Teaching Neoliberalism in/of Latin America

In the following series of posts, I will share resources and suggestions for teaching about neoliberalism in Latin America. These resources are aimed primarily at the undergraduate level but may be helpful for graduate seminars as well.

Overview of Theme

Neoliberalism has existed in a number of related forms for hundreds of years, but its contemporary, orthodox form was first attempted in Chile following the overthrow of socialist President Salvador Allende in 1973. A team of University of Chicago economists, trained by Milton Friedman, worked with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and dictator General Augusto Pinochet to completely restructure Chile’s economy, privatizing almost all public assets and violently repressing protestors and suspected sympathizers (Harvey 2005a:8; Hershberg and Rosen 2006b:4; Klein 2007:76-85; Winn 2004).

Since the 1970s, it has expanded to become the dominant model for not only economic policies, but social and political policies as well. As such, it is difficult to separate contemporary Latin America from the birth, growth, and expansion of neoliberal economic policy both at home and abroad.

But what is it?

Neoliberalism is often referred to in popular speech as “the free market.” David Harvey, perhaps the foremost writer on the history of neoliberalism, argues that “Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey 2005a:2).

In practice, this has led to “state pullback and decentralization, NGOization, the privatization and marketization of almost everything, financialization and the emergence of the consumer citizen, the explosion of apocalyptic religiosities, and class consolidation and growing inequality" (Allison and Piot 2012:1).

In essence, the state – government – should remove itself from the equation in order to allow the market to work naturally and efficiently to set prices. State-owned enterprises should be privatized, beginning with utilities and transportation and moving to social security, prisons, and health services. Under this ideology, capital should also be deregulated; that is, anything seen as a barrier to trade should be removed (Goldman 2005; Harvey 2005a; Ho 2009; Hudson and Hudson 2003).

More Than Just The Money

Neoliberalism is a form of economic organization, but what has interested anthropologists are the ways in which it has reshaped people and societies. That is, in order for neoliberal systems to work, society – and the individuals which comprise it – must be figured and refigured in order to “fit” properly. Predicated on an unquestionable belief in individual freedom and individual rights, neoliberal ideological projects seek to make “subjects responsible for their own civility or savagery, development or regression, social health or disease” (Sawyer 2004:15). Individuals are then held responsible for their failure to develop, their failure to escape poverty, or their failure to get well, as systemic or institutional barriers to development or health are ignored or explained away (Biehl 2005; Biehl 2007; Harvey 2005a; Harvey 2005b; Harvey 2006; Ong 1988).

In other words, “neoliberalism has now become a frame of mind, a cultural dynamic, an entrepreneurial personality type, and a rule of law that penetrates the most intimate relations people have with each other, state apparatuses, and their natural environments” (Goldman 2005:8). Policymakers, individuals, and even Oprah make particular kinds of decisions based on neoliberal assumptions about freedom, self-help, and inequality (Goldman 2005:33; Harvey 2005:5; Peck 2008).

The Cultural Anthropology Neoliberalism Theme Page contains links to all articles related to neoliberalism, subjectivity, and citizenship published by the Journal.

The following is a collection of syllabi related to neoliberalism in Latin America. Some are entirely organized around the topic of neoliberalism; others include it as a unit in a broader study. If you have a syllabus to share, or would like yours removed from this list, please contact [email protected].

Undergraduate Syllabi

Anthropology of Democracy

Anthropology of Globalization

Comparative Politics of Latin America

Contemporary Issues in Latin American Society and Culture

Culture and Citizenship

Culture, Risk, and Security

Democracy and Development in Bolivia

Democracy and Development in Latin America

Ethnography of Mexico and Central America

Health Policy, Power and Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean

Indigenous Politics

Latin American Geographies

Latin American Politics (Carleton)

Latin American Politics (Berkeley)

Latinas/os in Comparative Perspective

Mexico: From Conquest to Cancun

Peasant Societies

Political Economy of Latin America

Politics of Latin America and the Caribbean

Populism and Democracy in Latin America

Post-Neoliberal Economic Development Strategies in Latin America

Social Justice and Human Rights in Latin America

State, Social Movement, and Latin America's 'Left Turn'

Graduate Syllabi

Anthropological Approaches to Social Movements and Resistance

Anthropology of Development in Latin America

Comparative Development Studies

Free Market in Crisis

Indigenous Political Movements in Latin America

Political and Social Change in Latin America

Theories of Development


Allison, Anne, and Charles Piot. "Editors' Notes." Cultural Anthropology 27, no. 1 (2012): 1-2.

Appadurai, Arjun. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Biehl, João. Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

———. Will to Live: Aids Therapies and the Politics of Survival. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Bourgois, Philippe. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Elyacher, Julia. "Before and after Neoliberalism: Tacit Knowledge, Secrets of the Trade, and the Public Sector in Egypt." Cultural Anthropology 27, no. 1 (2012): 76-96.

———. Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

Ferguson, James. The Anti-Politics Machine: “Development,” Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

———. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

———. "The Uses of Neoliberalism." Antipode 41, no. S1 (2009): 166-84.

Goldman, Michael. Imperial Nature: The World Bank and Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

———. The Limits to Capital. New York: Verso, 2006

.———. The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.———. Spaces of Global Capitalism: Towards a Theory of Uneven Geographical Development. New York: Verso, 2006.

Ong, Aihwa. Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

———. "The Production of Possession: Spirits and the Multinational Corporation in Malaysia." American Ethnologist 15, no. 1 (1988): 28 - 42.

Peck, Janice. The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era. New York: Paradigm Publishers, 2008.

Readings on Neoliberalism in Latin America

Bulmer-Thomas, Victor. The Economic History of Latin America since Independence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

———. The Political Economy of Central America since 1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Chase, Jacquelyn, ed. The Spaces of Neoliberalism: Land, Place and Family in Latin America. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2002.

Coronil, Fernando. The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Graham-Yooll, Andrew. A State of Fear: Memories of Argentina's Nightmare. London: Eland Books, 2009.

Hershberg, Eric, and Fred Rosen, eds. Latin America after Neoliberalism: Turning the Tide in the 21st Century? New York: NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America), 2006.

Petras, James. "Alternatives to Neoliberalism in Latin America." Latin American Perspectives 24, no. 1 (1997): 80 - 91.

Sawyer, Suzana. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Silva, Eduardo. Challenging Neoliberalism in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Slocum, Karla. Free Trade and Freedom: Neoliberalism, Place, and Nation in the Caribbean. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009.

Topik, Steven, Carlos Marichal, and Frank Zephyr, eds. From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500 – 2000. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Walton, Michael. "Neoliberalism in Latin America: Good, Bad, or Incomplete?". Latin American Research Review 39, no. 3 (2004): 165 - 83.

Weyland, Kurt. "Assessing Latin American Neoliberalism: Introduction to a Debate." Latin American Research Review 39, no. 3 (2004): 143 - 49.

Winn, Peter, ed. Victims of the Chilean Miracle: Workers and Neoliberalism in the Pinochet Era, 1973-2002. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004