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The ethics of the willing: an ethnography of Post-Soviet Neo-Liberalism

Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald, Liene (2014) The ethics of the willing: an ethnography of Post-Soviet Neo-Liberalism. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of neo-liberal political subjectivity formation in post-Soviet Latvia. While Latvia has been one of the ‘catching-up’ economies of Eastern Europe, striving to approximate metric and symbolic ‘European standards’, I put forward here an investigation of ‘catching-up’ subjectivities as the flipside of this process. This enquiry is based upon a premise that a political system is never sustained only by its institutional structure; it is always also a mode of life, ways of being and knowing, particular systems of intelligibility and ordinary ethics. Therefore this study integrates a Foucauldian approach with insights from anthropological theories of subjectivity and the state, and postcolonial theories to investigate the process of neo-liberal political reforms in post-1991 Latvia as underpinned by shifts in perceptions of self vis-à-vis the state. Enabled by the ethnographic perspective, this research puts these ‘catching-up’ subjectivities to scrutiny rather than taking them for granted. Locating this investigation in an unemployment office in Riga, I explore individuals’ engagement with notions of ‘work on self’, individual responsibility, and ‘livable’ life in an ethnographically grounded way. The empirical chapters of the dissertation can be read as a map of a quest to give sociological substance to the concept of neo-liberal political subjectivity in conversation with the participant observation and narrative data. I argue that it is not sufficient to posit the Latvian story as a case of top-down subjectification, instituted through the ‘catching-up’ discourse of the post-Soviet governing elites. Exposed to ethnographic scrutiny, the process of neo-liberal political change comes into sharper relief as not simply accepted or resisted by the subjects that it seeks to form. I argue that we need to consider the logic of neoliberalism in an inverted way and to theorise neo-liberal political subjectivity in affective terms, constituted through geo-politically and historically formed anxieties and intimacies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Liene Ozoliņa-Fitzgerald
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Desai, Manali

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