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Abstract

This dissertation develops an account of popular articulations and receptions of economic politics and policy. Political theorists tend to view the economy from a systemic or institutional level and identify the politics of economics with elite-driven policy. The popular bases of market-based reform, on the other hand, are interpreted through the heuristic of neoliberal subjectivities. However the subjectivities approach also focuses on generalized discourses that are said to shape subjects. This project attends to the subcultural activity through which diverse groups crystallized market-reform ideologies in the US since the 1980s. Looking to sites of publicity and politicization of the family, I make the case that as actors attempted to navigate late liberal forms of work and family life, they bent towards privatizing, consumption-oriented publics in search of affirmation and a sense of control over their daily lives. I develop an account of ideology formation that emphasizes ideology’s rootedness in everyday material practice. This account is developed in two steps. First, I provide a new view of the reemergence of the liberal defense of women’s ‘choice’ in popular feminism. Drawing on feminist analyses of ‘choice’ rhetoric in media, advertising, as well as sociological accounts of working mothers, I shed light on the re-privatization of the feminist subject in the wake of formal equality. Second, I track the formation of a new constellation of US conservative politics, propelled by the cultural revival of conservative Christians, and their integration into the Republican Party through the ‘pro-family’ alliance. My second chapter analyses organization literature and radio broadcasts of the networks of parachurch multimedia organizations through which the evangelical subculture enters politics, focusing on the subculture’s most enduring and influential group, “Focus on the Family.” I argue that with their penetration by new media and consumption industries, spaces of work and home serve as powerful sites of consciousness formation. Chapters Three and Four offer an account of ideology formation, arguing that loose alliances of inchoate expectations and more formed ideologies mobilize these diverse groups behind market-based reform. Chapter Three challenges the account of neoliberal politics offered by contemporary theorists who extend Michel Foucault’s theory of governmentality, and his work on ethical practices of the self, to develop a theory of neoliberal subjectivities. Offering a history of school choice politics, Chapter Four shows that the motives and ideals of actors are not reducible to the principles of free-market reforms, and must be articulated politically. I highlight two popular conservative realignments. The first has its roots in the pro-family alliance. The second, more tenuous realignment brings minority parents and African American activist groups in urban settings into alliance with elite reformers in campaigns for school choice.

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