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).

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.

Approaching disruptive behaviour as learning by Zsuzsa Millei & Maiju Paananen

There has been concerning news about an increase in aggressive and disruptive behaviours of young children in kindergarten. Fingers are pointed to parents, teachers, children’s nature, the media or a changing society. Many families enrol children into preschool to learn social skills with their peers[1]. It is however rarely considered that behaving as expected in a new setting and with new people requires learning. The same way, misbehaviour, thus, could form a part of these learning processes of how to be with others in these educational environments.

Many times a finger is pointing to parents, who are claimed to neglect teaching children good behaviour. Others argue that it is the media that teaches children violence. Educational psychologists easily evaluate teachers as lacking appropriate skills, approaches or techniques to keep children under control and promote positive school environments. Yet again others, locate the problem in the social background, biology or personality of particular children. For example, teachers may act differently to children based on their skin colour.

Much of the advice directed at improving children’s behaviour focuses squarely on eliminating so called problem behaviours. This often happens through labelling children or devaluing teachers and parents. What happens if we consider ‘bad behaviour’ as an instance of learning or voicing something that is important for a child in a particular context. It becomes possible to move away from our strong urge to fix quickly what we first perceived as a problem behaviour and refocus the issue: What children can or like to accomplish through those acts?

The first issue that we need to immediately set aside is that behaviour is something that is independent from learning. The general assumption is that first every child needs to behave so learning can take place. This way of looking at the issue separates learning and behaviour.

In an example situation we show how assumptions about ‘bad behaviour’ and strategies to eliminate those might operate and how we can refocus our view of the event as part of children’s learning.

Miriam (3 years old) often goes into her room and closes her door after forcefully stressing ‘No one should disturb me’. Once a crayon drawing appeared on the wall. As she was asked about those drawings she said:

Miriam: ‘George did those drawings. He is very naughty. You should tell him off’. She says all this with a straight face.

George is an adult family friend who sometimes looks after Miriam and her sister and on those occasions he slept in Miriam’s room and Miriam slept in her sister’s room. When George came next to visit, Miriam confronted him:

Miriam: ‘Why did you draw on my wall? It is not nice, you know’.

George, knowing he did no such thing, started to laugh but didn’t protest. Miriam seemed content with this outcome.

A possible response to this scenario would likely have us concerned about this child’s behaviour. First, she possibly drew with crayons on the wall in her room. Second, she blamed someone else for her transgression. In other words, it would have us understand the scenario in terms of deceit and manipulation that could ignite a long discussion or punishment so this will not happen again.

Another option is to examine the example from the perspective of learning. If we understand behaviour-as-learning, our reading of this child could be that she playfully and quite competently explores the transgression of rules. She demonstrates that she knows very well that drawing with crayons on the wall is ‘naughty’, as she immediately knows how to name the culprit. She also demonstrates that she knows that in order to successfully blame someone else, she needs to be able to keep a straight face (not let on that she is lying). She also shows that she knows that in order for her story to hold, the culprit needs to be someone who has, in fact, had the opportunity. Further, she appears to also know that this kind of transgression requires some form of confrontation, which she carries out next time she sees her chosen culprit. As such she manages to create a credible story and to follow up on it, which is a highly complex task for a three-year old! Young children are faced with the complex task of figuring out when ‘pretend stories’ are acceptable (to adults) and when they are not, and if they get it wrong, to bear the consequences of being called a liar or deceitful. Adults around children could recognise these as competencies and act upon them.

Understanding this event this way has little to do with keeping control or winning power games. This literacy would acknowledge children’s competence in reading events and others’ actions, instead of their shortcomings. Yet, teachers feeling of need to keep control is something that can’t be overlooked. Teacher’s decision-making in an institutional context is like solving a Rubik’s cube: the daily life of the preschool resembles a combination puzzle with around 43 quintillion possible positions, with finding an optimal solution being complicated by the fact that every move affects the other parts and the following moves as well. Teachers make arrangements to cover the absence of other staff members because of sick leaves, they have conversations with other children, they supervise the yard to be sure that everyone is safe, they provide materials and equipment that children express they need, they have meetings with special education teachers, speech therapists, or with parents, they mind when they need to finish their meal so that kitchen staff are able to finish their shift on time, they give advice to substitutes and try to take into account wishes of parents. Like in solving a Rubik’s cube, it is impossible to engage in an act that would not have an influence on some other acts as well.

