Is neoliberalism ubiquitous? by Risto Heiskala

Q: How many Chicago economists are needed to change a light bulb?
A: None; markets take care of the job!

Q: And how many populists are needed to change a light bulb?
A: None; populist do not appreciate enlightenment!


What is neoliberalism? The simple answer is that it is market fundamentalism according to which markets are the best organizational solution to all societal needs. Thus public sectors should be made as minimal as possible and even the remaining part should be, according to the New Public Management doctrine, run as it were a private firm. Much of the economic theorizing behind that administrative paradigm made politically influential by the Thatcher and Reagan administrations in late 1970 was developed at the University of Chicago Department of Economics by scholars such as Milton Friedman.

The curios thing with neoliberalism is that it tends to co-exist with very different kind of political currents such as value conservatism as well as Clinton’s reformism in the US, right wing dictatorship in Chile, both Thatcher’s conservatism and Blair’s third-way labour in Britain and socialism-based reform movement in China (Harvey 2005). It has even been claimed one of the defining characteristics of neoliberalism is it being incomplete as a political doctrine which cannot, therefore, exist without such versatile unholy alliances as those mentioned above (Brown 2015). Therefore, it sometimes looks like neoliberalism is everywhere. For a social scientist, however, this is the starting point of analysis. Therefore, in this blog I will provide a contextualised analysis of neoliberalism within  a rudimentary scheme with twelve alternative theoretical modes for political governance.

I will start with Michel Foucault’s analysis of the neoliberalist movement (Foucault 2008). In his lecture of 1978-79, he examines old and new models of liberalism. According to Foucault, the difference is that while classical economic liberalism is always haunted by the question of how to govern enough but not too much, new forms of liberalism are no more afraid of extending public administration to various sectors of society as long as this happens with the purpose of creating and consolidating markets in every new area of society. It is this proactive administrative paradigm that we call neoliberalism.

Perceptive as Foucalt’s early analysis is, it may also be misleading because it lumps all forms of pro-market thinking into the same category. This is how it prevents from understanding an important difference between the US and UK type of market fundamentalist neoliberalism, on the one hand, and the German type of ordoliberalism (, which the EU favours as its political paradigm (Dardot & Laval 2013; Heiskala & Aro 2018. Ordoliberalism and market fundamentalism á la Frederic Hayek share the belief that markets are the best support for freedom, liberty and equal opportunities of individuals and the spread of market structures should therefore be promoted. What they do not share, however, is the neoliberal belief that markets are self-sufficient and the only form of collective coordination actually needed in a society. Instead, the ordoliberals think that markets are vulnerable. Left alone markets often yaw to monopolistic or oligopolistic balances or collapse. Therefore, it is the duty of the public authorities to constantly promote and shepherd the markets, and that is what the EU often understands as its principal political task.

In terms of welfare regimes, ordoliberal political thinking has close relationships to what Gøsta Esping-Andersen (1990) has called the Central European conservative welfare regime. Its core idea is to protect people from the turbulences of the labour market by providing publicly financed monetary resources to take care of the families and local communities, and it often ties such benefits to the labour market position of the breadwinner. This differs  from both the Anglo-American market regime, which is based on private insurance, and the Nordic Social-Democrat regime, in which benefits are universal (available for all citizens irrespective of family and labour market position), relatively generous and largely provided by the public authorities themselves.

If we extend the above model to a more general classification of governance paradigms we get a tripartition to the neoliberalist, ordoliberalist and social market economy-based paradigms. Adding state-centred societies such as the former Soviet Union brings the number of available alternative governance paradigms to four. These four can be understood as a continuum from the extreme end of market fundamentalism (neoliberalism) to the extreme end of state fundamentalism (state-centred societies) with ordoliberalism (the EU) and social market economies (the Nordic welfare states) in between. Yet the relationship of the four paradigms is not a static one. During the past forty or so years a neoliberal wave has affected everywhere: neoliberalism has strengthened its grip on the US and, especially, on the UK societies while almost all Soviet type state -centred regimes have collapsed. At the same time, both ordoliberal and social market economy based societies have adopted several market fundamentalist elements.

