"But That's Just Neoliberalism, Right?": Public Transport Organizations and Moving Beyond Representations of Macro-Historical Perspectives.

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Kritee AHMED, York University, Canada
Neoliberalism, as a key theoretical concept, is often employed to explain shifts in social and economic organization. The use of this concept renders legible local phenomena through theory without exploring the nuances and details of economic organization and culture within institutional contexts. As such, I argue for the necessity of investigating meso-level institutions to see how they vitalize and effect the discursive construction of macro-historical processes. To do this, I explore organizational texts of London, U.K.’s public transport organization, Transport for London (TfL) and its predecessors, and pay special attention to language that we have come to associate with “customers” and “customer service.” These are often recognized as signals of neoliberalism within public organizations. I examine the details of these organizational texts and the contextual use of the terms used above, particularly within staff magazines and annual reports, to avoid imposing a macro-historical perspective on the emergence of a current phenomenon – the customer service orientation in London, UK’s public transport organization. The paper illustrates that many of the narratives, logics, and language associated with customer service preceded the dominance of neoliberalism. Consequently, the paper further argues that in avoiding imposing a reading of customer service as necessarily neoliberalism-in-action, it becomes possible to theorize the ways in which the macro-historical processes of neoliberalism articulate with pre-existing organizational discourses found at the meso-level of organizational analysis, within texts. Investigating the nitty gritty of organizational economic culture refines the way in which we may be able to think through the continued domination of neoliberalism. Moreover, employing such a strategy may reveal that what we might think of neoliberalism at first glance might be more than meets the eye.