Lucia Hulsether explores how the global economic system has absorbed the very movements that seek to resist it.
As someone who came of age in the 21st century, I witnessed capitalism’s advance. Growing up in the shadow of NAFTA and other free trade agreements, I watched globalization lift people out of poverty across the world while stoking resentment among the US working class, including within my own family. I saw social media change how we communicate with one another, turning our interpersonal bonds into commodities bought and sold. I learned how extractive industries pollute ecosystems and destroy communities in the Global South while engaging in “corporate social responsibility” by funding universities and hospitals closer to home. I observed a friend’s work on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within one of Canada’s largest banks.
Such contradictions are the focus of Capitalist Humanitarianism. Lucia Hulsether combines reportage, ethnographic research, personal narrative, and social theory to look at the ways in which the 21st-century global economic system has absorbed the very movements that seek to resist it.
“The new subject of neoliberalism, Homo economicus, has turned her entire life into a hustle,” writes Hulsether, drawing upon political theorist Wendy Brown’s 2015 book, Undoing the Demos. “She curates her online image until it reflects her ‘personal brand.’ She runs her household ‘like a CEO.’ She approaches friendships as ‘investments’ in a professional network. She relates to her government as a consumer of its services.” Nevertheless, people are not stupid: we know how destructive the current economic system is. In response, we seek to make it a little less evil. Perhaps we buy fair-trade coffee or handmade gifts from a social enterprise shop; maybe we donate to microfinance projects. But these seemingly humane initiatives, Hulsether argues, have a nefarious side most of us cannot see, effectively whitewashing inhumane realities buried beneath the surface.