If the above four paradigms are cross tabulated with the three predominant forms of political hegemony, i.e., democracies, dictatorships and what could be called illiberal democracies, we get is an ideal-typical 12-field model presented below . The two first terms are probably self-explanatory but the third—illiberal democracy—needs some elaboration. It is something you get when a government, although elected legally and enjoying support of the majority of its citizens, starts to restrict the political rights of some citizens. Curiously enough, today there is an increasing number of such governments including Erdogan’s Turkey before the coup, Putin’s Russia, Orbán’s Hungary, Morawiecki’s Polandand possibly also Trump’s US. Their future prospects vary. They may go down in a coup (Egypt), turn to genuine dictatorships (Turkey) or reproduce their power in yet another election (most probably Hungary) but their anomalous nature remains: they are democracies in the sense that the government has been elected through a democratic process and enjoys the support of the majority of citizens. Yet they are not politically liberal democracies but rather dictatorships in the sense that they cruelly restrict the rights of some citizens.

Administrative paradigms Patterns of political hegemony (right or left wing)



Illiberal democracies





The US and the UK Russia Pinochet’s Chile


The EU Hungary, Poland Turkey
Social market economies Finland and other Nordic countries Fascist Italy Nazi Germany
State-centred societies Utopian socialism Cuba North Korea

I leave it for the reader to connect the rise of this curious intermediate form of political hegemony to the rise of populism, which we have seen to happen everywhere as a powerful as well as tragically misplaced popular reaction to the past forty years of neoliberal wave. Answer the question in my title: No, neoliberalism is not ubiquitous. To understand that, we need more sensitive frameworks for analysis. Yet, it seems to be a fact that the consequences of the neoliberal wave today, indeed, are everywhere!


Brown, Wendy (2015) Undoing the Demos. Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. New York: Zed Books.

Dardot Pierre & Christian Laval (2013) The New Way of the World. On Neo-Liberal Society. London and New York: Verso.

Esping-Andersen, Gøsta (1990) The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity.

Foucault, Michel (2008) The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harvey, David (2005) A Bruief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Heiskala, Risto & Aro, Jari (eds) (2018) Policy Design in the European Union. An Empire of Shopkeepers in the Making? London: Palgrave


heiskala.jpg  Risto Heiskala is Professor and Director of the Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere. He completed his PhD at the University of Helsinki in 1997 and has since been Academy Research Fellow at the University of Helsinki, Professor of Public and Social Policy at the University of Jyväskylä and Professor of Sociology at the University of Tampere. He is Member of the Board of the University of Tampere and Member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. In addition to the IASR, he currently leads the Finnish research team in the project Creating Economic Space for Social Innovation (CrESSI, 2014-18, EU Frame Programme 7/Oxford University; see, the project European State Nobility and Fatal Problems (ESN, 2017-21; the Academy of Finland; and chairs the Board of the Research Centre for Knowledge, Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (TaSTI).

“Four Lions” (2010): the First Time as Terror, the Second Time as Comedy? by Mahmut Mutman


Can terrorism be depicted or represented in a comic way? Any such attempt would be risky, to say the least. Chris Morris’s Four Lions (2010) takes the risk. And despite the boycotting by the families of the victims of 7 July 2005 London Bombings, it received high praise from the critics: “a cheerful, scornful black caper about extra-stupid suicide bombers” (Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian); “best film about Islamic terrorists … pitch-black satire” (Sophie Gilbert in the Atlantic). On the Internet site Critical Muslim, Claire Chambers gives a fine summary of the plot:

It is the story of the five would-be martyrs, who are soon reduced to four after their bomb-making specialist, Fessal, trips over a sheep and blows up. The remaining jihadis are led by Omar, the brightest member of the group and the only one shown to have a family and steady employment. His followers are the public school ‘wannabe’ Hassan (‘the Mal’) Malik; Omar’s best friend, Waj, who is described in the script as being twenty year old ‘and built like a fridge’; and the white convert Barry, the closest thing the film has to George W. Bush’s description of ‘pure evil’. Following Omar’s and Waj’s ignominious militant training in Afghanistan (which is actually filmed in Andalucía) and various argument and rifts, the group decides to stage suicide bombing at the London Marathon. The attack don’t go to plan, and what begins as a hilarious sequence of accidental detonation set piece becomes a chilling and thought-provoking reflection of what happens when an intense combination of religion, politics, and friendship spiral out of control.

