The best books spotlighting race and neoliberalization

David Theo Goldberg Author Of The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism
By David Theo Goldberg

Who am I?

I grew up and completed the formative years of my college education in Cape Town, South Africa, while active also in anti-apartheid struggles. My Ph.D. dissertation in the 1980s focused on the elaboration of key racial ideas in the modern history of philosophy. I have published extensively on race and racism in the U.S. and globally, in books, articles, and public media. My interests have especially focused on the transforming logics and expressions of racism over time, and its updating to discipline and constrain its conventional targets anew and new targets more or less conventionally. My interest has always been to understand racism in order to face it down.


I wrote...

The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism

By David Theo Goldberg,

Book cover of The Threat of Race: Reflections on Racial Neoliberalism

What is my book about?

Modern states are racially structured. They become modern by assuming the structures of racial arrangement. But these arrangements are not static. As political economy shifts over time so do the conditions of racial structure. From the 1980s, neoliberalism deregulated economic activity within and across states globally, while ramping up the regulation of social order through the funding of repressive state apparatuses such as the military and police. Personal responsibility was emphasized above all in the face of the financialization of all social choices. Racial reference was erased which, rather than ending racism, rendered it less nameable, if not invisible. The book traces these developments across five regions because of the variations but especially because the threat of racism anywhere is shored up by racism elsewhere.

The books I picked & why

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The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978--1979

By Michel Foucault,

Book cover of The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978--1979

Why this book?

In these extraordinary lectures, Foucault offers a comprehensive social history of neoliberal theory from the 1920s to 1980 in Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S. While this work does not focus on racism, Foucault critically elaborates neoliberalism’s defining ideas: the attack on the state and dissipation of the commons, the privatization of everything, and the individualizing of all responsibility; financializing all social and individual choice, while redefining social subjectivity as “the Man of Enterprise,” of innovation and self-making. Foucault opened me to seeing how the liberal in “neoliberalism” signals the elevation of individual freedom as a counter to state power and social support. The question this raised for me is how these shifts in social thought suggest new developments in racist expression.


Selected Writings on Race and Difference

By Stuart Hall,

Book cover of Selected Writings on Race and Difference

Why this book?

Stuart Hall provided me with a model for mapping the shifting political conjuncture in real time, and the transforming racial dynamics that centrally shaped neoliberalism’s political emergence and cultural expression of the period. He showed how the newly emergent racial politics identified with neoliberalizing societies is increasingly linked to the immigrant, the unbelonging, the supposed rise in local crime as a consequence, and the perceived threat to the traditional culture of their host society. Hall offers the dynamic terms of analysis for these emerging phenomena: the floating signifier of race, the pluralizing of racism, racial panics, the law and order society, articulation of race with class and gender, etc. His work, so formatively brought together here by Paul Gilroy and Ruth Wilson Gilmore, was enormously generative for me in analyzing the formative connections of neoliberalization and the shifting dynamics of racial politics.


The Intimacies of Four Continents

By Lisa Lowe,

Book cover of The Intimacies of Four Continents

Why this book?

Lisa Lowe and I were in sustained conversation as we were composing our respective books. I read earlier drafts of hers as I was writing mine. Her analysis of settler-colonialism, the African slave trade, and trade in Asian goods and peoples in the Caribbean and Americas illustrated for me ways of thinking about the global relations and interactive impacts of the movements of people, culture, and thought. Her focus on how liberal thought shaped and is shaped by these relations helped to surface the coercive and discriminatory practices that made liberal thought possible. This “history of the present” by extension was enormously generative for thinking about the history of the neoliberal present too. 


Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition

By Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Alex Barnett (illustrator),

Book cover of Discriminating Data: Correlation, Neighborhoods, and the New Politics of Recognition

Why this book?

Digital technology, like technology generally, is commonly assumed to be value neutral. Wendy Chun reveals that structurally embedded in digital operating systems and data collection are values that reproduce and extend existing modes of discriminating while also originating new ones. In prompting and promoting the grouping together of people who are alike—in habits, culture, looks, and preferences—the logic of the algorithm reproduces and amplifies discriminatory trends. Chun reveals how the logics of the digital reinforce the restructuring of racism by the neoliberal turn that my own book lays out.


Racism Postrace

By Roopali Mukerjee (editor), Sarah Banet-Weiser (editor), Herman Gray (editor)

Book cover of Racism Postrace

Why this book?

A central idea of racial neoliberalism is the erasure of concepts referencing race, taking away the very terms by which racism can be identified and critically addressed. This is a condition that, with Obama’s election in 2008, became increasingly widely identified as “the postracial.” I find this edited volume more readily than others to provide trenchant analysis of the complex relations between the condition of the postracial and its rendering of racism less readily identifiable and more challenging to address.


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