Love in the Time of Neoliberalism: Grammars of Affect and Cultures of Capitalism


A defining feature of the contemporary moment has been a radicalization of market ideologies and corporate culture. A series of profound transformations that occurred in the last 40 years have produced a new configuration of the world’s political-economic order—variously referred to as “globalized new economy,” "late capitalism," or “neoliberalism.” Analyses of the neoliberal age usually focus on political, economic, and structural transformations but often fail to consider the impact that these processes have on the everyday and on our intimate modes of experience. This course suggests that there is great analytic promise in the study of how institutional transformations co-articulate with the affective and moral lives of individuals. Moving from the idea that all great transformations “must be affective in order to be effective,” we will thus engage the languages and cultures of neoliberalism and explore how the relation between structures and sentiments has been impacted by capitalist rationality and neoliberal morality. Rather than conceiving neoliberalism as a political and economic doctrine, our anthropological journey into the contemporary reorganization of affect will promote an understanding of neoliberalism as a structure of action—and as a form of practical conduct that is—as a “way of doing things.” Drawing on a series of hands-on exercises and a combination of theoretical and ethnographic readings from various cultural settings, we will discuss how global forces have been affecting public and private expressions of love, friendship, and sexuality. We will explore the novel aesthetics of desires and pleasures emerging in North America and the Global South and the new romantic vocabularies originating from the digital transformations of love and companionship. And we will reflect on the forces underlying the contemporary commodification of emotions. While learning about specific examples of the neoliberal political economy of intimacy, we will engage broader theoretical questions: How pervasive are neoliberal structures of practice? To what extent can neoliberalism be represented as an overarching and coherent global trend externally generated by the homogenizing forces of Late Western Capitalism? Is our moral and affective experience completely shaped by the extension of economic rationality to all areas of life? Or is there a way of looking at the current hypertrophic expansion of market logics that can reveal hidden fissures and unlock a potential for emancipatory expression?