The movie makes numerous references to real events and real terrorists, but this is a kind of referencing which aims to undo its object. It can be read as the key to the narrative strategy and moral message of the film. Chambers gives two major examples. The first one is a conversation, in which Omar mentions a certain “stupid nutter Muslim, who blows a bagful of nails into his own guts.” This seems to be a reference to Saeed Alim, who injured himself by his homemade nailbomb in Exeter in 2008—a direct reference to the failure and stupidity of terrorism. The second example is a better instance of the film’s narrative strategy: the kind of video our “four lions” recorded prior to the attack is common practice in jihadist terrorism. Chambers reminds us more specifically Muhammad Sidiq Khan’s famous video broadcast on Al-Jazeera several months after the London bombings in 2007, for both Khan in his video and Waj in the film have a common statement: “I am going to talk to you in a language you can understand.” (Of course, this is not a reference to the rest of the video but a reference to the action announced in advance. “Language you understand” is violence. Let us remind in passing that exactly the same statement can be found in the press releases of the U.S. State Department.) But, unlike Khan’s succesful message and action, our four lions’ video shooting is a big laugh, a completely amateurish mess. Is terrorism undone, therefore?

Morris’s comic strategy depends on the human weaknesses of his confused protagonists, narrated by slapstick, automatism, parody (which read like the pages of Bergson’s Laughter). They are basically “people like us,” only a bit more stupid than usual. This is also where the so-called British (or European) aspect enters the narrative scene, lovingly emphasized by Chambers: they are just angry, confused kids from Bradford and Sheffield, speaking a heavy migrant working class accent, with very little knowledge of Islam indeed. With the sad ending in which they destroy mostly themselves, we cannot not sympathize with them. And yet, since the human weakness is left to slapstick and parody, we remain in the dark as to why they are so confused and reckless.

But blaming the film for not being able to give the reasons for terrorism may not be good criticism. One may well focus on the stupidity of terrorism. The question is how. What makes me ask this question is an advice I have frequently come across with, when I googled the words “comedy” and “terrorism”: “use comedy as a counter-terrorist strategy” in the scientific words of Psychology Today. Some of the praise Four Lions received is because of its “cathartic” structure, releasing our repressed emotions. Such a solution however, especially the sense of relief, might be ideological, if we follow the best of the discipline of film studies. This is the moment the question of “how” becomes important. In conclusion, one might refer to two problematic aspects in the narrative. First of all, the Four Lions is not a comedy of terrorism, but of the terrorist. Although Morris refers to a number of police comedies as inspiring him, there is not a single instance in the movie where the police or the government are laughed at. They never become objects of humour. Secondly, we have loveable, funny, “human, all too human” terrorists who do not even know Islam, but what about the representation of Muslims in the movie? The only other example we have is Omar’s brother. Innocent as he is, he cannot look at women, wears strange garb and is hopelessly fundamentalist. Does this not mean that the lives of millions of Muslims in U.K., not to mention Europe or the world, are simply sidestepped by the film, that the British or European director, fixed on the stereotype, cannot perceive them, that they cannot enter his frame? Oh, I almost forgot that it is only a comedy! Laugh at them and relax.

Check the trailer here:

Family Violence and Traditional Values: What Does Anti-Gender Movement Mean for Women?

To mark the day today 25 November International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women


On the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women and Girts—25 November 2014—the Patriarchal Committee on Family, Protection of Motherhood and Children announced its disapproval for the new bill on criminalizing spanking and other forms of physical discipline of children. Russian Orthodox Church insisted that such criminalization cannot be justified because parents are entitled “to use sensible and moderate physical discipline on their children.” This provoked an angry reaction from the Russian public, who, at least theoretically, do not accept any physical punishment of children and any forms of physical violence against other family members. Protection of the rights of parents, calls for women to return home and solely devote themselves to reproduction and family life, be respectful and obedient to their husbands, and refuse abortion to have more children are at the centre of the campaign for promotion of traditional values. These ideas even entered the draft Concept…

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Laura Ahva: To understand journalism, we need to look elsewhere – introducing new researchers

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Laura Ahva is a researcher of journalism, media and communication. She received her PhD in 2011 at University of Tampere where she has mostly worked since; as a postdoctoral researcher and senior researcher. She has specialised in questions of participation in journalism: how non-journalists can increasingly take part in news making and the resulting public discussion. Laura Ahva is currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere.


“There is no need for every journalist to become a coder but everyone needs to understand information technology and its logic.” This is a quotation from the university magazine, Aikalainen, where Jussi Tuulensuu, the editor-in-chief of a regional newspaper Aamulehti, reflected on the future of journalism and journalism education.

