On the 15 February 2014, the School of Geography and the Environment with the Department of International Relations, held an interdisciplinary conference on 'Geographies of Neoliberalism and Resistance After the Crisis: The State, Violence and Labour'. Dr Patricia Daley, an Associate Professor at the School of Geography and the Environment, welcomed attendees to the conference with a discussion of the value of graduate student-led events like this one, stressing the need to use radical political analyses for understanding the central themes of the conference. 145 people registered to attend the conference, illustrating that there is a need for critical debate and conversations on the subjects of neoliberalism, resistance, labour, the state, gender, and violence - across disciplines, geographies, time scales and theoretical approaches.
The conference brought together a diverse, multidisciplinary group of young scholars who are actively engaged in broader antiracist, anti-patriarchal and socialist projects. The discussions centred around the capitalist crisis and it's attendant neoliberal policies, particularly looking at (dis)organised resistance, struggles for peace, and equality. Innocent Moyo from the University of South Africa interpreted the vibrant and ongoing informal sector in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, as a resistance transcript, where a whistle alerts informal traders of approaching police. Presentations from Nausheen Quayyum, Hannah Schling and Christopher Webb engaged with the precarious, deregulated and feminised organisation of labour in Bangladesh, China and South Africa respectively. Jamie Woodcock's work on emotional, temporary and non-unionised labour in a UK call centre emphasised the push towards automatised, rigorously surveyed and auto-critical labour, as workers are expected to perform higher qualities of work more and more efficiently. These discussions brought to the fore the connections between resistance practices and the production of labouring bodies, and we see that the creation of alternative, non-neoliberal, non-capitalist, egalitarian cosmologies is increasingly constrained by the neoliberalisation of labour. This includes the neoliberalisation of labour within institutions of learning.
Presenters emphasised the need for an engagement with the capitalist crisis over the longue durée, including examinations of structural adjustment programmes, trade liberalisation and the privatisation of public assets since the 1980s in the global South. This emphasis on the perpetual crisis in spaces of the so-called global South came out strongly in Kofi Mawuli Klu's presentation, in which he emphasised the violence of an intensified and militarised global assault on resources. Klu challenged the audience to articulate and theorise the violence of the present moment in a manner similar to Franz Fanon's important work on the violence of colonialism. A powerful keynote address from Samir Amin opened up space to reconsider unification across and between differences as we work to create the political and social imaginaries necessary for peace and wellbeing. These discussions indicated that by engaging with the products, effects and manifestations of neoliberalism from multiple angles, powerful stories emerge. There was a palpable energy at the conference, with audience members engaging actively in the project to theorise, mobilise and struggle for change.
The conference provided a moment of coming together and an opportunity to chink away at the destructive, isolating and sometimes apathetic nexus of life within 21st century neoliberalism. With funds from Jesus College, the Transformations research cluster at the School for Geography and the Environment, the School of International Relations and the ESRC Doctoral Training Programme, the conference organisers were able to subsidise the travel of all of the speakers who travelled from outside the Oxford-London area. This was a means of honouring and respecting the work of young academics and early career researchers, who are increasingly pushed aside, underpaid and under-supported in the ongoing neoliberalisation and corporatisation of academic institutions. The conference was held with no registration cost, resolute as the organisers are in their commitment to take the price tag off knowledge and to open academic conferences to wide audiences.
Amber Murrey is a DPhil student in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. A longer and more detailed conference report is forthcoming in Ceasefire Magazine. A special edition of City - Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action will be devoted to carrying on the conversations begun at the conference.
Geographies of Neoliberalism and Resistance After the Crisis was organised by Amber Murrey, Adam Elliott-Cooper, Ashok Kumar (DPhils at SoGE) and Musab Younis (DPhil, International Relations).