Reversing neoliberal subjectification. Practicing collective dis-identification and putting life in common

– Cesare Di Feliciantonio –

In the last decades homeownership has been increasingly promoted by policy-makers, buying a house seen as an investment for the future under shrinking welfare systems, for instance as a replacement of pensions. This ideology, built upon the idea of people as financial actors, i.e. rational investors willing to maximize their profits, has become so pervasive to shape people’s aspirations and conducts, as shown by increased homeownership rates and the rise of private debt. Academic debate has conceptualized this process in terms of ‘subjectification’ in order to link the making of people’s practices, values and aspirations to structural processes such as indebtedness, financial markets and homeownership. One of the main theorists the debate has built on is Michel Foucault who explored the process of subject formation with respect to different domains (e.g. sexuality, the market); in fact he claimed that “a history of the different modes by which… human beings are made subjects” (1982, p. 212) was his main theoretical concern.

Different readings of Foucauldian subjectification have been developed, most of them giving a ‘negative’ vision of the process, i.e. equating subjectification to subjection. In this perspective, the subject is not really able to challenge hegemonic processes and values; translating to the studies on indebtedness and finance this leads to focus only on those practices, beliefs and behaviours shaped by (and reproducing) existing structures of power. However critical voices have emerged against such reductive perspective, notably by Italian post-workerist scholars who have discussed the possibility to think of subjectification beyond subjection in Foucauldian terms, thus shedding light on those actions and gestures that open the possibility for an alternative (collective) subjectification.

Because of my interest in exploring the possibilities of rupture and contestation within hegemonic structures of power, my PhD work has been deeply influenced by the post-workerist reading of Foucauldian subjectification. This paper is part of my PhD dissertation and aims at connecting the post-workerist perspective with the post-structuralist and queer interventions by, respectively, J. K. Gibson-Graham and José Esteban Muñoz in order to explore the possibility for counter-subjectification and its construction on a daily basis.

The paper is centred around the case of the Plataforma de los Afectados por la Hipoteca (PAH), the main social movement around housing created in Spain in 2009 to respond to the dramatic increase of evictions and foreclosures affecting the country. During the months I spent in Barcelona/Sabadell (Catalonia) for fieldwork in 2014, I encountered the abovementioned counter-subjectification: people who had spent all their efforts to buy a house and had seen homeownership as a key step for self-realization had at that moment created a powerful space for self-empowerment to challenge the isolation and the negative feelings generated by the ‘failure’ of their personal life project. In analysing the daily practices of the PAH node in Sabadell, notably its support group, this paper aims at unveiling that the possibility to challenge hegemonic structures, values and rationalities is already being experimented here and now.


Foucault, M. (1982) “Afterword: The Subject and Power” in Dreyfus, H.L. and Rabinow, P. eds. Michel Foucault: Structuralism and Hermeneutics. US: University of Chicago Press.

Share Button
Posted in Blog.