Issue 13.2 | Spring 2016 / Guest edited by Soniya Munshi and Craig Willse


This special issue takes as one of its intellectual and political starting points the work of INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming and Trans People of Color Against Violence. Founded in 2000, INCITE! addresses the intersectional relationships between state violence and interpersonal violence in communities of color. At the root of INCITE!’s work is an understanding that the reliance on state-based responses to interpersonal violence has normalized a crime-and-punishment approach that promotes arrest and incarceration. Working within the hegemony of this crime-and-punishment context, feminist and queer organizations have found themselves drawn into supporting systems of state violence in efforts to address interpersonal violence within their communities. The growing analysis about what violence looks like, what its systemic roots are, and what strategies there might be to address it that go beyond policing and criminalization were collected in The Color of Violence (2006) anthology, named after three conferences organized by INCITE! (in 2000, 2002, and 2005).[1]

In 2004, INCITE! held another conference, The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, which led to the publication of an edited volume under the same name in 2009.[2] This conference initiated conversations about the evolution of the nonprofit form and how this form has changed the epistemological frame and the ontological terms of social change work. The conference and anthology responded to the contradictory positions in which those working within nonprofits toward social justice aims often find themselves. On the one hand, there was a recognition of the role that nonprofits play in the systemic violence elaborated upon in The Color of Violence, as nonprofits have been positioned by the state as intermediaries between the communities they serve and criminal justice systems. At the same time, as the nonprofit form has become the dominant way communities can access funding and other resources to do their work, radical political projects that work beyond this structure become difficult to sustain. INCITE!’s own experience with the rescinding of Ford Foundation funding due to its statement in support of the struggle for Palestinian liberation exemplified this.[3] INCITE!’s subsequent success raising back the lost money through grassroots fundraising efforts demonstrated support and the possibilities for social movement work beyond foundation grants.

The INCITE! conferences and publications brought into conversation community organizers and advocates, activists, service providers, teachers, and scholars. While differently situated, these various groups find their work shaped in powerful and often constraining ways by what was being named the “non-profit industrial complex” (or NPIC). This term signaled what INCITE! identified as “a system of relationships between the State (or local and federal governments), the owning classes, foundations, and non-profit/NGO social service and social justice organizations.”[4] Contributors to the volumes demonstrated that the nonprofit realm expands to fill the gap left by the neoliberal shrinking of the welfare state and curtailment of public assistance and entitlement programs that have provided essential safety nets for people surviving in precarious conditions of capitalism, gendered hierarchies of heteropatriarchy, racism, and white supremacy. But the nonprofit does not only replace or supplement the welfare state. Rather, the nonprofit actually challenges the viability of radical, autonomous left social movements. As the edited collections powerfully argue, the nonprofit industrial complex undermines grassroots people-powered movements by absorbing their work; marshaling funds, resources, and bases; prioritizing legal and reformist strategies; and promoting social-service provision over social change.

As the critique of the NPIC spread among academic audiences, its analysis was brought to the university setting, launching a nascent critique of the academic industrial complex (AIC). To think in terms of an AIC was to ask parallel questions about why we have the form of institutionalized education that we do and what the role of universities might be in both maintaining status quos and furthering harms caused by capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and white supremacy. The AIC framework brought renewed attention to the role of the academy in directly supporting criminal punishment systems and military industrial complexes.[5] At the same time, if nonprofits have been essential sites for access to life-saving and sustaining resources, universities have remained important locations for generating critical dissent. In recent years, students and teachers have found that space shrinking and made vulnerable through attacks on critical and ethnic studies programs, centers, and faculty members, the elimination of tenure track lines and adjunctification of labor, and the cutting of state funds and increased privatization on the backs of students in the form of unbearable debt.[6]

In response to these conversations, we organized a panel at the 2009 meeting of the American Studies Association to think about the NPIC and the AIC in concert. In convening the panel, we wanted to bring the historical and theoretical models articulated by INCITE! to bear on grounded case studies in which we could see the complex interactions of reform, revolution, service provision, social change, people-led movements, professionalization, and funding schemes. We invited Andrea Smith to join our panel as the discussant and provide perspective from her work with INCITE!, and particularly with The Revolution Will Not Be Funded convening and anthology. The presentations and conversation that followed demonstrated that it was necessary and fruitful to think through the AIC and NPIC together in a sustained way. With Andrea Smith’s encouragement, we decided to expand from that with a publication, and began soliciting pieces that dealt with these questions.

The essays that comprise this special issue tackle the nonprofit and school as two key sites in which neoliberal social and economic reforms are both constituted and contested. The issue demonstrates that these two realms are not distinct, but are deeply implicated in one another, often in joint projects of producing for neoliberalism—producing knowledge and producing communities. Put simply, this collection asks: What are the possibilities for transformative politics given the capacity of neoliberal capital to incorporate, absorb and/or neutralize demands for social justice? And what can we produce in excess of neoliberalism? Considering the nonprofit and the university together offers an opportunity to rethink the relationships between activism and scholarship, as well as a chance to re-theorize neoliberalism from the bottom up.


