(RWTH Aachen)

My PhD project, provisionally entitled Neoliberal (Un)Belongings: Precarious Citizenship in the Postmillennial British Novel, brings political theory and literary studies into dialogue to explore how a distinctive narrative aesthetics of the contemporary novel, a poetics of precarity, addresses the deep crisis of collectivity caused by neoliberalism’s (gendered, classed, raced, faith-alised) latest, twenty-first-century iteration.

Drawing on political theorists such as Isabell Lorey and Wendy Brown, I argue that this most recent neoliberal remaking of individual and sociality cannot be adequately captured in the influential Foucauldian figure of the optimistic, self-entrepreneurial and thus ultimately complicit homo oeconomicus but that ‘precarisation’ as a form of government and a lived experience might be a much more suitable lens: while the post-2008 recession and the politics of austerity marked a normalisation of socioeconomic precarity, the so-called ‘war on terror’ paved the way for a dramatic erosion of especially Muslim communities’ citizenship rights and sense of belonging. Retrogressive visions of national sovereignty surrounding Brexit and the resurgence of authoritarian political agendas across the Euro-Atlantic world increase the sense of democratic collectivity in crisis.

Inspired by intersecting debates in most recent literary and cultural scholarship about post-postmodern ‘new realisms’, a ‘new sincerity’ and a new visibility of utopian imaginaries in the twenty-first-century British novel, my project explores how an emerging canon of mostly female writers employs various modes of intersubjective narration – anachronistic ones such as diary and epistolary narration, networked structures (Caroline Edwards, 2018) more obviously suited to narrate glocalisation, but also what I call bureaucratic narrative communication – to challenge precarious belonging under crisis neoliberalism.

Neoliberal precarity therefore paradoxically provides the opportunity to move, both politically and poetically, beyond the complicit fiction of self-contained homo oeconomicus. It is this potential of contemporary literature that the network, with its explicit agenda of “a refusal to give in to TINA – ‘the coercive language that states baldly that “There Is No Alternative”’ (Docherty 2016, 19)” allows me to explore more systematically. Framing neoliberal precarisation as a collective harm that “flow[s] from our social, economic, and political institutions”, the network’s benefit for my project is in gauging the effectiveness of a poetics of precarious intersubjectivity in contesting readers’ complicity with this collective harm – and in opening up new horizons of a democratic futurity.

[4] Ahmed, Sara, and Jackie Stacey. 2003. ‘Introduction: Dermographies’. In Thinking Through the Skin., edited by Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, 1–17. London, New York: Routledge. 1.

[5] Merola, Nicole M. 2018. ‘“What Do We Do but Keep Breathing as Best We Can This / Minute Atmosphere”: Juliana Spahr and Anthropocene Anxiety’. In Affective Ecocriticsm: Emotion, Embodiment, Environment, edited by Kyle A. Bladow and Jennifer K. Ladino, 25–49. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

[6] Storey, John. 2019. ‘A Radical Unfolding: Utopianism against Complicity’. In Complicity and the Politics of Representation, edited by Cornelia Wächter and Robert Wirth, 107–20. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield International.