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Keywords:

  • neoliberalism;
  • market;
  • governmentality;
  • bureaucratic field;
  • penal state;
  • workfare;
  • prisonfare;
  • urban marginality;
  • Bourdieu

The anthropology of neoliberalism has become polarised between a hegemonic economic model anchored by variants of market rule and an insurgent approach fuelled by derivations of the Foucaultian notion of governmentality. Both conceptions obscure what is ‘neo’ about neoliberalism: the reengineering and redeployment of the state as the core agency that sets the rules and fabricates the subjectivities, social relations and collective representations suited to realising markets. Drawing on two decades of field-based inquiries into the structure, experience and political treatment of urban marginality in advanced society, I propose a via media between these two approaches that construes neoliberalism as an articulation of state, market and citizenship that harnesses the first to impose the stamp of the second onto the third. Bourdieu's concept of bureaucratic field offers a powerful tool for dissecting the revamping of the state as stratification and classification machine driving the neoliberal revolution from above and serves to put forth three theses: (1) neoliberalism is not an economic regime but a political project of state-crafting that puts disciplinary ‘workfare’, neutralising ‘prisonfare’ and the trope of individual responsibility at the service of commodification; (2) neoliberalism entails a rightward tilting of the space of bureaucratic agencies that define and distribute public goods and spawns a Centaur-state that practises liberalism at the top of the class structure and punitive paternalism at the bottom; (3) the growth and glorification of the penal wing of the state is an integral component of the neoliberal Leviathan, such that the police, courts and prison need to be brought into the political anthropology of neoliberal rule.