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Abstract

This is a study of political decision-making as a reflection of self-determination. I provide quantitative, qualitative, and theoretical interventions that highlight the impact of dominant power on everyday decision making in the U.S., seen in contexts where respondents' agendas run contrary to that of the state but where there is no observable conflict to indicate the disagreement. This form of invisible power is producing and reproducing inhibited autonomy - that is, people lacking a sense of choice - as respondents are representing agendas the contradict their own values and interests in what I call "non-events”.,My theoretical intervention is set around responses to three citizens who have been murdered by police - Freddie Gray, Korryn Gaines, and Akai Gurley. I explore the decision-making responsiveness in these scenarios in order to better understand how respondents' engagement or lack thereof is indicative of their relationships to dominant power. Even in cases where respondents are overtly resisting dominant power, I show how dominant agendas are continually reinforced when responsiveness is not addressing both subjectivity constraints and structural boundaries. When engagement fails to challenge, contest, and critique the dominant agenda in these ways, then we must couch successes and failures of engagement within the context of non- events and structural defeats.,After conducting in-depth interviews with long-term unemployed food stamp recipients from Chicago I point to autonomy as the key factor differentiating non-events - advocating an agenda that contradicts ones own - from paradigm-shifting responsiveness - addressing both subjectivity constraints and structural boundaries. We find this factor in the differences between respondents' interactions with SNAP - with unresponsive case workers, responding to unexpected cuts in benefits, etc. - as compared to these same respondents interactions during job seeking - with unresponsive employers, responding to unexpected cuts in jobs and wages, etc. What I find is that autonomy, while not guaranteeing anything, provides the necessary context for paradigm- shifting responsiveness to exist. People need autonomy to imagine resisting invisible power that specializes in convincing people that without access to power - in this case, through decision- making and agenda-setting authority - they should avoid observable conflict and find more productive outlets for expressing themselves. While respondents maintain their concerns, they express a false consensus (indicative of non-events) in spaces like the aid officer where access to power is ostensibly non-existent. Furthermore, the comparison to behaviors during job-seeking suggests that the false consensus shown in SNAP interactions is not solely tied to financial security; rather, this is a reflection of dominant power being organized in a way that diminishes autonomy and reproduces non-events.,Lastly, I conduct a nationally representative survey with a Black and Latino/a oversample. I use this survey to construct two scenario that reflect non-events in contradictory behaviors, attitudes, and actions surrounding government job creation, self and collective efficacy, financial security, and hard-work beliefs. I use a principal components analysis and OLS regressions to identify which respondents are most likely to hold these contradictory beliefs and fit in one of these scenarios, and I find that these non-events disproportionately include women, people of color, and women of color. I point to these findings as evidence of invisible power reproducing the ontological orders of white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy towards the exclusion of these historically marginalized groups. Moreover, I categorize neoliberalism as a form of invisible power inhibiting autonomy and produce non-events among women, POC, and women of color in the absence of observable conflict. This project gives scholars multiple methods of identifying, interpreting, and translating neoliberalism, and helps identify boundaries to engagement and research that can be addressed and possibly overcome with these tools.

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