In displaying the objects of neoliberalism, the new south London museum allows us to imagine a better alternativeby Rebecca Liu / December 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
A bottle of an Amazon worker’s urine, perched on top of a delivery box. A slim, greying paperback, auspiciously titled Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, bumping up against a thicker book: Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership. A framed campaign poster by American aircraft carrier Delta. “UNION DUES COST AROUND $700 A YEAR,” it cautions in thick block letters: “A new video game system with the latest hit sounds like fun. Put your money towards that instead.”
These items can be found in a new museum in Lewisham dedicated to exploring the history and effects of neoliberalism. The project first debuted, in slimmer form, at The World Transformed conference during the Labour party conference in Brighton in September. Now, it has found a permanent home in south London, in a small, eye-catching black building sandwiched between a local laundrette and beauty salon.
The term neoliberalism has gained traction in the past few years. Often serving as a catch-all descriptor for unbridled capitalism, some have taken to opine that the term then means, in fact, nothing. Those pronouncements—at least to me—have the tenor of someone who, upon seeing a fire quickly gathering ground, turns away to announce that since everything is being swallowed up, describing the scene with clarity is impossible. This confusion only seems to then naturalise the proverbial fire. For the Museum of Neoliberalism, its subject has a coherent meaning. Outside, a short description of the site introduces it as such: “Neoliberalism was an economic ideology that proposed ‘the market’ as an ethic in itself. Its proponents argued that the best outcome for everybody will be produced by business being given maximum freedom to control every aspect of life.” Its task, then, is specifically to explore the free-market ideology that started to gain ground in postwar economics departments to then shape the world.
If curious passers-by want an illustration of how this works in everyday life, they can shift their eyes rightward to the window display, where they will find a copy of “entrepreneurial” American tween magazine, Teen Boss (stylised as “Teen Bo$$!”), advising its young readers on “How to Build Your Brand, by being YOU!” Animated iPhones scroll to show articles demonstrating the marketisation of all inches of private life: A piece from Bloomberg, on the…