chapter  4
15 Pages

Cultural political economy of neoliberalism: The production and negotiation of ‘competitiveness’ as hegemonic logic(s)


This chapter adopts a ‘cultural political economy’ (hereafter CPE) approach (Sum 2004; Jessop and Sum 2006; Sum and Jessop forthcoming) to the emergence, from the mid-1990s, of ‘competitiveness’ as a transnational constellation of hegemonic discourses and practices. It has four sections. First, theoretically, CPE takes a ‘cultural-discursive’ turn by creatively combining Gramscian and Foucauldian analyses whilst recognizing the tensions between them (Sum 2009b). This approach explores the diverse processes and mechanisms through which hegemony (intellectual, moral and self-leadership) is constituted/negotiated in and across (trans-)national institutional orders and civil society. Concentrating on the discursive moments of the remaking of social relations, CPE focuses on the role of ‘economic imaginaries’ in defining objects of economic calculation, management, governance etc. ‘Competitiveness’ is one such imagined object and this chapter focuses on its Harvard Business School variant. Since the early 1990s, this variant has become a knowledge brand with a key role in shaping the making and remaking of neoliberal social relations. The second section focuses on how this knowledge brand has been rolled out on a global scale via knowledge apparatuses (e.g. indexes) and related technologies of power and, in particular, how it is being recontextualized in the East Asian region by (sub-)hegemonic actors. The third section discusses briefly how this hegemonic logic of competitiveness is being challenged and negotiated in a conjuncture marked by the financial crisis that first became evident in mid-2007 and has since deepened and broadened. The fourth section offers some conclusions on the contributions of a CPE approach our understanding of the remaking of neoliberal capitalism.