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The Making of Docile Dissent: Neoliberalization and Resistance in Colombia and Beyond

International Political Sociology

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This study is about strategies of neoliberalization in relation to practices of dissent and resistance. It explores how struggles arising in the context of neoliberalization may be subject to entanglement within the very processes they seek to contest and—in so doing—interrogates the political stakes of neoliberal governmental rationality. Drawing upon extensive ethnographic research, I trace the international trajectory of mobilizations against the dispossession visited upon Colombian farmers in the context of BP's investment in oilfields in the mid‐1990s. Reasoning through attention to the ways in which this one specific struggle was neutralized, I suggest that a key aim of neoliberal strategies of political control is to accomplish a sort of “political hygiene” by nullifying politically surplus subjects and containing dissent within manageable parameters. The invocation of discourses of rights and civil society can be seen to be integral to neoliberal political rationality in this regard, but rights are comprehended within a symbolic structuration of the population that coincides with neoliberal logics. I suggest that such logics are directed not so much at incorporating the population into a generalized “right of death and power over life,” as Foucault famously put it, but at inscribing subjects into networks of unstable and precarious private contract that constrict the wider obligations of population and citizenship commonly associated with liberalism. Discourses of rights, civil society, and development are not antidotes to socioeconomic dispossession or armed repression. Rather, all of these are complementary components of strategies aimed at the domestification of dissent.