Book Review Symposium – Philip Mirowski’s ‘Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown’

Some interesting ideas for the intersection of infrastructure and disaster

Guest editor: Brett Christophers, Uppsala University

Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste is an important and distinctive contribution to debates around the politics and economics of the economic crisis which began in 2007-8 and, as such, is well-deserving of the symposium convened here at Antipode.

Never Let...For one thing, the book is different. As Mirowski remarks in his response to our four reviews, the last five years have seen a veritable “torrent of crisis books”; so why single out this one for particular scrutiny? Because it does not profess, like so many other crisis books tend to do, to identify broad causes and consequences of the crisis. Instead, its specific agenda is to offer an “intellectual history of the crisis and its aftermath” (p.11). That is to say, while it tentatively “explores the economic crisis as a social disaster”, it explores the crisis much more…

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10 thoughts on “Book Review Symposium – Philip Mirowski’s ‘Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown’

  1. A really interesting book. I’m half way through it and it’s already forced me to re-evaluate and to realise a whole series of things, principally the importance of critically engaging with the remarkably sophisticated intellectual world of Hayek et al. as well as closely scrutinising the ways in which the likes of Foucault internalised all kinds of neoliberal ideas in the ’70s and thinking about how this structures our academic discourses in the present. In short, Mirowski provokes us to identify ‘everyday neoliberalism’ in our own lives and, indeed, in our own selves. It should be as provocative for Latourians as for Foucauldians – the fractured, decentred self that constantly needs to seek attachments and perform new self-creative performances *is* the neoliberal self. Many have drawn links between ANT, poststructuralism, etc. and neoliberalism but usually this happens in quite a reactionary ‘but Marx says!!’ fashion. With Mirowski we have someone working within STS, utterly in tune with all these debates but also doing empirical philosophy (real empiricism, not the pseudo-empirical sort that Latour has reduced himself to these days) and working out some quite different conclusions.


    social significance of non-events

    In my science and technology studies (STS) courses we always end the semester discussing science and engineering disasters (and what can be learned from them). This fall we are visiting Three Mile Island (TMI) and meeting with Ed Frederick, board operator at TMI during the accident in March of 1979 (see Chapter Four in Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective). The view of the cooling towers is awe-inspiring, which only gets better the closer you get to the anti-tank pylons. The mock control room, which runs a training module, is always popular with the students and so is the site’s exceptional security: occasionally a guy in riot gear with a machine gun appears from nowhere, counts the number of visitors, and then disappears.

    Post-visit, on the bus ride back to campus, I loosely lead discussion toward two ideas that I don’t have the slightest answer to.

    1. After studying the Tylenol Poisoning Tragedy (see chapter one of Minding the Machines:Preventing Technological Disaster) and many others, we ask: are there circumstances under which a firm might gain, over the long run, from a carefully handled crisis? Students, especially of the conspiracy theory bent, go nuts with this one, and reformulate my question: are there circumstances under which a firm might gain, over the long run, from a carefully planned and handled crisis?

    2. After meeting with Ed Frederick at TMI, we ask: what is the sociological significance of a tragedy averted? Many of our well-rehearsed case studies are of those tragedies that have taken their course (see, for example, The Challenge Launch Decision); however, tragedies avoided or what might be called “non-events,” seem less obvious in terms of theory.


  3. Pingback: Door to Hell, 42 Years Later | Installing (Social) Order

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