Best Dissertation Award 2023

The winner of the EISA´s Best Dissertation Award 2023 is Henry Maher from the University of Sydney “Abandoning the Free Market to Save the Free Market: A Discursive Analysis of Neoliberalism in the Global Financial Crisis or Why Won’t Neoliberalism Die”.


The abstract of the thesis:

Despite repeated predictions of its demise in the previous decades, neoliberalism continues to dominate our understandings of economic and political reality. Focusing on the most dramatic crisis of neoliberalism, the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, this thesis uses the tools of Lacanian discourse analysis to explain the ongoing dominance of neoliberalism in spite of its repeated failures. Conceptualising neoliberalism as a dominant discourse, I argue that neoliberal dominance should be located both in its affective potency as discourse, and in the pervasiveness of neoliberal ontological presumptions, which predominate even in accounts that attempt to critique neoliberalism. Part I consists of a history of neoliberal thought, utilising concepts from Lacanian theory to understand the appeal of the neoliberal discourse. I theorise the free market as the master signifier of neoliberal ideology, and using Lacan’s theory of the four discourses, highlight the synergies between the ‘master’ and ‘university’ accounts of neoliberalism. Part II examines the moment of discursive rupture that emerged with the GFC, utilising a corpus comprised of newspaper articles, world leaders’ speeches, thinktank output and G20 documents. Though neoliberalism was challenged during the onset of the crisis, I suggest that critical accounts were largely constructed according to the logic of the hysteric’s discourse, implicitly accepting the validity of neoliberal categories of analysis – most notably, the state/market binary – thereby terminally constraining their ability to offer an alternative. Conversely, by drawing on the ‘master’ and ‘university’ logics, neoliberal accounts were able to reshape the ‘facts’ of the crisis to fit the fantasy of free market infallibility, and therefore demand the intensification of free market policies. In concluding, I use Lacan’s discourse of the analyst to consider future possibilities for thinking beyond the neoliberal horizon.


The committee comment:

"Henry Maher addresses a field defining question, namely why is it that, in face of what appears as its blatant failures, neoliberalism seems to grow stronger and deepen its grips on global politics? By weaving discourse theory, Lacanian scheme of thought and the history of neoliberalism, Henry Maher’s thesis provides a renewed and original account of neoliberalism’s ability to exert an enduring ‘epistemic capture’ on the ways societies across the world understand neoliberalism’s crises, and the responses they deem legitimate. Both the wealth of data assembled and the detailed analysis of the 2008 global financial crisis, which serves as a foil against which reactions to other crises can better be assessed, stand as clear evidence of Maher’s intellectual sophistication".

Honourable Mention

Richard Georgi from the University of Gothenburg:´Political Imaginaries amidst a Peace Deferred. The Politics of Human Rights Activism in the Colombian Peace Process´



About the Best Dissertation Award

The Best Dissertation Award recognizes outstanding work by young scholars in the field of International Relations. It is awarded to dissertations that make a highly original and significant contribution to International Relations based on rigorous research.


The call for nominations for this year’s EISA Best Dissertation Award is now open.

Please attach an electronic copy of the dissertation (pdf or docx file) with the nomination, which should be submitted electronically to