Lulu Bennett, Anunciation, 2022

Melinda Cooper: Family Values

Instructor: Jenny Logan
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Why have free-market neoliberals so often made common cause with social conservatives on the question of family responsibility, despite their ostensible differences on all other issues? In Family Values, her sweeping history of the fiscal, social, and political counter-revolution of the 1980s, Melinda Cooper theorizes the unexpected alliance between free-market neoliberals and social conservatives through the centering of family and Christian values at the foundation of late 20th century politics. While neoliberalism appears to many as a politics of atomized individualism, deregulation, and the primacy of contractual freedoms, Family Values attempts to demonstrate the noncontractual and status-based foundation of the neoliberal order, with sexual normativity as the keystone of both neoliberal and socially conservative efforts to both reverse the New Deal social contract and defeat feminist, queer, and anti-racist movements for freedom and equality. But why are libertarian neoliberals invested in the maintenance of patriarchal family structures? And what does this affinity reveal about our conceptions of liberty and the market, as well as the broader relationship between capitalism, inequality, and freedom?

In this course, we will read Cooper’s Family Values in its entirety, tracing the political rationalities behind cuts to health, education, and welfare; responses to the AIDS epidemic and same-sex marriage; credit, debt, and student loan reform that reinvented the Elizabethan Poor Laws for the economic and social conditions of the late 20th century; and the rise of Christian nationalism and the imposition of moral law in everything from prison administration to workfare programs. Throughout, we will ask: how can we understand the liberal ethos of personal responsibility as undergirded by a return to inherited status and family responsibility, despite its apparent dissonance with the core tenants of the liberal project? How does investment in kinship obligations facilitate the working relationship between free-market liberals and social conservatives? How did these disparate factions come to unite under the banner of family as a necessary counterpart to market freedom? With additional readings drawn from landmark cases and policy interventions from the 1970s to the present, we will critically evaluate Cooper’s ultimate thesis that only by restoring the question of family to its central place in the neoliberal project can we make sense of the defining political alliance of our times.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 03 — June 24, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open

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