top of page

The best books about how neoliberalism f*&ks up democracy

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

Check out this great list put together by the Director of Centre for Urban Youth Research, Prof. Jackie Kennelly at the invitation of

By Jackie Kennelly

Who am I?

I came to activism at a young age, inspired by a book given to me by a friend in Grade 10. I also grew up poor; my trajectory into university was unusual for my demographic, a fact I only discovered once I was doing my PhD in the sociology of education. By the time I started interviewing activists for my doctorate, I had a burning desire to understand how social change could happen, what democracy really looked like, and who was left out of participating. I am still trying to figure these things out. If you are, too, the books on this list might help!

I wrote...

Citizen Youth: Culture, Activism, and Agency in a Neoliberal Era

By Jacqueline Kennelly

What is my book about?

What are the ties that bind the 'good youth citizen' and the youth activist in the twenty-first century? Contemporary young people are encouraged—through education and other cultural sites—to 'save the world' via community projects that resemble activism, yet increasingly risk arrest for public acts of dissent. Through an ethnographic study of young people working on activist causes across the three largest urban centres in one of the wealthiest nations in the world (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, Canada), this book unpacks the effects of neoliberalism on democratic participation and explains what it means to be a certain kind of youth citizen in the twenty-first century.

Buy this book at:


The Books I Picked & Why

In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West

By Wendy Brown

Why this book?

I’ve loved Wendy Brown’s work since I started reading it while I was doing my PhD back in 2003. I cite her stuff in almost everything I’ve written. This recent book pulls together her vast expertise and insights about political theory, inequality, and democratic practices to explain how neoliberalism has always been anti-democratic, and how it continues to prop up authoritarian styles of leadership, like that of Donald Trump in the US. Key to this, she argues, is how neoliberalism has always made an appeal to ‘tradition,’ which smuggles in patriarchal, classist, and heterosexist notions of the nuclear family, the supremacy of Christian ideals, and a sort of rugged individualism that denies the necessity of a welfare state.

Buy this book at:


The Human Condition

By Hannah Arendt

Why this book?

Hannah Arendt is one of the most original thinkers of the twentieth century. I love her ability to weave together continental philosophy, in which she was trained, with the dilemmas of the modern world. Arendt grapples with the origins of our actions, which belong to us but also precede us, as we are all embedded in the march of history. This is fundamentally a critique of both liberalism and neoliberalism, which celebrate the individual at the expense of the relational. Arendt makes the case for why humans can only express their ‘who-ness’—their identity and humanity—by participating in the public sphere, within the ‘web of relations’ between individuals who come together at a ‘shared table.’ This is a book I return to again and again, each time getting more insight into the complex ideas of this gifted philosopher.

Buy this book at: