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Impact of spread of free-market policies to be discussed at conference

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A conference on “Fetishizing the Free Market: The Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism” will be held April 29-30 (Friday and Saturday) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Most of the sessions will be in the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana. The event is free and open to the public.

The conference will explore the cultural and political significance of the spread of free-market policies and values throughout the world, said Michael Rothberg, one of the organizers. Rothberg is the director of Illinois’ Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, the major sponsor of the event.

The meeting will take a global and comparative approach, with a geographical emphasis on Africa, East and Southeast Asia, Latin America and the United States, Rothberg said. The “thematic foci,” he said, will be on globalization, race and ethnic identities, queer politics, violence and citizenship.

“Our aim,” Rothberg said, “is to explore through interdisciplinary means the multiplicity of emergent identities that proliferate under the rubric of the free market, while revealing the limits of transgression within the depoliticized, privatized space of neoliberal ‘freedoms.’ ”

The conference title was chosen “to suggest the ways that the capitalist free market is held up as a fetish or cure-all solution to the world’s ills,” Rothberg said.

“Across the globe, proponents of neoliberal reforms propose free market solutions – not only for economic problems, but also for cultural and political issues.

“Because of the fact that neoliberalism goes beyond economics, we chose to focus on neoliberalism’s cultural politics. And because the free market is proposed as a solution all over the globe, we’ve made the conference international and comparative.”

The speakers are experts in their fields and represent an array of disciplines, including American studies, anthropology, cultural studies, history, literary studies, political science, queer studies, sociology and women’s studies, Rothberg said.

Anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff, University of Chicago, will give a keynote talk on “Ethnicity, Inc.: On the Commodification and Consumption of Cultural Identity in the Brave Neo World.” Wendy Brown, University of California, and a leading feminist political theorist, will give a second keynote talk on “ ‘God Will Provide’: Moral Values and Neoliberalism in Thinking the Short and Long Term.”

Other speakers: Lisa Duggan, New York University, “Neoliberal Citizenship and Contemporary Marriage Politics”; Lesley Gill, American University, “The Unreal Thing: Coca-Cola Workers, Neoliberalism, and Political Violence in Colombia”; Eng-Beng Lim, University of Washington, “Global Asian Queer Boys: The Case of Singapore”; Nikhil P. Singh, University of Washington, “The Afterlife of Fascism”; and Tomiko Yoda, Duke University, “The Formation of Girl-centered Consumer Culture in Japan.”

The conference will include a film by Alan Klima of the University of California at Davis on the economic crisis in Thailand, titled “Ghosts and Numbers.” The screening will begin at 7:30 p.m. on April 29 in Room 101 Armory, 505 E. Armory Ave., Champaign.

The Unit for Criticism also is collaborating with OPENSOURCE, a Champaign artists’ collective, to put on a conference-related exhibit. The exhibit will open at 7 p.m. on April 30 at OPENSOURCE, 12 E. Washington St., Champaign.

The other conference organizers are Karen Kelsky, head of the U. of I. department of East Asian languages and cultures, and Gary Xu, also a professor in that department.

Several U. of I. units also are sponsors of the event. For more information, contact Rothberg at 217-333-2581.