Engagement with children requires time to reflect and think through possible actions and also enough leeway to make situational changes to plans in the everyday life of kindergartens. In the busy lives of kindergartens this might not always be possible. What we need to think about is how to change the situation so that teachers are able to find time and possibilities to support children in learning to be social. In case those behaviours that we deem inappropriate occur, the first questions should be: What do children try to achieve with those acts? What competencies are they demonstrating and what are they in the process of learning?


Zsuzsa Millei is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research, University of Tampere, Finland. She has widely published on discipline, including a book titled: Re-Theorizing Discipline in Education. This blog contains part of her article co-authored with Prof Eva Bendix Petersen published in the Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties journal[7].

Maiju Paananen is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Education, University of Tampere, Finland. She has done research on teachers’ decision making in preschools. Her dissertation Imaginaries of early childhood education in a transnational era of accountability illustrated how governance systems of early childhood education take part in formulating everyday life of preschools.

[1] Kronqvist, E. L. & Jokimies, J. (2008). Vanhemmat varhaiskasvatuksen laadun arvioijina: Tuloksia Vaikuta vanhempi-selvityksestä. Raportteja/Stakes: 22/2008.


Is there populism in Russia? by Marianna Muravyeva

Russian populism is something nobody denies, not critics of the current regime, not its supporters. Political leaders openly appeal to the ‘people’ as the group in whose interest they are acting. However, what is important to remember that a) it has been the case for quite some time; b) Russia did not truly engage into neoliberal ideology of any kind; and c) every political party in Russia, including the opposition, use populism as a viable ideology.

However, some scholars think that Putinism is an imperfect fit to populist ideologies as Vladimir Putin did not come into power thanks to his populist platform. He was ‘an ‘annointed’ successor to President Yeltsin who stepped down leaving him to rule the country. Putinism represents a platonic model of autocracy, in which populism an inherent part of the official discourse (Oliker 2017). At the same time, despite the circumstances of his coming to the office, Putin had to go through the elections, for which he came up with a populist program. Populism also became the ideology for his newly founded United Russia party.

What is populism a-la-Rus?

There are three components of the official populist discourse: 1) sovereign (democracy)/sovereignty to account for current relationships with others; 2) traditional values to deal with social problems; and 3) patriotism to provide for national unity.

Phillip Casula identifies several characteristics of Russian populism as main features of political discourse. Firstly, the populism comes ‘from above’ but not ‘from below’, it is not oppositional but systemic. Secondly, it relies heavily on being structured around a name (Putin or Navalny), which acts as a nodal point, sort of an empty signifier. Therefore, populism works as an attempt to split the political space into two camps ‘with us’ and ‘against us’ both in domestic and foreign policy fronts (Casula 2013, p. 7). The concept of sovereignty comes very handy here; it is interpreted not a positive creative concept for better territorial and political development, but as a negative concept of defence against all types of corruption. Traditional values and patriotism work along the same lines.

Depoliticization is a flip side of populism. In the Russian case, it introduces management as the key procedure in politics (Makarychev 2008). The leadership attempts to declare objective (national) interests such as economic efficiency (anti-sanctions) or demographic revival (anti-LGBTQI and pro-heterosexual family) as a rebuttal of any ideology. Political conflicts are presented as economic, technical questions. Thus, Russian obvious support for Trump has been often portrayed as a wish to have a ‘businessman’ not a ‘politician’ (such as Clinton or Obama) to deal with.

Parapolitics is another key feature of Russian populism. It aims at deantagonization of politics. At the inscription of oppositional demands and the cooption of dissidents. The United Russia party (and political leadership) use the following strategy: they take some pragmatic elements form the liberals (especially in economy), some from the left (wages, strong employee protection etc.), some from the nationalists (patriotic discourse), and some from conservators (traditional values and preservation of stability). It makes opposition parties redundant or pushes them to be even more populist as official leadership as in case of Navalny, who organised his campaign around the fight with corruption and exposing how corrupt Russian leaders are.

