society. Immigrants are vital for the continued success of the economy and are invited to enter the workforce as neoliberal subjects, but are not necessarily rewarded with the ascendancy normally offered to neoliberal (read: white) citizens. This is not just because the policies resulting from neoliberal reforms have disparate impacts on racialized or immigrant groups, but rather that the race and the racialization of immigrants is embedded in the philosophical underpinning of these policies.

Of interest to us is the way that The Globe and Mail is careful to avoid blatantly racist terms in its discourse on immigration. Scholars have remarked that neoliberalism has fostered a shift from rabid and overt forms of racism towards more insidious forms of racism (Giroux 2008). With the Canadian multicultural policy as its backdrop, it is now well recognized that it is simply unacceptable in contemporary Canada to use blatantly racially inflammatory or discriminatory language. Such behavior would be readily identified as racist. To counteract this potential accusation, seemingly race-neutral descriptors are employed instead, like “immigrant”, which, as Jiwani points out, in the context of Canadian media, is a highly racialized term itself (Jiwani 2006). She explains that a key signifier embedded in the use of the term “immigrant” is the understanding of “the immigrant” as a racialized individual. This surface-level, supposed race neutrality in the media discourses serves two purposes; first, it works to silence the work of race and racism in influencing the discourse on contemporary views of immigration in Canada. It also suppresses challenges that this kind of discourse is, at its core, fundamentally racist. As a result, this neoliberal-influenced discourse both modifies the way that discussions of racism in contemporary discourse can take place, while silencing the ways in which racist thinking saturates the very organizing principles of neoliberalism.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography
  3. Methodological Approach
  4. The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References

[We need to] develop better theoretical frameworks for understanding how power, politics and pedagogy as a political and moral practice work in the service of neoliberalism to secure consent, to normalize authoritarian policies and practices, and to erase a history of struggle and injustice (Giroux 2008:180).

We have argued that current conceptualizations of neoliberalism in geography require more precise articulations that move beyond simply citing the eruptions of race/racism that result from neoliberalization, towards actually shaking the racist foundations that saturate neoliberalism. Our brief analysis of articles about immigration in The Globe and Mail demonstrates the way a neoliberal-influenced “common sense” discourse is employed—a discourse which effectively eradicates histories of injustice facing immigrants in Canada.

Geographers are ideally situated to examine the ways that an unconscious embrace of neoliberalism has lead to a modification of the functioning of race within society and the way race is discussed. Making these links is important because, as Giroux reminds us, “it is crucial to examine what role public intellectuals … and universities actually play pedagogically in constructing and legitimating a neoliberal notion of common sense, and how the latter works pedagogically in producing neoliberal subjects” (Giroux 2008:173). Our analysis offers a glimpse of the ways immigrants are constructed as neoliberal subjects through “common-sense” discourses. Rather than pointing to some sort of definitive conclusion, this paper can merely offer up some new questions as to the promising possibilities that can be examined in understanding the complex relationship between neoliberalism and race. We believe in the potential of geographical analyses to consider both race and neoliberalism in a plurality of forms, where we consider various racialized neoliberalisms rather than a singular, “capital-N” Neoliberalism. It also provides a glimpse at a more precise analysis of race in our discipline. To this end, we believe asking new questions about geography's particular epistemological history with race would provide us with a valuable approach towards developing new research on race, neoliberalism and geography. We look forward to seeing scholars engage with race and neoliberalism in geography in ways that do not reinforce static categories of racial ontologies and epistemologies.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography
  3. Methodological Approach
  4. The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References

This paper has benefited from the critique of Sue Ruddick. We are also grateful for her invitation to present an earlier version of this paper at the AAGs in Boston, MA in April 2008.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. The Contours of Neoliberalism in Geography
  3. Methodological Approach
  4. The Co-Constitutive Nature of Race and Neoliberalism
  5. Conclusion
  6. Acknowledgements
  7. References
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