The Affective Life of Neoliberalism: Constructing (Un)reasonableness on Mumsnet
In this paper we make an argument for taking seriously the affective life of neoliberalism, building from a number of circulating concepts, including the idea of affective atmospheres (Gregg 2018), public moods (Silva 2013; Forkert 2018), and neoliberal feeling rules (Kanai 2019). Earlier work pointed to the need to take seriously the way in which neoliberalism shapes subjectivity through a plethora of forms of intimate governance (e.g. Brown 2015; Scharff 2016; Barker 2018). Here we argue that such governance also operates at the level of emotions and feelings, shaping what is deemed appropriate and even intelligible. In order to explore this concretely, we choose as an empirical example a well-known topic/motif on the hugely popular British parenting website, Mumsnet, in which women post with the question: Am I Being Unreasonable? (AIBU) We explore how AIBU is mobilised specifically in relation to felt inequalities in heterosexual relationships, particularly those involving parenting, arguing that it is a key site for the expression and governance of feelings, and crucial for exploring the entanglement of the personal and the political. We show that while the site is involved in ‘affect policing’ and in setting norms, it is also a place of solidarity that may at times redraw the boundaries around what it is ‘appropriate’ to feel.
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