Multicultural Neoliberalism, Global Textiles, and the Making of the Indebted Female Entrepreneur in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane

  • Stephen Morton
Part of the Palgrave Politics of Identity and Citizenship Series book series ( CAL)


This chapter considers how Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane inadvertently normalizes homeworking and the entrepreneurial as the horizon of freedom and assimilation for the gendered postcolonial migrant in neoliberal Britain. In so doing, I argue that the novel raises wider questions about the ways in which neoliberal discourses of self-management, personal responsibility, and the entrepreneurial cut across the gendered international division of labour between the core and the periphery. In what ways might Nazneen’s socio-economic and geographical trajectory from the relatively impoverished peripheral space of a village in Bangladesh to the ostensibly prosperous core space of a public housing estate in East London shed light on the ways in which liberal discourses of women’s empowerment have been increasingly subordinated to the economic rationality of neoliberalism? And how might the novel’s references to textile manufacturing in Bangladesh and London be read as a trope for the global connections between the ostensibly disparate experiences of poverty, debt, South Asian women’s labour, and the socio-economic empowerment of the multicultural entrepreneur? The narrative trajectories of Nazneen and Hasina may appear to be discontinuous with the rhetoric of female self-empowerment in discourses of microfinance in South Asia. However, if Nazneen’s narrative of assimilation to the entrepreneurial culture of late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century London is compared to the emancipatory rhetoric of the indebted female entrepreneur in narratives of the Grameen Bank, the socio-economic differences between the plight of South Asian women textile workers in the core and the periphery of the contemporary world economic system start to seem less clear. Against the promise of happiness associated with the lures of diaspora, this essay suggests that a consideration of the genre and form of contemporary novels such as Brick Lane helps to illuminate the ways in which late liberal discourses of multiculturalism (Povinelli, Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011) are increasingly subordinated to the economic norms and values of neoliberalism.


  1. Ahmed, Rehana. 2010. Brick Lane: A Materialist Reading of the Novel and Its Reception. Race and Class 52 (2): 25–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ali, Monica. 2007 [2003]. Brick Lane. London: Black Swan.Google Scholar
  3. Bahktin, Mikhail. 2010. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  4. Brown, Wendy. 2015. Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Caruth, Cathy. 2010. Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. PMLA 125 (4): 1020–1025.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Casanova, Pascale. 2004. The World Republic of Letters. Trans. M.B. DeBevoise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cormack, Alistair. 2006. Migration and the Politics of Narrative Form: Realism and the Postcolonial Subject in Brick Lane. Contemporary Literature 47 (4): 695–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dieterich, Vera, and Caroline Rooney. 2005. Book Unbinding: The Ontological Stain. London: Artwords Press.Google Scholar
  9. Hiddleston, Jane. 2005. Shapes and Shadows: (Un)veiling the Immigrant in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 40 (1): 57–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Karim, Lamia. 2011. Microfinance and Its Discontents. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lazaratto, Maurizio. 2012. The Making of Indebted Man. Trans. Joshua David Gordon. Cambridge, MA: Semiotext(e).Google Scholar
  12. Marx, Karl. 1981 [1894]. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Vol. 3. Trans. David Fernbach. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  13. Marx, John. 2006. The Feminization of Globalization. Cultural Critique 63: 1–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Moretti, Franco. 1987. The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. Trans. Albert Sbragia. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  15. Mowitt, John. 1992. Text: Genealogy of an Interdisciplinary Object. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Mullan, John. 2004. Worlds Within Words: John Mullan Analyses Brick Lane by Monica Ali. Week Four: Diction. The Guardian. June 19. Accessed 7 Jan 2017.
  17. Perera, Sonali. 2014. No Country: Working-Class Writing in the Age of Globalization. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Perfect, Michael. 2008. The Multicultural Bildungsroman: Stereotypes in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane. Journal of Commonwealth Literature 43 (3): 109–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Povinelli, Elizabeth. 2011. Economies of Abandonment: Social Belonging and Endurance in Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Redfield, Marc. 1996. Phantom Formations: Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman. London: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Robbins, Bruce. 2007. Upward Mobility and the Common Good: Toward a Literary History of the Welfare State. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Shamir, Ronen. 2008. The Age of Responsibilization: On Market-Embedded Morality. Economy and Society. 37: 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? In Marxism and the Interpretation of Cultures, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, 66–111. Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  24. ———. 1994. Introduction. In Bringing It All Back Home: Class, Gender and Power in the Modern Household, ed. Harriet Fraud, Stephen A. Resnick, and Richard David Wolff, ix–xvi. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 2008. More Thoughts on Cultural Translation. Transversal/ EIPCP Multilingual Webjournal. Accessed 12 Jan 2017.
  26. ———. 2012. An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Yunus, Muhammad. 2003 [1999]. Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. New York: PublicAffairs.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen Morton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

Personalised recommendations