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Challenging the Vocabulary of "Common Sense" - The Kilburn Manifesto

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At the foundations of contemporary economics, we have neoliberal terms and definitions. In what way has this shaped our thinking, imposed its own logic on economic experience, and in what way can we subvert these terms to help us overcome the crisis we are in?

The Kilburn Manifesto is a statement being made in twelve monthly installments, issued free on-line, about the nature of the neoliberal system which now dominates Britain and most of the Western world, and about the need to develop coherent alternatives to it. Its principal authors, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin have had a long association with the New Left, since its first days in 1956, and have been significant figures in its various initiatives, such as the founding of Universities and Left Review and New Left Review, the May Day Manifesto (just reissued) and the Greater London Council led by Ken Livingstone. They are the founding editors of the journal Soundings, which is responsible for the Kilburn Manifesto, and which has reissued the 1968 May Day Manifesto in the context of this initiative.

Our Kingdom will publish a discussion of each installment of the Manifesto. After the Introduction an Framing Statement, this is the first installment - Vocabularies of the economy.  

Vocabularies of the Economy' is the first installment of the Kilburn Manifesto, after our framing statement 'After Neoliberalism'. It draws on the overall analysis in terms of social settlements and notions of hegemony to begin to explore the idea of 'common sense', which is crucial to them both.

On this reading, common sense is that bundle of ideas that are so ingrained as to be beyond question. Ideas that mold both our identities and our relationships, and frame our understanding of society.

Such common-sense ideas take political work to establish (they appear to be natural, but are absolutely not). For that reason they can be challenged and changed, as neoliberal hegemony has challenged - to the point of destruction - the social-democratic common sense of previous decades. We need now to challenge the current, neoliberal, common sense.

One obvious example from economic relations is the way we are now so often called 'customers' - rather than students, or passengers for instance. It's a terminology that not only characterizes our identities (tell us what we are), but also characterizes all our relationships as commercial transactions. It erases the specific character of our relations and activities - we're not students, or visitors to an art gallery, but just customers. All our activities are just about buying and selling.

This installment takes on some of this common-sense vocabulary specifically in relation to the economy. For our economic language not only affects how we imagine the economy, but also defines the range of economic policies that are thinkable. The main paper tackles some of the 'economic theory' behind all this, and goes into more detail. Here, I shall point just to a few examples.     

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