Variegated neoliberalization: geographies, modalities, pathways



Across the broad field of heterodox political economy, ‘neoliberalism’ appears to have become a rascal concept – promiscuously pervasive, yet inconsistently defined, empirically imprecise and frequently contested. Controversies regarding its precise meaning are more than merely semantic. They generally flow from underlying disagreements regarding the sources, expressions and implications of contemporary regulatory transformations. In this article, we consider the handling of ‘neoliberalism’ within three influential strands of heterodox political economy – the varieties of capitalism approach; historical materialist international political economy; and governmentality approaches. While each of these research traditions sheds light on contemporary processes of market-oriented regulatory restructuring, we argue that each also underplays and/or misreads the systemically uneven, or ‘variegated’, character of these processes. Enabled by a critical interrogation of how each approach interprets the geographies, modalities and pathways of neoliberalization processes, we argue that the problematic of variegation must be central to any adequate account of marketized forms of regulatory restructuring and their alternatives under post-1970s capitalism. Our approach emphasizes the cumulative impacts of successive ‘waves’ of neoliberalization upon uneven institutional landscapes, in particular: (a) their establishment of interconnected, mutually recursive policy relays within an increasingly transnational field of market-oriented regulatory transfer; and (b) their infiltration and reworking of the geoinstitutional frameworks, or ‘rule regimes’, within which regulatory experimentation unfolds. This mode of analysis has significant implications for interpreting the current global economic crisis.