The Politics of Neoliberal Rituals: Performing the Institutionalization of Liminality at Trade Fairs

Anna Leander

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


Exploring the similarities between the Future of Enterprise Technology trade fairs and the ITU AI for Food Summit, this chapter focuses on trade fairs as spaces of political performance. It explores how trade fairs do politics and what the implications of this are. The chapter begins by showing that trade fairs play a crucial role in generating and enshrining the legitimacy and authority of decentralized, distributed market orders that are in constant change. The trade fairs are rituals where a “tournament of values” is performed through which the hierarchies of this order are negotiated. This helps manage but also enshrine the uncertainties associated with decentralized governance. Second, as ritual performances more generally, trade fairs engage the sacred and magical and the affective and embodied to anchor order not only broadly but deeply and individually. Finally, the chapter discusses the quality of the ordering performed in trade fairs, suggesting that what is performed in the trade fair is a form of institutionalized liminality. However, and contrary to the hopes Victor Turner placed in institutionalized liminality, here it is far from progressive. It builds inegalitarian instability into our societies. Precisely because of this, tending to trade fairs is of fundamental import. The trade fair form has become pervasive in governance, including when it involves public institutions (as epitomized by the AI for Good Summit). Understanding trade fairs as ritual political performance at the core of neoliberalism is therefore a condition intervening politically and for realizing the urgency of imagining alternative forms of governing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Politics and Performance
EditorsShirin Rai, Milija Gluhovic, Silvija Jestrovic, Michael Saward
Number of pages17
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication date2021
ISBN (Print)9780190863456
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Published online: March 2021


  • Governance
  • Rituals
  • Liminality
  • Tournament of values
  • Trade fairs
  • Technology
  • Artificial intelligence

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