To conclude, current Russian populism is a ‘catch-all’ ideology. It is rather effective and resilient. It does work miracles both in within the country and abroad as Putin’s name figures in the speeches of both far-right and far-left populist parties. Answering the panel’s questions, though, in the Russian case, populism is not a reaction to neoliberal ideology but rather an effective management strategy that came about in the dire situation of economic, political and ideological transformation, which means that as far as works as a stabilising discourse it will continue to be employed by the political leadership. As to what happens next, much depends on the ability of neoliberal ideologies to self-reform and address those issues that ‘the masses’ see as a failure.


Casula, P. (2013). Sovereign Democracy, Populism, and Depoliticization in Russia: Power and Discourse during Putin’s First Presidency. Problems of Post-Communism60(3), 3-15.

Makarychev, Andrey S. (2008). Politics, the State, and De-Politization. Problems of Post-Communism 55(5), 62–71.

Oliker, O. (2017). Putinism, Populism and the Defence of Liberal Democracy. Survival59(1), 7-24.


Marianna Muravyeva is a Senior Research fellow of the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere and Professor of Law at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia. Her research focuses on gender, criminology, family violence and human rights.


Neoliberalism and Populism in Turkey by Mahmut Mutman

The Turkish case shows that the universally accepted model of “neoliberal rule-populist response” is more complicated than it seems. The story of neoliberalism in Turkey goes as far back as 1980 military coup. The simple reason behind the coup was the impossibility of implementing the neoliberal economic program and austerity measures accepted in the same year under democratic rule. The military junta government repressed the left opposition and immediately put into implementation the neoliberal economic program by appointing a famous economist who was the behind the neoliberal economic program, Turgut Özal, as the minister responsible for economic affairs. The same neoliberal program was maintained by the democratically elected Motherland Party government, which was indeed established and led by Özal, following the end of military rule. It must be said that by the end of the 1980s neoliberalism became the doxa in Turkey. In its first phase, neoliberalism managed the transformation of “import substitutionism” into “export oriented” economy, liberalized finances and gave a green light to privatization. It was mainly already powerful Istanbul-based industrial bourgeoisie who benefitted from privatization, deregulation and export-oriented growth. It is important to underline that Özal’s Motherland Party which governed the initial process came to power by anti-elite, anti-bureaucratic populist themes—indeed populist themes which run well with the anti-state, pro-privatization discourse of neoliberalism.

This was followed by a long period of hegemonic crisis and fragmentation of power. By the beginning of 2000s however, a new, younger generation of Islamists (R. T. Erdogan and A. Gul) established the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and came to power in the 2003 elections. Islamism emerged as a directly populist movement, which characteristically divided the political space into two, declaring an enemy camp in antagonism to “the true people.” Islamist populism is thus characterized by a strong version of “nativism,” i.e. a coding of native difference as Islamic vis a vis the authoritarian secularism followed by the Republican elite. But one should further keep in mind that, like in all populist movements, Islamism is also the expression of a class difference, given that the economically dominant class, i.e. Istanbul-based industrial bourgeoisie was actually created by the statist Republican elite by a program of capitalism from above. Islamist populism is therefore a construction of class difference as religious difference, indeed as a consolidated religious difference. Therefore it would be quite reasonable to consider Islamism as a populist response to a neoliberal program implemented from above. Indeed this “class” and “anti-elite” dimension gave Islamism a strong argument of victimization. But this is only part of the story, because Turkish Islamism has also very strictly and successfully followed the neoliberal economic program already re-formulated by the previous government following a short period of economic downfall in 2001. This brings us to a significant dimension of neoliberalism in peripheral spaces such as Turkey: its promotion of “small and medium size enterprises,” the SMEs. These are often critized for providing cheap (often family and informal) labor for the multinationals (such as Gap, Nike or Mac). Although this is true, they might also be part of a process of capital accumulation. Indeed it so happened in Turkey that a new group of Islamist large conglomerates emerged out of the immense support given to the SMEs especially by the AKP government (but already by previous governments as well). Known as “Anatolian Tigers,” this new group of Islamist businessmen was represented by AKP. Turkish Islamism can therefore be described as a new hegemonic bloc formed by the Anatolian Tigers with the poor working mass, which they lead ideologically and politically. Put in loosely Gramscian terms, it is the persuasion of the working mass by the new bosses into a new hegemonic system organized in and by Islamist ideology. But this populist version of neoliberal populism led by a “conservative democratic” politics gradually turned into an authoritarian, proto-fascist populism.

