The Neoliberal Self


  • Jim McGuigan Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough University, UK



Cool culture, entrepreneurship, ideal (social) type, neoliberalism, or-ganised capitalism, preferred self, sovereign consumption


This article proposes an ideal type of the neoliberal self as the preferred form of life in the economic, political and cultural circumstances of present-day developed and developing capitalism. The neoliberal self combines the idealised subject(s) of classical and neoclassical economics – featuring entrepreneurship and consumer sovereignty – with the contemporary discourse of ’the taxpayer’, who is sceptical of redistributive justice, and a ’cool’ posture that derives symbolically – and ironically – from cultures of disaffection and, indeed, opposition. In effect, the transition from organised capitalism to neoliberal hegemony over the recent period has brought about a corresponding transformation in subjectivity. As an idea type, the neoliberal self cannot be found concretely in a ’pure’ form, not even represented by leading celebrity figures. The emergent characteristics of the ideal type, though not set out formally here, accentuate various aspects of personal conduct and mundane existence for illustrative and analytical purposes. Leading celebrities, most notably high-tech entrepreneurs, for instance, operate in the popular imagination as models of achievement for the aspiring young. They are seldom emulated in real life, however, even unrealistically so. Still, their famed lifestyles and heavily publicised opinions provide guidelines to appropriate conduct in a ruthlessly competitive and unequal world.


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How to Cite

McGuigan, J. (2014) “The Neoliberal Self”, Culture Unbound, 6(1), pp. 223–240. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.146223.



Theme: Capitalism: Current Crisis and Cultural Critique