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Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics & Baroque Economies.

Gago, Veronica. Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics & Baroque Economies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017.

Veronica Gago's Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics & Baroque Economies is a work of social and political theory that aims to understand neoliberalism "from below," using as its major examples Bolivian and Argentine garment workers and La Salada, an illegal market in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Gago's theoretical framework encompasses a broad range of areas: microeconomics, transnational socioeconomic networks, communitarian ethics and surplus value, marginal neighborhoods, and clandestine textile workshops. Several concepts unify the analysis: contingency, the motley, incompleteness, Foucauldian notions of governmentality, the community, and the nation. Gago provides readers with theoretical foundations for analyzing how neoliberalism pervades everyday life. Ideologically, neoliberalism posits that the state is inefficient and wasteful and should turn over its functions to the market. As Gramsci and others note, once discourses become common sense it is difficult to form counter-discourses. Neoliberalism's commonsense discourses on the state, however, ignore that fact that the state reorients its function toward facilitating the smooth transfer of capital and defending the interests of capital through repression and violence.

Neoliberalism from Below is an ambitious theoretical synthesis of how neoliberalism operates on both the micro and macro levels, and Gago ably demonstrates how practice informs theory. Scholars working in anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, and literary criticism could readily use its tools to assess neoliberalism's variants and how they operate. Gago describes how Bolivian migrants work in clandestine garment workshops run by other Bolivian migrants and Argentine nationals in the marginal neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Many global fashion and apparel brands employ legal suppliers who hire clandestine workshops. Gago follows these manifold connections to legal and illegal markets, revealing the fallacy of brand exclusivity and quality. Gago also usefully connects the migrants' community values to clandestine workshops and the macroeconomic system that exploits those values and community networks. The motley and ch'ixi are important concepts in this analysis. Specifically, Gago provides insight into how Bolivian labor recruiters and neoliberal structures subvert the Andean communitarian concepts of ch'ixi and ayni (a complex system of reciprocity common in the Andean highlands). Ch'ixi and ayni inform the definition of motley as a "colorful assemblage" of urban space and people that is "ambivalent about what is and what is not" (pp. 67-69). Gago is careful not to position garment workers as passive entities, instead illustrating a complex and dynamic reality. For workshops to function smoothly, utilities and services must be present in their neighborhoods. But the workshops themselves must remain hidden from the state and the workers must remain cloistered in them. The motley then helps us think through the "baroque" economic formations (p. 69) at the center of Gago's work.

The ambitious theoretical scaffolding Gago constructs, however, requires further expansion and reinforcement. In this reader's opinion, there are several deficiencies in the structure and theoretical underpinning of the work. This book makes apparent the difficult balance that editors, a translator, and managing editors must strike when translating fine scholarship: some passages of the work are lyrical and shine with brilliance, while others lack clarity and make arguments that are difficult to follow. In the book's strongest chapters, Gago illuminates novel examples of neoliberalism's exploitative power and draws on the work of other theorists and scholars. Yet the book could do more to situate these insights within the rich body of scholarship that examines neoliberal exploitation. Scholarship exists on the multitude of ways that neoliberal values have penetrated everyday life: scholars have done work similar to Gago's in such areas as privatization and surveillance in publicly funded urban spaces; government disinvestment in health care, education, and welfare; discourses on appearance, diet, health, and exercise that evoke governmentality in the care of the self; public funding of private stadia; and the neoliberal influence in sports and corporate sponsorship. Deeper engagement with such scholarship would strengthen Gago's theoretical framework, clarifying the work's core concepts and further exemplifying neoliberalism's nefarious inner workings.

The strongest chapters, such as "Between La Salada and the Workshop: Communitarian Wealth in Dispute" and "Between Servitude and the New Popular Entrepreneurship: The Clandestine Textile Workshop," closely tie theory to practice. Gago's analysis of the connections between economics, communitarian relationships, clandestine workshops, and legal and illegal markets is very clear and strong. Much like the editors and authors of Sports and Neoliberalism, Gago encourages scholars to examine the multiple ways that neoliberalism infiltrates our lives, values, and ethics and helps expose the corrosive dehumanizing aspects of neoliberalism.


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Title Annotation:LATIN AMERICA
Author:Sierra, Luis M.
Publication:Journal of Global South Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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