Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2013
The era of neoliberalism is often defined as a set of changes in economic policy and in economic relationships, many of which created new challenges and insecurities for individuals. But it also reshaped the structure of social relationships, including relationships in the family, workplace, neighborhood, and civil society. It may even have reshaped people's subjectivities – their sense of self, their sense of agency, and their identities and solidarities (Brown 2003). According to its most severe critics, the cumulative impact of these changes is a radical atomization of society. In the name of emancipating the autonomous individual, neoliberalism has eroded the social bonds and solidarities upon which individuals depended, leaving people to fend for themselves as “companies of one” in an increasingly insecure world (Lane 2011).
Yet the modern world is hardly devoid of social bonds and collective identities. Wherever neoliberal reforms have been implemented, they have operated within a dense field of social relationships that conditions the impact of neoliberalism. If neoliberalism has shaped social relations, it is equally true that those relations have shaped neoliberalism, blocking some neoliberal reforms entirely while pushing other reforms in unexpected directions, with unintended results. In the process, we can see social resilience at work as people contest, contain, subvert, or appropriate neoliberal ideas and policies to protect the social bonds and identities they value.