A state for the commons: neoliberalism through the lens of advice work

Winter 2014

This article draws upon ongoing research into advice agencies to provide a response to question of the form of state that would come ‘after neoliberalism’. Addressing Legal Aid reform and welfare reform, the paper looks at how the transformative potential of the legal domain, residing in its openness to new voices and experiences, is becoming increasingly curtailed, a move reflected in the language of ‘ordinary people’ and ‘hardworking families’. Drawing on the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, the paper frames these changes in terms of the difference between ‘community’ and ‘the commons’, arguing that, in contrast to the firmly demarcated nature of the closed ‘community’, ‘the commons’ articulates an openness to new voices and forms of participation. The article argues that advice services, inasmuch as they indicate the potential for commons to be inscribed in the closed community of law, provide a model for a widespread challenge to neoliberal practices. The paper ends by describing the manner in which a state that served the commons, rather than a closed community, would be a state that incorporated a certain receptivity; a capacity to be challenged by, and transformed by, an uncertain public.

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Soundings 58 Dialogue and memory