Neoliberalism, Contingency and Urban Policy: The Case of Social Housing in Ontario


Various authors have argued that common understandings of neoliberalism are flawed because they do not adequately account for its geographical contingency or internal contradictions. Many have suggested that neoliberalism is either too internally riven with contradiction to be considered a singular consistent project, or that its implementation is so locally contingent that we cannot plausibly speak of one ideal‐type placeless ideology. Primarily based on interviews with over half of the municipal housing providers in Ontario, this article explores the extent to which the meta‐ideas of neoliberalism are filtered and manifest (or not) locally. Social policy has been neoliberalized in Ontario at least since the advent of the ‘common sense revolution’ in 1995, when a Tory government was elected on a platform of neoliberal reform. The experience of social housing in the province, before, after and during the transition offers a useful window into the debate about the dissonance (or lack thereof) between ideal‐type and contingent neoliberalism. Based on this case, we argue that, despite its obvious conceptual flaws, it is politically and analytically important to understand ideal‐type neoliberalism better.