The New (Ab)Normal: The Cultural Politics of the New Authoritarianism

A free one-day event co-funded by Keele University and Cultural Politics.

Tuesday 27th June, Keele University. Register here.


10am – 10.30am: Coffee

10.30am – 11.00am: Mark Featherstone (Keele University, Sociology) – Introduction: ‘The New (Ab)Normal: Sociology in Extremis’

11.00am – 11.30am: Ronnie Lippens (Keele University, Criminology) – ‘Rothko’s Chapel in Houston, Texas (1970): Luciferian Notes on the Age of Light’

11.30am – 12.00pm: Eva Giraud (Keele University, Media) and Sarah-Nicole Aghassi-Isfahani (Keele University, Sociology) – ‘Has Critique run out of Memes? Interrogating the ‘Post-Truth’ Media Landscape’

12.00pm – 1.00pm: Deborah Frizzell (Art, William Patterson University, USA) – ‘Trajectories of Aesthetics and Ethics in the Chthulucene: A Case Study of “Outcast” Women Artists’

1.00pm – 2.00pm: Lunch

2.00pm – 2.30pm: Kirsten Forkert (Media, Birmingham City University) – ‘Austerity, Right Populism and the Public Mood’

2.30pm -3.00pm: Seb Franklin (Kings College, London) and Penny Newell (Kings College, London) – ‘The Economics of Abnormality’

3.00pm – 4.00pm: Steve Hall (Criminology, Teeside University) – ‘System Reboot: Steve Bannon’s Dream as the Restoration of the Pseudo-Pacification Process’

4.00pm – 4.30pm: Coffee

4.30pm – 5.45pm: Doug Kellner (Education, UCLA, USA) – ‘Donald Trump, Media Spectacle, and Authoritarian Populism’

6.00pm – 7.00pm: Arthur Kroker (Political Science, University of Victoria, Canada) – ‘Fake Futures’

Background: Following the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent tightening of economic conditions resulting from massive bank bail outs many of the major western liberal democracies lurched towards the right politically. The crash created a hole in public finances that increased economic and consequently social and cultural stresses with the result that rightist politics based upon law, order, discipline, hard work, and the policing of borders became more popular. In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe this hardening of attitudes towards others remained inside the political mainstream and essentially took the form of a militarised version of (neo)liberalism intolerant of weakness and vulnerability.

It is possible to argue that the political objective of this new militarised approach to policy was two-fold. In the European context, where the economic consensus suggested that it was necessary to balance the books, the aim was to claw back the money spent saving the financial system from public services deemed unproductive and too expensive. In order to defend this turn to austerity, the second policy aim of the hardening of the liberal agenda was to justify the move to an austere society and an austere cultural attitude through the denigration of others (the poor, ethnic minorities, immigrants, the disabled) who it was claimed were a drain on squeezed, scarce, resources. While the rich, and particularly the super-rich, remain necessary in this story, because they are seen to grow the economy and effectively keep people in work, various others are represented as redundant, unproductive, useless, and exorbitant. They cost too much and can no longer be afforded. They are the waste product of the stressed, austere, society and in this cultural politics they are effectively dehumanised.

However, the problem with this social and cultural approach, which was designed to maintain the integrity of (neo)liberal consensus that has ruled since the end of the Cold War at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable, is that it appears to have unleashed social and cultural forces that the mainstream seems no longer able to control. These social and cultural forces, which seem to be based upon the resentment of the old working classes towards a model of globalised society they feel abandoned them long ago and the fear of the middle classes who want to protect what they have managed to build in the good years, are transgressive of the (neo)liberal mainstream because they are organised around ideological coordinates that run counter to those that support the hegemonic global social, economic, political, and cultural order. While the hard language that speaks to those threatened by the effects of increasing economic stress emerged from the mainstream, it appears that it has now been taken over by populist leaders (Farage, Trump, Le Pen) who have advanced the original austerity narrative of the insiders in such a way that the (liberal) ‘system’ is now somehow supportive of the other who threatens normal, ‘hard working’, people and therefore must be replaced by a new social, economic, political, and cultural system based upon meeting the needs of the silent majority.

But is this new narrative, which we are provocatively calling the new (ab)normal, truly revolutionary in its attempt to over-turn the (neo)liberal hegemon which has organised American-led processes of globalisation since the 1980s? If this is, indeed, the case, and we have entered a new cultural sphere of radical (ab)normality, then we wonder what the future holds. In many respects it seems that the new turn to the right is wholly negative, simply because its key figures have no positive programme for change. Instead the turn to a politics of anti-liberal (ab)normality, which have ironically come to the fore in the home countries of neo-liberal globalisation (Britain and America), appear to be based in little more than a violent rejection of otherness in all forms and a valorisation of borders, boundaries, and defensive formations. In this way the new(ab)normal, which we have seen emerge from the rhetoric of Farage, Trump, and Le Pen, seems to be founded upon an ideology of intolerance that recalls the Italian fascism and German national socialism of the 1920s and 1930s. Or perhaps this is hyperbole and there is actually very little that is new about the new situation. Perhaps the idea of anti-liberal (ab)normality is simply about the retrenchment of white, male, power which has effectively dominated the west from the very beginning?

Given the possibility of the rise of these new cultural politics, which appear to legitimate racism and sexism in the name of a kind of anti-intellectual populism, should we now speak of anew authoritarianism that has been more or less entirely normalised? In the face of the potential rise of this new discourse, which we want to think about in terms of the new(ab)normality, the objectives of this workshop are to (1) try to make sense of the emergence of what appears to be a new form of intolerance, which seems to have very quickly moved from the margins into the mainstream and managed to construct itself in terms of an apparently radical, but also entirely reasonable and pragmatic response to the critical state of the old (neo)liberal hegemon; (2) think about whether academics need to develop new ways to respond to this potentially new cultural politics of violence through the use of knowledge, evidence, theory, and pedagogy in the name of creating a space for a more constructive, positive, inclusive cultural politics able to shape the future for everybody; and finally (3) to develop a proposal for a special issue of Cultural Politics, concerned with these issues, questions, and debates.

Categories: Conferences

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *