This article explores a central paradox of contemporary identity-politics: why do we look for recognition from the very institutions we reject as oppressive? The article puts forward the case that neoliberalism’s continued assault on the bases for collectivity has led to a suspicion that ‘the collective’ as an essentialising concept. The assault on the collective coupled with the neoliberal imperative to create an ‘authentic’ self has led to trauma and victimhood becoming the only bases on which people can unite. This manifests discursively and theoretically in the primary trope of contemporary activism: ‘intersectionality’. Mobilising around this analytical concept has led to an analysis of oppression that, even as it claims to be systemic, is totally dematerialised and relentlessly individualised. Instead of building collective power, we are left with a politics of individual demand coming from a coalition of dispersed subject-positions.
Neoliberalism and the Demands of Victimhood