As soon as it came to power in 2003, the AKP government actually followed a series of democratic reforms, apart from its strictly neoliberal stand. It thus appeared, in its initial phase, as a pro-EU, reformist, conservative or Muslim democrat party, which had support from the liberal sections of the society as well as from EU (the number of awards Erdogan had from prestigious Western and European institutions would shock anyone now). Turkey was a model country until about 2010, a laboratory in which the so-called “compatibility of Islam with democracy” was successfully experimented. AKP made a qualitative jump in the relations with EU, reformed the banking sector and gave the central bank a leading role, and battled the corruption. It also made peace with the dissident Kurdish leadership and started a process of negotiation, however slow and problematic. It also made peace with the dissident Kurdish leadership and started a negotiation process, however slow and problematic. But these successful double syntheses of neoliberalism and populism, and of democracy and Islam, did not last long. Indeed it repeated the same pattern observed in other cases of neoliberal populism such as Argentine’s Menem and Peru’s Fujimori. AKP’s reformist line has never been entirely consistent. It battled corruption and favoritism insofar as the old elite is concerned but it also developed its own favoritism and its own version of “crony capitalism”, and it constantly avoided auditing institutions and mechanisms. On the political level, AKP was successful to the extent that it was capable of governing various freedoms emerged in parallel with the rapid development of capitalism, but it seemed to reach a point where it became impossible for it to govern freedoms any longer for both politico-economic (its own corrupt practices) and ideological (its conservative, authoritarian and nationalist roots) reasons. Hence we witnessed, in the case of Turkey, a swift turn into a violent, repressive form of authoritarian populism and crony capitalism.


Mahmut Mutman teaches critical theory, media and cultural studies in the Department of Cinema and Television and is the coordinator of the M.A. Program in Cultural Studies at Istanbul Sehir University. He is the author of The Politics of Writing Islam: Voicing Difference; he has co-edited a special issue of Inscriptions titled “Orientalism and Cultural Differences” and a collection on Orientalism, Hegemony and Cultural Difference (in Turkish) as well as several articles on orientalism, nationalism, postmodernism, and film and media in Cultural Critique, Postmodern Culture, New Formations, Rethinking Marxism, Anthropological Theory, Radical Philosophy, Third Text and Toplum ve Bilim.

Populism in the shadow of neoliberalism – the Finnish case by Jorma Sipilä

As for populism, we speak of mass movements of adults, who feel severe dissatisfaction. They have lost jobs, money, security and undergone unfairness and insults by public and private institutions. All this has led to pessimism towards the mainstream culture and politics.

It is a historical norm that low paid workers do not love immigrants, be they domestic or foreign. The increase in the number of poor people pushes wages down and rents up. Immigration also tends to weaken the hard fight for better labour conditions.

Of course, all this has happened may times before – only the context is new, favouring the growth of populism. One reason for that is that the process takes place in urban and international environment and is escalated by social media. Another change is that the experience of exclusion is more collective than before: a growing proportion of people is being defined to be mentally, physically, culturally or educationally incompetent, unskilled, or unreliable.

There are always politicians ready to mobilize unhappy people. For the participants, populism is rewarding, giving hope and promising revenge.


The core of True Finns belongs to a generation that grew up in a nation, which had found new solidarity during the Second World War and the construction of the welfare state.

Politics of inclusion was in many ways particularly strong in Finland until the 1990s when the frame of the national project became too narrow for business elite.

True Finns, however, are only mildly critical towards the financial elite. Why are they attacking the left? First, they have to recruit among people who because of their social status have previously given their support to the left. Second, they get backing from the failure of leftist poverty politics.

The socialist alternative has not attracted older people after the failure of communism, whereas social democrats look toothless for them. This view has gained strength since the end of 1990s when social democrats were still the strongest political party. Its right wing leaders together with the conservatives turned their back to the people, who needed basic services and basic income security. The decline of poverty policies led to losses especially among people who were dependent on universal benefits – small entrepreneurs, long-term unemployed, housewives.

