Author:Robin Whitaker (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
Paper short abstract:
This paper uses research on first-time home buying in metropolitan St. John’s NL to ask how effective government programs aimed at inculcating self-reliance and individual initiative have been at instilling neoliberal ways of thinking and being in relation to the most everyday arena of home life.
Paper long abstract:
From William Levitt's conviction that homeownership was a weapon against communism, to Margaret Thatcher's anti-Socialist strategies for "property-owning democracy," homeownership has long figured in programmatic attempts to remake political subjectivities in their most "everyday" guises. In the case of Thatcherism, the sale of public housing to its tenants was a central plank in a policy architecture aimed at making individualistic and self-reliant national citizens. This ideology of individual responsibility now extends through neoliberal forms of "asset-based welfare," in which homeownership is a gap-filler in the face of diminished public spending. Here, the privately owned home that remains the heart of everyday life for many people is also leveraged to offset attenuated social provisions, subsidizing university education here, supplementing inadequate pensions there.
Combining policy analysis with research on the perspectives of first-time homebuyers and the professionals who advise them, this paper asks how much homeownership has become an arena of everyday neoliberalism in greater St. John's, the capital of a province often portrayed as insufficiently competitive and market-driven. Certainly, recent government initiatives project a neoliberal impetus. A program targeting otherwise-creditworthy people who have trouble saving a downpayment, for example, promotes homeownership as a "solid investment" and includes compulsory financial education. More diffusely, tax and social policies increasingly promote self-reliance. But do official discourses and policies aimed at inculcating neoliberal habits of thought and action always hit their mark? I suggest that that people's "investments" in owned homes do make the, spaces of lived neoliberalism, but only in contradictory and incomplete ways.