William Davies is a political economist with particular interests in neoliberalism, history of economics and economic sociology. His work explores the way in which economics influences our understanding of politics, society and ourselves, themes which he has addressed in two books, The Happiness Industry: How the government & big business sold us wellbeing (Verso, 2015) and The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, sovereignty & the logic of competition (Sage, 2014).
He is Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Centre, which explores critical, cultural and political perspectives on economic life, and Convener of the BA in Politics Philosophy & Economics. He is currently a Co-Investigator in the ESRC-sponsored Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity. Prior to doing his PhD, Will worked in public policy for think tanks including Demos and the Institute for Public Policy Research.
He writes regularly for a range of non-academic publications. These have included The Atlantic, The New Statesman, openDemocracy, Prospect and Chronicle Review.
Governing Through Anxiety: Competitiveness as a Tool of Control
A rising phenomenon on campuses today, in the age of escalating indebtedness, is of students who are so insistent that they must get outstanding marks, that simple deadlines and learning exercises provoke panic. Only 'excellence' and 'winning' are acceptable - rendering the majority of outcomes unacceptable. Anxiety is a distinctly neoliberal malaise, in which there is never enough time, space or money to attain feelings of existential security. This talk looks at the history of neoliberal thinking and reason, exploring how the injunction to compete originates in a particular critique of socialism and egalitarianism, and then spreads into ever more walks of life. Crucially, the psychological harm of ubiquitous and never-ceasing competitiveness extends right the way up the income spectrum, as every individual becomes aware of how much more they could do, be, earn or work. Critique is neutered, for to oppose this ethical regime is to risk being left behind.