Today, Macalester College's Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department hosted Dr. Miranda Joseph to talk about gendered subjects as constructed through economic hegemonies. Dr. Miranda Joseph is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Arizona - her first book, Against the Romance of Community, utilizes Marxist theory to examine the hyper-idealized vocabulary of community. She is currently working on a project called A Debt to Society, which is the research she drew from for her speech tonight.
Dr. Joseph walked us through the basic progression of economics in the U.S. - starting with a production-based late 19th century, moving to a consumption-happy mid-20th century. She argues that post-1970s, the idea of the individual as the financer came to the forefront in response to lowered wages. Finance created a system of credit and debt to make up for this lost income. Today, our personal identities are inextricably linked to our ability to finance, as Dr. Joseph highlighted in noting that "identity theft" primarily refers to a stolen credit card. After the 2008 financial crisis, a narrative was constructed to explain the economic collapse, which blamed the individual for making poor choices about mortgages they couldn't afford or understand. Dr. Joseph's research analyzes how gender and sexuality are implicated in this narrative, via marketing strategies, popular culture, and social science scholarship/research.
Neoliberal ideas about subjectivity, Dr. Joseph argues, emphasize a binary of hyper-action (impulsive, over-the-top spending) and paralyzed inaction (worry and the inability to invest or participate in the market) in the face of economic depression. This binary is further put into a gendered framework, casting women in both positions as shopaholics on the one hand, and household managers that don't know how to invest on the other. At the end of the day, women have been represented as bad for the economy, which has created a new space for personal finance advisors who often perpetuate sexist stereotypes in their strategies.
Her talk examined how gender and power have produced a culture of entrepreneurship, which is highly complicated and based in myths that have material effects. Dr. Joseph is super brilliant to say the least, and though I may have missed some of the nuance of what she was saying, I took away a lot of knowledge about cultural interpretations of economics I previously didn't understand. After reading an excerpt from Against the Romance of Community for my "Political Economy of Gender & Sexuality" course, I am intrigued and left wanting more. I recommend everyone check out her scholarship!
Also, during her talk Dr. Joseph said that if there was one piece of literature she would recommend everyone in the audience read, it was this.