Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era

News Successful Societies 10.07.2013

Free-market enterprise, global trade and user-pay services, along with rising income inequality, job insecurity and the eroding wealth of the middle class–are all well-recognized aspects of our contemporary age, an age defined by researchers as “neoliberal.”

A new book, Social Resilience in the Neoliberal Era, written and edited by fellows of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, aims to help us better understand the dominant features of today’s social, cultural, economic and political landscapes so that we–as individuals, communities and policy makers–can shape the best possible future.

The book represents 10 years of deep collaboration and analysis undertaken by a distinguished, interdisciplinary group of scholars from CIFAR`s program in Successful Societies. Leading the book’s development are its co-editors (who also co-direct CIFAR’s research program), Peter A. Hall, the Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard University, and Michèle Lamont, professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies, also at Harvard University.

The researchers have provided a sweeping assessment of our society, bringing together an unusually wide-range of perspectives from history, political science and economics to psychology, sociology, cultural analysis, epidemiology and more.

According to the researchers, the neoliberal era began in the 1980s and has continued over the past 30 years to present day. During this time, major reforms were introduced around the world to privatize and deregulate markets and reduce the role of the state as a service provider. These initiatives helped to increase market efficiency and wealth creation, and led to new cultural orientations. Many positive outcomes resulted such as the creation of new types of jobs and access to goods not previously available to certain populations. However, neoliberalism also had negative effects.

In the book, the group sets out to identify the most important changes that have occurred in the past 30 years, and to integrate a macro-level analysis of national and international policy with a micro-level look at individual responses.

According to Senior Fellow Peter Hall, “In a world in which environmental change threatens us all… in a world plagued with a global financial crisis and security threats….we need to understand what makes a community resilient, what makes it possible for a community, or a nation, to absorb shocks and come out the other side stronger than when it went in.”

Senior Fellow Michèle Lamont adds,“We’re also concerned with what tools a society provides to its members to develop lives that are fulfilling and able to adapt to the challenges of neoliberalism. We want to understand how well members of a society are able to self-organize, to promote their interests or build collective identities that are strong and positive.”

Some of the wide-ranging questions explored in the book include:

What makes a life worthy, and how do societies empower people to lead the lives that they define as worthy?
How has neoliberalism affected multicultural ideals?
When faced with greater job insecurity, are we more or less prejudiced or more vulnerable to prejudice?
Why has Quebec been able to balance pro-market and social welfare policies?
When government support declines, why are some communities able to fill the gaps?
Why do different nations have unique policy responses to neoliberalism?
How has neoliberalism changed cultural attitudes, including our values and self-identity?

The book tackles the immense landscape of our multi-faceted, global society, with a goal to define new areas for future research and policy discussion. A website devoted to themes of the book features video interviews and regular blog posts by the authors. Visit

“We hope this book opens up new terrain for research into how a movement as powerful as neoliberalism can have so many effects, over so many countries and dimensions of social life,” comments Hall. “We want to open up this concept of social resilience and identify it as a phenomenon so others will also go out and study it and help contribute new thinking to how we make societies more successful.”

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