Beyond limits: a psychoanalytical study of the neoliberal imaginary

Ibled, Carla. 2021. Beyond limits: a psychoanalytical study of the neoliberal imaginary. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis intervenes in the debates on the persistence of neoliberalism by examining the
psychic and fantasmatic undercurrents of its ideas. To do so, it argues that neoliberalism is not
solely an economic theory, but that it also functions as a cultural imaginary. The imaginary is
understood here as a frame around which fantasies can be articulated together and given
consistence, providing a structuring – but ultimately unsustainable – image of the self and of the

To develop this idea, the thesis reconceptualises the concept of the ‘imaginary’ via the
psychoanalytical work of Jacques Lacan, constructing a political theory of the imaginary that can
be used to analyse neoliberal discursive productions. It then applies this conceptual framework
to three different corpuses of texts that display and rework neoliberal ideas. These are, firstly,
canonical texts of neoliberal economic theory by Friedrich Hayek, Gary Becker, Milton Friedman,
Frank Knight and Joseph Schumpeter; secondly, narratives by two contemporary iconic
entrepreneurs, Elon Musk and Peter Thiel; thirdly, best-selling memoirs on childhood in poverty
by two social critics, Darren McGarvey and J.D. Vance. The thesis thus brings together economic
history, psychoanalytical theory and cultural studies.

Treating neoliberalism as an imaginary means excavating its metaphysical preconceptions to
better denaturalise it. It means analysing how neoliberal representations hail us as subjects by
mobilising fantasies of identity formation, of life and death, and of moving beyond limits. The
neoliberal imaginary specifically delineates what we, inhabitants of the neoliberal present,
should aspire to be and desire. Finally, treating neoliberalism as an imaginary entails
attentiveness to its internal dissonances. This approach reveals something profoundly alienating
in neoliberal promises, showing how they function as disciplinary apparatuses that differentiate
between useful and non-useful lives, leading to the potential sacrifice of the latter and the
consecration of all to the ordealic mechanisms of uncertainty.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


neoliberalism; imaginary; psychoanalysis; Lacan; Hayek; entrepreneur; addiction

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



31 May 2021

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Jul 2021 13:36

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19


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