Social democrats stuck to cooperate with the labour unions. Downgrading the tax rate was preferred, although this happened at the expense of the financial transfers to municipalities, which provide the basic services for education, health, and social care. This has remained the penetrating logic in public expenditure: Because of the ageing and the maturation of the pension system the employment pensions must grow. Their growth is politically well protected and so is the freezing of the tax rate, as well. When pension contributions have been decided to be counted as taxes, there is no alternative to the retrenchment of public services.

Thus, the supporters of True Finns have reasons to be angry with the comrades, who do not show solidarity. As well known, they also show contempt towards the young red-greens, whose worldview is far away from that of the True Finns.

What will happen next?

Will we return to the era of mass parties and democratic politics?  I do not think it could happen without an international cultural revolution like that in the 1960s. Of course, such a return is possible in principle: the global financial power system is not a military fortress but a political creation that may be politically shaken.

If we really wanted to solve the underclass problem, we would fade out the boundary between the middle class and the underclass. Nordic countries have shown that it is possible, to some extent. Some of them are still doing it – Finland and Sweden do not.

The major problem is that in welfare capitalism underclass alone is a small political force. To improve the position of underclass, another political force has to join and promote inclusiveness. The position of middle class is however labile; in the eyes of the middle class the existence of underclass is both useful and problematic. It produces personal services at low cost, but it also is a source of social problems and malfunctioning in the society.

Sometimes the middle class needs political allies. In some Western countries (e.g. Greece, U.S.) the situation of middle class has worsened so much that a coalition between the middle class and underclass is more plausible than before.


I’d also like to play with an unlikely alternative. Is it possible that equality generating public policies might be accepted under neoliberalism? This sounds crazy: neoliberalism was born as an ideology of inequality. On the other hand, the powerful driver of neoliberalism is international capital.

We have an enormous amount of empirical research proving that social equality promotes economic growth and the growth of the capital. This suggests the radical conclusion that the capital should not identify itself with the personal interests of the finance folk but, for its own benefit, to demand as equal development of human resources as possible. Capital income is not maximized in the conditions of extreme inequality and lack of social investments. On the other hand, only the state can take response of universal development of human resources.

At least, it is theoretically possible that in the long run the capital and the state find common interests in promoting equality. State and capital are not strange bedfellows – if they have ever been. The state monopoly of taxation is such an attractive means to increase capital income that capital cannot stuck with an ordo-liberal anti-state position. In the present welfare capitalism neoliberalism as an ideology strives to infiltrate the public sector in order to cash money into financial institutions. Does this mean that the money escapes from the citizens? Not completely, a remarkable share of capital income returns in the form employment pensions…


Jorma Sipilä is a permanent fellow of the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere. He specialises in welfare state, social policy, services for the elderly and children, and cash-for-care arrangements.

14th Anniversary and Alumni Reunion of The Institute for Advanced Social Research (IASR) at the University of Tampere

Welcome to our reunion and wait for our blogs on the panel theme of populism on 19 April 2017

14:15 Opening Words and an Annual Report,

Professor Risto Heiskala, Director of the IASR
14:30 Greetings from the University of Tampere

Professor Seppo Parkkila, Vice Rector for Research

14:45 NEOLIBERALISM AND POPULISM Panel- Full video is available here

Seven of our Fellows address the topic from the perspective of seven different political cultures in talks of seven minutes and answer these two questions:
(1) Should the rise of populism be understood as a misplaced revenge of the masses for more than 30 years of neoliberalism?
(2) What will happen next?

Chair: Risto Heiskala

The panelists:

The UK: Louse Settle

The US: Meyda Yegenouglu

Australia: Zsuzsa Millei –  Australia

Russia: Marianna Muravyeva

Turkey: Mahmut Mutman

Hungary: Robert Imre – Hungary

Finland: Jorma Sipilä


NB: This time we depart from the tradition and will not provide any pre-circulated material.

However, if references are needed, one useful, timely and interestingly polemical brief introduction is Perry Anderson’s column “Why the system will still win” in LE MONDE Diplomatique (see ).

Thicker introductions include the following two:

On neoliberalism: Michel Foucault: The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collége de France, 1978–79. Palgrave, 2008;

On populism: Jan-Werner Müller: What is Populism? University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.