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Managing Power: Heroism in the Age of Speculative Capital


This project identifies a recurring figure in late 20th century popular culture, the power manager, who is distinguished by a specific conjunction of “cool” sociopathic affect, “hollowed-out” interiority, and specialization in the immaterial labor of speculation and manipulation. This figure’s emergence and diffusion across Anglophone popular media is intimately connected to the intertwined ascendancies of speculative finance and neoliberal governance as the organizing forces of society. The power manager operates as an idealized model for the financialized subjectivity that neoliberal rationality assumes, whose power over others derives from his early adaptation to the demands of new economic structures. Drawing on theorizations of neoliberal governance and financial discourse by Wendy Brown, Mark Fisher, and Randy Martin, Managing Power interrogates popular narratives in order to trace finance capital’s influence on our capacity to imagine social power and agency, looking beyond popular representations of the business world to examine instead how neoliberal and financial logics have seeped into the structure of popular heroism and adventure narratives. By clearly articulating power management as a distinct neoliberal fantasy of masculine power and tracing its cultural history, Managing Power enables us to better diagnose this fantasy’s influence on our imagination of social interaction, social power, and social change. These fantasies of financialized power reinforce the message that, as Margaret Thatcher famously declared, “there is no alternative” to the neoliberal status quo. As a figure of elite cognitive labor, the power manager serves an important ideological role as a figure of male dominance able to navigate the shifts from productive to service/finance capitalism, as well as providing scripts of dominance that retrench white privilege in a time of growing diversity in both the workplace and popular culture. Managing Power exposes the pathologies of this fantasy of financialized neoliberal subjectivity, trace its influence, and so undermine the ideological justifications it continues to provide for inequality and privilege in contemporary literature and culture.

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