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On the genealogy of the American millennial ideal: a celebrity case study of neoliberal feminism in the 21st century

Rahali, Miriam A. (2021) On the genealogy of the American millennial ideal: a celebrity case study of neoliberal feminism in the 21st century. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004338


This dissertation is motivated by the question that asks how the ideal Millennial constituent is produced, and reproduced, in American society as a response to crisis. The interrelated social, economic and political crises of the 21st century have had profound implications for the Millennial generation, and this study aims to show that traditional markers of adulthood have not become delayed for the Millennials who conform to the ideals espoused by the neoliberal social contract. I posit that the contemporary social contract is gendered, and as such, neoliberal feminism is the central framework through which I theorize the feminine ideal. I draw on the key tenets of neoliberal feminism (independence, self-actualization and self-reinvention) to guide the coding frame of my textual analysis. Using multimodal analysis, I examine the ideal Millennial’s discursive construction across three intensely mediated and highly popular feminine subjects – Taylor Swift, Beyoncé Knowles Carter and Kim Kardashian – because I seek to examine the values and expectations that have been most widely conveyed by the celebrities whose public platform offers a model of how to prosper in a society where success is predicated on the logic of neoliberalism. My three empirical cases shed light on American feminism’s ideal constituent, as she is gendered, raced and classed, and offer a way to interrogate how popular discourses participate in larger cultural and societal conversations about the world that the Millennial woman is not only inheriting, but also responding to. Despite political and economic upheaval, my findings indicate that neoliberal feminism is being reproduced through the responses that incorporate the very same logics that reactivate and extend the ideology; as such, the results of my empirical analysis further validate scholarship delineating neoliberalism’s symbiotic relationship with feminism. My findings also suggest that in a social climate of economic fragility and political instability, patterns of entrepreneurship, adaptability and resilience are foregrounded. Discourses of the American Millennial ideal type, as constituted by my celebrity cases, suggest making a name for oneself in spite of difficulty, becoming not only the product of, but also a targeted response to the gendered crises of education, work and reproduction. For a generation that is not only struggling to find its identity, but is also facing a profound lack of security in linear progress and mobility, the narrative of success constructed by my three cases offers the blueprint of a solution.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Miriam A. Rahali
Uncontrolled Keywords: crisis, millennial, feminism, neoliberalism, celebrity, political economy
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Orgad, Shani

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