The New Individualist Perspective: Identity Transformations in the Aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis
In this article I examine some implications of the extraordinary financial and economic crisis sweeping the globe since 2008 – referred to in what follows as the Great Global Crash – with specific reference to the social theory of the new individualism (Elliott and Lemert, 2006, 2009a, 2009b; Elliott 2008, 2009; Elliott and Urry 2010; Elliott, Katagiri and Sawai 2010). The global shocks to worldwide production, financial, consumption and real estate systems unleashed by the crisis of September 2008 has carried profound consequences for economic and social development, both in terms of extensity and intensity, as well as significant implications for global security and political stability. As an indication of the global scope and depth of the macroeconomic financial crisis of 2008, the United Nations (2009) – in a report titled "World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009" – estimated that governments worldwide have spent in economic stimulus packages in excess of $US18 trillion in order to recapitalize banks and failing financial institutions; it was also estimated by the UN that $US2.6 trillion has been spent worldwide in fiscal stimulus packages, and that worldwide unemployment as a direct result of the financial and economic crisis might reach fifty million jobs (although the report also notes that such a figure could well double).
Widely viewed as the worst world recession since the Second World War, the global policy response to the economic and financial crisis of 2008 – centred on monetary, fiscal and financial measures to stabilize financial markets and revive the global electronic economy – has sought to introduce sounder economic management and better policy regulation of the financial sector in order to achieve more sustainable economic goals for the twenty-first century. Some critics have labelled such policy responses as spelling the death of neo-liberalism, or the demise of unfettered, turbo-charged economic globalization. As a consequence, the new individualism – as a construct of identity modes underpinning the global electronic economy of mass consumerism, mass indebtedness and neo-liberalism more generally – has come in for some sustained and probing criticism (see, among others, Smith 2007 and Beasley 2009). However I shall argue in this article that, rather than heralding a new era of austerity or significant cultural reform of the global electronic economy and its associated fast-speed ways of life throughout the expensive, polished cities of the West, that the global financial crisis has ultimately produced a reinforcement and intensification of the ethos of new individualism. The upshot, in sociological terms, has been a lifting of the new individualism to the second power.
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