General Thoughts

Explaining Neoliberal Hegemony

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The media should be regarded as central to the hegemony of neoliberalism in South Africa, through the establishment of a ‘popular’ unity between the social body and the anthropomorphic figure of the economy. The neoliberal right has won the struggles enacted over culture and public space: this has been achieved through the development of the new right discipline of communication studies, the development of ‘creative industries’, the doctrine of ‘prosumption’, the development of the national project into a cultural and commercial activity, and the use of new media technologies to deepen the impact of neoliberalism by seeming to oppose the state and speak to the multifaceted ability of people to make their own media – and destinies [1].

 The English-language media references ‘the economy’ as a living subject, with needs and desires. This has been facilitated by [2]:

 §  A shift from relations between consumers and producers of goods into relations between different material products of labour.

§  A change in emphasis from use-value to exchange-value.

§  The realignment towards organic terminology in the discussion of “the economy” and “the market”.

§  The textualization of “the economy” and “the market” and their subsequent fetishization as empirical truths [3][4].

 The discourse framework “the economy” has become a theoretical entity with needs and emotions; furthermore, this invention was constructed rather than merely described by economics [5]. The economy thus is seen in organic terms, as something that can thrive or suffer and has become subject to political promotion and security.

 While the media has served to anthropomorphize the economy, liberalism’s drive to economize all of forms of life has also played a central role in the establishment of its own hegemony. Perhaps the most powerful coup that neoliberalism has achieved within the space of the media is the financialization of news and current affairs [6]. If we consider South African media today, it becomes very apparent that neoclassical economic theory (under which neoliberal theory generally hides) is acceptable in media discourse in a way that other theoretical vocabularies are not. Consider the following trends:

 §  The regurgitation, by the media, of the market’s specialized vocabulary; this itself is predicated on a community of interest and commitment to fictive capital and takes affiliation with and regular participation of viewers in stock prices as watchwords.

§  The presentation of stories in terms of their monetary significance.

§  The heroization of business executives.

§  The domination of all discussion by business/financial advisors.

§  The usage by journalists of politics as a method to discredit democratic activities that might restrain capital.

§  The transmogrification of labour news into corporate news.

§  The measurement in the media of politics in terms of its reception by business.

§  The sentiment-driven journalism which interprets the gestures, facial expressions and poses of key economic players – the Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Reserve Bank etc. –  as indications of the strength or weakness of the domestic and international economy.

§  The proliferation of ‘talking heads’ in both print and TV-media.

§  The trend towards newspaper financing being generated from finance reporting.

§  Journalistic veneration of the market as a means of inducing moral panics around the conduct of whoever raises its ire.

§  The ridicule given by mainstream media to any source of leftist-generated media.


[1]    Jurgenson, 2010.

[2]    This is not – strictly – an outcome of neoliberalism, although neoliberalism has pushed this to its radical consequences. Its root comes from both the crisis of the 1930s and the diffusion of Keynesian discourse. The process bore some relationship to material reality, but come to textualize political interests and conflicts. 

[3]    Emmison, 1983

[4]    Emmison and McHoul, 1992.

[5]    See Arminen, 2010.

[6]    Foucault (2008: 247) notes that cash-operated US think-tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute have become the intellectual hand-servants of this practice, serving as vocalists of a “permanent criticism of government policy”, conducting ‘research’ in order to pen op-eds in newspapers and provide talking-points in media mainstream outlets.