Contesting competitiveness: The impact of globalization and competitiveness in the post-Fordist era

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Mark Rupert


Competitiveness, Globalization, Post-Fordist, Marxist theory

Subject Categories

American Politics | International Relations


This dissertation is motivated by several questions. Where did the "competitiveness debate" which figured so prominently in business, academic, and policy circles from the early 1980's to the mid-1990's come from? Why did this discourse of competitiveness come into being when it did, and why did its usage in academic and policy circles decline? What are the political implications of competitiveness discourse for nation-states, firms, and citizens? What is at stake for different social actors and institutions? I argue the varying policy prescriptions that make up the competitiveness debate and competitiveness discourse were and are a response to changing economic and political circumstances. The economic crisis of the 1970's and early 1980's resulted in large-scale abandonment of Keynesian welfare state ideology, a reconfiguration of state-capital-labor relations, and a widespread if uneven move towards more liberalized market economies in most advanced industrial democracies. I demonstrate empirically that competitiveness in the academic and policy press declined precisely when the concept of "globalization" began to emerge. I argue that globalization discourse is in many ways the same kind of discourse about the proper form of state-capital-labor relations. While competitiveness and globalization discourse may or may not accurately describe underlying economic conditions, I argue that states and firms deploy the discourse of competitiveness in order to win adherents to a particular world-view. In the ongoing flux of economic and political change generated by capitalist accumulation, the vast majority of people (workers) are forced to make sense of these changes by accepting or rejecting narratives of competition and solidarity. Given this understanding, I use Marx's underappreciated "dual freedom" thesis to illuminate solidarity. I offer empirical evidence of the effectiveness of competitiveness discourse by examining particular instances of competitiveness deployment, studies of the extent of competitiveness deployment as a tool in organized labor struggles, studies of citizens perceptions of globalization and international competition, and "competitiveness councils," both governmental and private.


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