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Abundance and Scarcity: Conceptualising Competition under Neoliberal Feminism.

Carr, M. and Kelan, E., 2021. Abundance and Scarcity: Conceptualising Competition under Neoliberal Feminism. In: Gender, Work & Organisation 2021, 30 June - 02 July 2021, Virtual Conference.

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While neoliberal feminism acknowledges gender inequalities, it simultaneously refutes structural, economic and cultural factors, instead creating a fully responsibilised new feminist subject (Rottenberg, 2014). Subsequently, feminine subjectivities are constituted as empowered, flexible, and resilient individuals who have choice and agency (Budgeon, 2015, Gill & Scharff, 2011). This optimistic ‘can-do trajectory’ (Harris, 2004, p. 35) is contingent upon women constructing themselves as generic human capital (Rottenberg, 2017, 2018), working within a system of enterprise based on consumption rather than production; a fair system of competition for those who can develop the right skills and characteristics. As McNay (2009, p. 58) highlights, this creates a ‘fragile dynamic of competition’, where inequalities are required to stimulate market competition. However, to capitalize on inequalities, everyone must be included in the race to become an entrepreneur of self, maximising their market value. Competition is central to the conception of neoliberal feminism yet how competition is expressed in different contexts has so far not been explored. Drawing on a Foucauldian perspective to understand competition as a form of governance through encouraging individuals to see the self as an enterprise, we examine how neoliberal feminism works with neoliberal capitalism to constrain subjectivities. The article presents empirical research conducted in two different organisational settings: a corporate bank and a network marketing beauty company. To do this, we draw on data collected from interviews with 20 women managers in the bank and 16 interviews and participant observation data with women who are part of a beauty-based network marketing organisation (NMO). First, we show that discourses of competition in the bank centred on ‘scarcity’ which created a sense of competition between women. A double scarcity existed for women; competing for limited opportunities within the hierarchical structure of the bank, combined with a perception that only certain roles were available for women. Thus, the focus of competition became other women as a threat (Baker & Kelan, 2018; Scharff, 2016), negating collective action as a response to women’s minority position or the structural issues and barriers (Rottenberg, 2014). This speaks to a neoliberal feminist discourse where, through including feminism within the organisational sphere, feminism accommodates rather than challenges neoliberal rationality. Within the NMO, competition was conceptualised through an abundance discourse. Success in the NMO was constructed as obtainable for all individuals who could cultivate the right skills and abilities, such as confidence and self-belief. The focus of competition became internal; women were competing with themselves to self-transform and reinvent to overcome internal barriers and lack of self-belief (Gill & Orgad, 2017; Gill & Scharff, 2011; McRobbie, 2015). Furthermore, neoliberalism within the NMO obscured the privileged modes of some forms of femininity (Lewis, 2014) where, through selling products via social media, young, white, attractive women were presented as an idealised femininity; consequently gaining financial success and rewards. Yet neoliberalism meant that these inequalities could not be called out as women were ‘on their own individual journey’, what Piketty (2014) has referred to as silencing around aspects of social difference, inequality and disadvantage. This article shows how a neoliberal feminism logic adapts to and shapes different contexts and thus limits the subjectivities that can be created. The article contributes to our understanding of how neoliberal feminism shapes subjectivities by looking at different conceptions of competition. Thus, we make a contribution to our understanding of neoliberal feminism which we suggest is adaptable, widespread with local variations, yet in both contexts, operating in a ‘dangerous liaison’ with capitalism (Eisenstein, 2017).

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:35716
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:01 Jul 2021 16:49
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:28


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