The post global financial crisis (GFC) era has witnessed the emergence of a variety of popular social movements in reaction to the dislocating effects of financial crisis, globalization and Austerity. The concept of alienation has been used to describe this dislocation, a negative affective state arising from a lack of meaning and listlessness in one’s lived experience. In the popular press, the term has become commonplace, while the curiosity of scholarship has also awoken.
This follows a long period of the concept’s own marginalisation after post-structuralist critiques from the 1970s onwards had placed it in the dustbin of history. They problematised the understanding of alienation as an estrangement from, or loss of relation to, an authentic and whole self, a pre-social and pristine such.
We have since learnt that aspirations of absolute self-coherency are illusory, that the self is best perceived as a process and that life to some extent always is heteronomous.
These lessons notwithstanding, this critique led to the removal of the concept from public debate. Now, the urge to capture the current experience of self-insolvency, often in relation to organizational life, has brought the concept back into critical social commentary, albeit without sound scholarly underpinnings. To conceptualise alienation, without for that matter relapsing into a quest for a fully coherent self, is therefore an urgent task.
Recent work in the tradition of the Frankfurt School, for which the concept of alienation (or “reification”) was once fundamental, provides potential relief. Tackling this challenge head on, Rahel Jaeggi (2014) attempts to revive the concept while remaining attentive to poststructuralist critiques. She understands alienation, not as the absence of a relation, but rather as a deficient one. Her notion of alienation is not defined by the negation of perfectionist ideals of autonomy, authenticity and liberty, but is rather more fluid.
This appears to be particularly relevant in the current era, in which we have seen so many efforts of diverging persuasions to overcome alienation. She also attributes great significance to the opposing process, that of constructing self-meaning through collective learning in a fluid world not of one’s own making: appropriation.
This event will critically explore alienation and appropriation at different levels of abstraction and at different spatial scales: global, regional and local. We have seen the rise of the Tea Party movement in the United States, the election of Donald Trump, the simultaneous rise of far-left and -right parties and movements in Europe, not least visible with the spike of nationalist sentiment and Europhobia witnessed in Brexit.
On Merseyside, Austerity has brought deep cuts to public expenditure typically affect those in the greatest need of public services and various forms of social income, transfers and services the most. This has resulted in alienation and a serious crisis of social reproduction, yet at the same time also experiences of appropriation as the Social Economy has stepped in to try to fill the space left behind in the backwater of Austerity.
As such, this event examines the social, economic, cultural, political and affective production of publics, a matter of urgent social, political, economic and cultural concern of our dislocated times to social scientists as well as to states, corporations, and others.