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An Interview with Melinda Cooper
On Family Life and Capitalist Governance

In a new interview in Society and Space, Kelsey Johnson speaks with Melinda Cooper, author of Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full conversation. An excerpt appears below:

“Kelsey Johnson: In some ways, Family Values is an empirical departure from your earlier work on the promissory economies of biotechnology in Life as Surplus and on embodied and biological labor in Clinical Labor (with Catherine Waldby). I’m wondering if you can contextualize these shifts in your work. In particular, what sparked your interest in theorizing neoliberalism/social conservatism and the family in the first place?

Melinda Cooper: My doctoral thesis was focused on the political work of Deleuze and Guattari, in particular their reading of Marx’s Grundrisse and its reflection on the double movement of capital, which they characterize as ‘deterritorialization/reterritorialization.’ I have always found this the most enigmatic and enabling of Marx’s insights but I felt also that what Deleuze and Guattari were doing in terms of sex/gender was pretty regressive. They were translating a shift in the organization of sex/gender that had everything to do with the end of Fordism but also ontologizing a new status quo. So I was interested in developing a critique of a political philosophy that was already a critique of ‘reproduction’ and its organization of sex/gender. I feel that I failed. I lost faith in the idea that you can develop a critique of political philosophy from within the terms of political philosophy. It’s hard to articulate exactly what’s wrong when you are swimming in the same language.

So I guess I started looking outside of the textual world of political philosophy and thought I could pursue the same questions with a more independent voice, using other, more empirical material. Looking at biomedicine and biotechnology was a very literal way of transferring some of the questions I was interested in – questions around reproduction, sex/gender and race – onto a wider political terrain. Still, I have always had these other questions around the social and political organization of sex/gender/race on the backburner. It is a much more difficult terrain to navigate in the sense that I think you need to have a grasp of such diverse areas of practice – social policy, family law, labour politics, to name a few. But again, it would be obvious to anyone who has read the introduction to the book and has a sense of my previous preoccupations that there is a guiding thread here. Again, my fascination with Marx’s double movement, which I interpret also as a politico-ideological double movement, between liberalism and conservatism, shines through. ”