The sentence sounds familiar for many people working in journalism practice, research and teaching – in fact, I believe I said almost the exact same sentence to the students last year. On the one hand, coding and the resulting algorithms provide possibilities for journalists to analyze and present digital data in new ways, but on the other hand, algorithms as non-human actors have been given an increasingly central role in deciding the kinds of news that users get to see, a role that used to be played by professional editors.

Coding and the entire field of information technology is just one example of the various aspects that journalists need to understand better. There are many fields that are now more than ever shaping journalism’s organizational structures, ethical standards or economic sustainability.

In my upcoming research project as an IASR fellow, I will examine actors and practices that shape journalism but originate from the fields of technology, economy and culture. These practices have not traditionally been regarded as “journalistic” but are becoming more important for journalism and ultimately to the kind of public discussion we can have. The practices I will focus on, are connected to coding, entrepreneurialism and eventification. They are practised by people who actively take part in journalistic work, but whose position may not be that of a journalist. These people can be data miners, startup coaches or event organisers.

Furthermore, these people are not necessarily located in the newsrooms: journalism is increasingly happening outside or in the outskirts of traditional newsrooms, for example in hackathon meetings where technologists scrape data for stories, in business hubs where new start-ups are developed by entrepreneurs, or at theatre stages where the presentation of journalism is dramatized.

Therefore, if we wish to better assess the possible futures of journalism practice and also adjust journalism education accordingly, we need to tap into “non-journalistic” practices that emanate from the neighboring fields but result in constructing the field of journalism.

To understand journalism, I will have to look elsewhere.

Secessions Within Federalism: A Cure for Destructive Nationalism – Catalonia and the EU by Robert Imre

Catalonia is yet another political case that demonstrates the necessity of strengthening a federal construct in the EU. Now that Britain is on the way out, and a major critic of federalism as a viable political option will no longer be present (after all, even with the ‘home nations’ and devolution, the UK never managed to progress to a federal state), it is time for the EU to embrace the politics of unity. Federalism is just such a project and various models demonstrate how multiplicities of language and identity are viable within a politically unified system.

Germany is already such a nation, with proper federal constructs set up while at the same time maintaining regional identities and smaller decision-making capacities in municipalities and city-centred politics. Certainly there are different forms of federalism, and beyond Europe, arguably two of the most successful are Australia and Canada. In both countries, various powers are devolved to the states and provinces at the sub-federal level. For example, if a state such as Western Australia sees the need to set up a trade commission/delegation to a given region or nation, it is free to do so and indeed has done just that. All Australian states have trade commissions around the world. Canadian provinces have power over immigration, and can organise their respective education and health systems at the provincial level. Sections 51 and 52 of the original British North America Act of 1867 ensured that federation would not take away from these decision-making powers, and Australian federation in 1901 kept the same sections of the constitution. Canada’s ‘repatriation’ of the BNA Act in 1982 and the subsequent additions to the original formative constitution kept these legal positions and even when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was added, which is a radically progressive addition guaranteeing individual and group rights and freedoms while at the same time curtailing hate speech and incitement to violence, it still placed primacy on balancing the rights of people(s) with local(ized) governing capacities.

In the Canadian case, there have been two recent ‘internal secessions’ and an ongoing debate about Quebec. There is no space here to discuss Quebec in detail, and this is always a process of negotiation. But politics is not only about consensus. It is also about living with dissensus and finding ways to accommodate various forms of difference while, crucially, expending neither blood nor treasure. In the case of Quebec, there was almost a proper secession in which Quebecois voters sought to leave Canada and form some type of ‘sovereignty-association’. The political (and cultural, social, economic) negotiation continues and there are varying degrees of success and failure, accommodation and conflict.

The two ‘internal secessions’ I want to focus on here, can be similar to Catalonia, provided we have a stronger federal construct in the EU. Such federal constructs then manage to take away the large modern problems that nations have difficulty managing individually (the military, and other special resource distributions such as building and maintaining transportation and communication connections, fixing environmental problems, are all massive transnational undertakings). This means that states and provinces have autonomy, like Catalonia would inside a federal construct. On the first of April, 1999, the Northwest Territories split in two parts, one retaining the original name, and the other part became Nunavut, a self-governing territory with an elected legislative assembly. This was the end of a long process around land claims by local Inuit people as well as an eventual referendum. This is an important political realignment recognizing First Nations and Indigenous Peoples capacities for political life. Canada’s tenth province, and last to join confederation in 1949, sought a constitutional amendment for several years, and was successful in a name change to officially change to Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001. Again, a political realignment within a federal construct meant that expressions of identity in a political territory could be negotiated with a desired change of the political designation, the actual name, of said territory. Internal negotiations not loss blood and treasure; accommodation by various political powers, not violent reactions to shifting territorial alignments; acceptance of identity claims, not rejection by powerful arms of the state.

