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Neoliberalism & social capital: how neoliberal austerity impacts community in Bristol


In 2017 – 18, I undertook an MSc Public Policy degree at the University of Bristol. In September I completed my dissertation (Distinction), which explored how neoliberal austerity had shaped social capital, community and governance in Bristol in the years since the 2007/8 financial crisis.

The study is a conceptual analysis of neoliberalism, made up of a literature review on the one hand and a case study, document analysis and interviews on the other.

The study explores the variegated impacts of neoliberalism – as manifest in austerity – on community, situated in a case study of Bristol. The dynamics that emerge reveal differentiated impacts of neoliberal austerity on community; while many aspects of community have been eroded, particularly for deprived areas, for wealthy areas the gaps left by the retreating state can offer opportunities for some groups to provide in its absence.

In exploring this topic, I examine first, the importance of community and how to foster it; second, the notions of neoliberalism and neoliberalisation; and finally, how these manifest through austerity to shape communities in Bristol.

Rather then seeing neoliberalism as the source of all ills, this study analyses how it interplays with numerous other processes and factors to shape community; in doing so, I find a subtle but important contribution by neoliberalism in eroding many aspects of community, and with it, helping to create the rhetoric of the atomized individual.

Read the full study below.

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