To think through the AIC and the NPIC together, we situate them in the historical context of neoliberalism. The term neoliberalism has been used to describe a great range of policies, practices, and ideas in varied contexts. Here we want to elaborate on a few ways that a historical understanding of neoliberalism helps orient the essays gathered for this issue.

We understand neoliberalism as the form of capitalism that has dominated transnational economic systems since the early 1970s. As an ideology, neoliberalism is predicated upon the belief that the maximization of social good requires locating all human action in the domain of the market. According to this view, most influentially expressed by Milton Friedman, leaving the individual free to pursue their own self-interest will grow both individual success and happiness as well as the overall economy.[7] Self-interest is understood expressly in market terms—the interest to competitively pursue and acquire wealth—and the state is charged with securing the freedom of individuals for these pursuits. This conceptual linking of market growth and individual freedom has meant that the spread of neoliberal economic policy has come to be seen as equivalent to the spread of democracy.

Accordingly, neoliberal ideology demands governmental non-interference in a market understood to follow a set of natural laws that direct the market toward its continual expansion. This is most commonly expressed in an anti–big government (or any government) rhetoric that has become, in the US at least, the baseline from which debates about any social program begin. Despite constant and vehement calls for less and less state involvement in social and economic life, neoliberalism has in fact elicited persistent and intensive governmental action on its behalf. When neoliberalism moves from a set of ideas into practice, it requires an active state to direct the dismantling of social welfare programs, the deregulation of labor and trade, and the protection of the wealth and assets of transnational corporations and a global elite class.

Thus, while neoliberal ideology depicts its triumphs as a natural and inevitable progression of capitalism, its hegemony has consolidated through direct and intentional action. As Naomi Klein has shown, neoliberalism has required the violent overthrow of existing systems to succeed in taking hold. For example, in the early test case of Chile, it took a 1973 CIA-backed coup of the democratically elected Salvador Allende and the installment of the Pinochet dictatorship to put neoliberal economic reforms into place.[8]

Neoliberalism was introduced more gradually in the United States, beginning with the fiscal reforms of the 1970s. In the early 1980s, neoliberalism started to become visible in its transformations of the social realm. This took place under the administration of Ronald Reagan and the dismantling of the social safety net. Like the reforms of Margaret Thatcher, his counterpart in the United Kingdom, Reagan’s reforms relied on violent and oppressive state tactics, such as the mass firing of striking air traffic controllers as a move to crush organized labor, which stood in the way of neoliberalism.

The cumulative effects of decades of neoliberal reform have been a massive exacerbation of the inequalities of racial capitalism and its gendered divisions of labor. This has resulted in part from the deindustrialization of the US economy and the outsourcing of production jobs overseas. In a racially stratified labor market, the restructuring of these sectors of employment most affected people of color, especially recent immigrants and African Americans. At the same time, the roll-back of social welfare programs in particular has targeted the 1960s Great Society expansion of access to social welfare programs to formerly excluded populations of color.[9] Women of color have borne the brunt of these reforms, as well as of the mechanisms of surveillance and punishment that have become joined to public assistance access.

If the effects of neoliberalism have been racialized and gendered, accompanying discourses have both exploited and obscured this fact. This is true not only for the boosters of neoliberalism, but, as Elizabeth Bernstein and Janet R. Jakobsen argue in their introduction to the fall 2012/spring 2013 S&F Online issue “Gender, Justice, and Neoliberal Transformations,” critics as well have too often failed to interrogate the gender, sexual, and racial dimensions of neoliberalism. Bernstein and Jakobsen write:

Despite the extensive historical documentation of these types of connections between cultural and social relations (such as gender, race, religion, and sexuality on the one hand and economic and political systems on the other) the major schools of thought about neoliberalism tend to reinforce divisions rather than make connections.[10]

Feminist scholars including Lisa Lowe and Lisa Duggan have argued that we must account for the ways in which the economic reforms of neoliberalism are mobilized through cultural discourses of race, gender, and sexuality.[11] Such analysis points to how the gendered and racialized effects of neoliberalism have been hidden under a cover story that blames people of color for their own impoverished conditions. The most infamous version of this perhaps has been what Patricia Hill Collins labels the “controlling image” of the welfare queen.[12] The welfare queen narrative drew from a pathologization of Black families best represented in the 1965 Moynihan Report, which narrated Black families as aberrant failures at heteropatriarchal norms; the report posited this as the source of Black poverty.[13] The image of a single Black mother living in luxury off welfare payments helped generate white opposition to social welfare programs that in fact primarily benefit white individuals and families.[14] Thus neoliberal reforms gained populist support through cultural mobilizations of gender, race, and sexuality. Bernstein and Jakobsen point out that gender, sexuality, and race have also been mobilized to expand neoliberalism through projects of incorporation:

Various feminist and queer scholars have examined the intertwined economic, gendered, and sexual interests that coalesce in corporate campaigns to appropriate seemingly progressive causes such as LGBT rights and the fight against breast cancer, or in the neoliberal state’s appropriation of formerly liberationist discourses (of feminism and queerness) in fomenting “sexual nationalisms,” carceral politics, and securitized borders.[15]

Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell describe the Thatcher/Reagan era as the “roll-back” phase of neoliberalism.[16] By this they mean that in this stage of neoliberal reform, the protections of the social welfare state were actively undone. Of course, this rolling-back is not singular or total, but continues in various forms today. Schools and nonprofit organizations continue to be shaped by ongoing cuts to state support for social welfare and education. As noted earlier, as the state has disavowed its responsibility for the health and well-being of its population, nonprofit industries have grown to assume this role, providing essential social and health services. This privatization has not simply entailed a handing over of state monies, as nonprofits must compete for public funds which are made increasingly scarce. At the same time, schools and universities have suffered major withdrawal of public money. This has been one of the greatest roll-back successes of neoliberal reform. It has meant the aggressive introduction of private corporate interests and business models into education, seen in everything from corporate-produced curriculum to standardized testing. At primary and secondary levels, this has resulted in the expansion of charter schools. In higher education this has meant the privatization of universities through corporate sponsorship of programs, centers, and entire schools.

Peck and Tickell argue that the roll-back phase was followed by a “roll-out” phase in which new programs came to fill the vacuum created by the dismantling of the social welfare state. These new programs primarily have taken the form of social control mechanisms to manage the social unrest and disorder that results from the dismantling of the social safety net in the roll-back phase. In the US, this is represented starkly in the massive expansion of systems of policing and imprisonment. Mechanisms of soft control, which are less obviously coercive and directly violent than imprisonment, have also been rolled out. So while primary and secondary schools have seen the introduction of militarized policing (including metal detectors and armed police in school buildings), the privatization of education through skyrocketing tuition has produced a debt burden that acts as a more subtle form of social control. If mass education has always served to socialize students into the labor force, today debt plays a controlling function that limits the already constrained choices of graduates and absorbs what could be politically resistant energies.

Nonprofits inherit their soft-control function from the social welfare state. In Regulating the Poor, Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argue that social welfare programs in the United States mitigate tensions produced under capitalism by filling in for lack of access to full employment and supplementing inadequate wages and benefits. Piven and Cloward chart how social programs expand in the US during periods of unrest in order to pacify the population and undermine the revolutionary potential of shared experiences of oppression in capitalism.[17] The INCITE! volumes helped show the ways the US nonprofit system may perform that role today, doing the work of the state and keeping in place the status quos of state-sponsored and supported forms of inequality and disenfranchisement. This work also takes the perhaps more insidious form of producing and managing forms of sexual and racial difference that meet the terms and needs of capitalism and the state. With their funding restrictions and a social service model of targeted constituents, nonprofits may reproduce categories of deserving and undeserving along lines of legible and illegible identities in the communities on whose behalf the state calls on them to speak.

This is the contradictory context in which this special issue is situated. Nonprofit organizations and educational institutions exist in precarious conditions that constrain and limit their political and educative horizons. At the same time, they are drafted into managing the social disruptions of that precarity. Within these conditions, nonprofits and schools continue to do more than what the state and capital demand. Resistant practices, identities, and communities emerge and converge. To consider this requires putting some pressure on what may feel like the totalizing impulse of the industrial complex formation, which we take up in the next section.

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  1. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, eds., The Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology (Boston: South End Press, 2006). [Return to text]
  2. INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, eds., The Revolution Will Not be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (Boston: South End Press, 2009). [Return to text]
  3. See INCITE!, “Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.” [Return to text]
  4. Ibid. [Return to text]
  5. See, for example, David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011); Roberto J. Gonzalez, “Towards Mercenary Anthropology? The New US Army Counterinsurgency Manual FM 3–24 and the Military-Anthropology Complex,” Anthropology Today 23.3 (2007): 14–19. [Return to text]
  6. While not much published work to date has used the term “academic industrial complex,” related concerns circulate in analysis of the neoliberalization of higher education, sometimes referred to as “critical university studies.” See Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Sheila Slaughter and Larry L. Leslie, Academic Capitalism: Politics, Policies, and the Entrepreneurial University (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997); Marc Bousquet, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation (New York: New York University Press, 2008); Christopher Newfield, Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008). [Return to text]
  7. See Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). [Return to text]
  8. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2007). [Return to text]
  9. See Jill Quadagno, The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Robert C. Lieberman, Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). [Return to text]
  10. Elizabeth Bernstein and Janet R. Jakobsen, “Introduction: Gender, Justice, and Neoliberal Transformations,” S&F Online 11.1–11.2 (2013/2014). [Return to text]
  11. Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996); Lisa Duggan, The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics, and the Attack on Democracy (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003). [Return to text]
  12. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2002). [Return to text]
  13. See the report at [Return to text]
  14. Martin Gilens, “How the Poor Became Black: The Racialization of American Poverty in Mass Media,” in Sanford F. Schram, Joe Soss, and Richard C. Fording, eds., Race and the Politics of Welfare Reform (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), 101–130. [Return to text]
  15. Bernstein and Jakobsen, “Introduction: Gender, Justice, and Neoliberal Transformations.” [Return to text]
  16. Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell, “Neoliberalizing Space,” Antipode 34.4 (2002): 380–404. [Return to text]
  17. Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (1971; repr. New York: Vintage, 1993). [Return to text]