There is much to be learned from Australian and Canadian federalism, and much to be gained by the EU, from moving in the direction of creating a type of confederation that both of those countries enjoy. It is in this way that dissensus can be managed, and secessions like Catalonia can then become viable political options without creating more political grievances that destroy nations.

Image result for Dr Robert Imre

Dr Robert Imre is currently Senior Research Fellow with the Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere and he begins as a researcher at the Tampere Peace Research Institute (TAPRI) later on in 2018.

Our new fellows: Elina I. Mäkinen Translational Research in the Field of Medicine: The 15 Year Long Development Process

Elina I. Mäkinen is an organizational sociologist specializing in innovation, collaboration, and teamwork in the life sciences. She received her Ph.D. at Stanford University’s organization studies doctoral program and is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere.

Maekinen Elina_opt

A year ago, MIT published a report titled Convergence: The Future of Health (Sharp et al. 2016). This report presented the views of world-renowned scientists and medical researchers who argued that advances in the fight of diseases like cancer and dementia call for the integration of different types of expertise. The report highlighted the mixing of, for example, biomedical knowledge, engineering skills, and expertise in the physical, computational, and mathematical sciences. Converging different forms of knowledge in an effort to create new healthcare applications and technologies would not only benefit patients, but also potentially create new jobs and improve varied societal aspects.

This kind of research approach is very similar to translational research. Translational research in the field of medicine involves moving knowledge gained from the basic sciences to its application in clinical and community settings. Translational research cannot be achieved without collaboration and integration of knowledge among different experts.

While it is widely agreed that the ability to translate scientific discoveries to clinical practice is fundamental to improving healthcare, translational research process is challenging. The development process is slow and prone to failure. One estimate has been that it can take up to 15 years of research findings to be implemented in healthcare organizations (Balas and Boren 2000). At the same time, we do not know how many efforts fail during the development process or what kind of projects are even likely to get to the implementation stage.

My research agenda is directed at developing an understanding of the whole translational research process and the challenges for collaboration that projects face at different stages. This research agenda builds on my dissertation project conducted at Stanford University. My dissertation was a longitudinal ethnographic study on a new translational research center in the field of medicine seeking to uncover the causes of premature birth.

During the three years that I studied the center, it became evident that translational research process was threatened by challenges associated with collaboration in heterogeneous teams. Developing a shared, translational research narrative among scientists and physicians from different backgrounds was difficult, because it required letting go off one’s own research process and including elements from the work of others.

In order to develop a thorough understanding of translational research, it is important to understand how different experts are able to collaborate at different stages in the development process. Throughout the translational research process, team composition will vary. Depending on the developmental stage, teams could include researchers from the life and the physical sciences, healthcare practitioners, employees from university’s technology transfer and commercialization office, stakeholders from patient organizations, or social workers. As such, translational research is even more inclusive than the previously described convergent science.

I want to know, what the issues are that hamper collaboration at different stages. For example, is the knowledge boundary between a bioinformatician and a microbiologist easier to cross than the one between a social worker and a physician? If the challenges for collaboration are not resolved, what happens to the translational research process? Does the ease or difficulty associated with crossing a particular knowledge boundary relate to what kind of healthcare implementations we end up with?

The challenge for finding answers to these questions is being able to get access to the right kind of empirical settings. I am looking for translational research projects of varied levels of maturity focused on the development of healthcare related technologies, applications, or programs. I have been able to identify some, but the search still continues. If you think you can provide help with connecting me with the right people and projects, or are otherwise interested in this research effort, please get in touch:


Balas, E.A. and Boren, S.A. (2000): Managing clinical knowledge for healthcare improvement. In J. Bemmel and A. T. McCray (Eds.), Yearbook of Medical Informatics, 65–70.

Sharp, P., Jacks, T. and Hockfield, S. (2016): Convergence: The Future of Health. Cambridge, MA: MIT.





IASR back from summer holidays: welcoming new researchers!

Our fellows are back from summer holidays and welcoming new researchers!

Please, check our page here to learn about our researchers.

Our usual kick-off seminar held on September 6-7 at Wuolle Mansion, Hauho, allowed fellows to introduce their research to each other and exchange new ideas. With this post we start introducing our new fellows and their research.