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Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context

The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism

11 November 2019

Time: 6:00 - 8:00pm
Venue: Room 313, Third Floor, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS

Morals of the Market book coverThe International State Crime Initiative and The Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context are delighted to host a book panel of 'The Moral of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism' with author Jessica Whyte, University of New South Wales, in conversation with Dr Eva Nanopoulos, Queen Mary University of London.


Why has the neoliberal age also been the age of human rights? Drawing on detailed archival research on the parallel histories of human rights and neoliberalism in the twentieth century, Jessica Whyte uncovers the place of human rights in neoliberal attempts to develop a moral framework for a market society. In the wake of World War Two, neoliberals saw demands for new rights to social welfare and self-determination as threats to ‘civilisation’. Yet, rather than rejecting rights, they developed a distinctive account of human rights as tools to depoliticise civil society, protect private investments and shape liberal subjects. By critically examining neoliberal political thought, Whyte shows that the neoliberals developed a stark dichotomy between politics, conceived as conflictual, coercive and violent, and civil society, which they depicted as a realm of mutually-beneficial, voluntary, market relations between individual subjects of rights. In mobilising human rights to provide a moral language for a market society, neoliberals contributed far more than is often realised to today’s politics of human rights. Without coming to terms with that influence, those who mobilise human rights to contest neoliberalism may instead find that they strengthen its hold.

Speaker Bio

Jessica Whyte is Scientia Fellow (Philosophy and Law) and Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. She is a political theorist whose work integrates political philosophy, intellectual history and political economy to analyse contemporary forms of sovereignty, human rights, humanitarianism and militarism. Her work has been published in a range of fora including Contemporary Political Theory; Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development; Law and Critique; Political Theory; and Theory and Event. She is author of Catastrophe and Redemption: The Political Thought of Giorgio Agamben, (SUNY 2013) and The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism (Verso, 2019). She is currently working on a project on the moral economy of warfare.


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