The “reputation” of neoliberalism



“Flexibility” has been described as the cornerstone of the current neoliberal agenda—embodied in mandates for the fluid movements and restructuring of labor, capital, and information and, at the individual level, in a supple capacity for creative self-invention and self-mastery. Flexibility is also a central quality revered within a realm of oppositional cultural practice known in the analytical paradigm of Caribbean anthropology as “reputation.” What is striking about these different logics of flexibility is that one (reputational flexibility) is grounded in a set of cultural values of the Caribbean subaltern in opposition to bureaucratic hierarchy and (neo)colonial domination, and the other (neoliberal flexibility) sits firmly in the center of contemporary global capitalist orthodoxy. On the basis of fieldwork I conducted between 2001 and 2006, I argue that the quest for flexibility among emergent middle-class entrepreneurs in Barbados represents a new path of opportunity and upward mobility as well as a gendered tightrope of respectability. In this quest, I argue, these entrepreneurs are redefining the dialectics of reputation–respectability and class in Barbados and the cultural meanings of neoliberalism itself.