In her penetrating review of my book, Larissa Buchholz suggests that neoliberal apartheid is best understood as a “real type” . Building on the work of George Steinmetz and Phil Gorski, who introduced the concept of “real type” into the social sciences, Buchholz uplifts my work as an example of a global and comparative approach to real type concept formation. Whereas a Weberian ideal type is an abstract concept constructed from concrete phenomena, a critical realist real type is an effort to describe underlying mechanisms that generate actual social structures .
As a graduate student, I came to appreciate and embrace critical realism, with its focus on ontological depth, contingency, and conjunctural analysis. Although I cannot claim that I set out to develop the concept of neoliberal apartheid as a “real type,” I fully endorse Buchholz’s insightful reading of my work. In this short response, I want to expand on her argument by outlining two benefits of a real-type analysis, raising a question about ontological depth, and discussing the utility of real-types for engaged sociology.
By encouraging attention to degrees of ontological depth, a critical realist framework allows us to fully embrace an analysis of both commonality and difference. We can recognize that processes like racial formation play out in historically and contextually specific ways (at the level of the actual) without losing sight of deeper dynamics such as colonization, capitalism, slavery, and genocide that shape these processes (at the level of the real). Lisa Lowe’s recent book, The Intimacies of Four Continents, offers a brilliant example of such a transnational real type analysis . In my work, as Buchholz points out, it involves moving beyond Mill’s method of difference to address a more complex puzzle that requires attention to similarity and difference simultaneously.
A real type analysis also allows us to add depth to the notion of “actually existing” social relations. Neil Brenner, Nik Theodore, Jamie Peck, and Adam Tickell revolutionized the study of political-economy by analyzing neoliberalization as a context-specific process in which market-based projects attempt to transform entrenched patterns of social organization . Rather than pure expressions of neoliberal ideology, the study of “actually existing” neoliberalism requires attention to uneven, incomplete, contested, and contradictory processes of change in particular times and places. Their terminology (“actually existing”) maps perfectly onto the critical realist depth chart. But a critical realist framework highlights the importance of also analyzing deeper mechanisms that combine to produce these processes of change. Perhaps we could call them “really existing” mechanisms. While analyzing neoliberal restructuring as a context-specific process, we can also situate these local manifestations in relation to deeper dynamics and more global patterns. Marginalization and securitization, for instance, are dialectically related processes generated by neoliberal restructuring that can be analyzed at different scales and in different contexts around the world. Buchholz contends that this approach allows us to identify “commonalities beneath epiphenomenal variation.”
In his webinar with Gorski, Steinmetz argues that the concept “real type” should only be used to describe underlying, durable mechanisms at the deepest level of abstraction. But, following Buchholz, I’d like to make a case for conceptualizing real types as combinations of “really existing” mechanisms that operate closer to the surface. To be clear, I am not proposing that they operate at the level of the “empirical,” but rather that there is a range of durability and depth within the realm of the real. The deepest, most foundational mechanisms that I analyze in Palestine/Israel and South Africa are racial capitalism and
settler colonialism. During the 1990s and 2000s, these mechanisms were restructured through a combination of neoliberalization and political negotiations. The result, in both cases, are actually existing social formations marked by extreme inequality, racialized marginalization, advanced strategies of securitization, and constant crises. I refer to the combination of these characteristics as “neoliberal apartheid.” Whereas racial capitalism and settler colonialism are deep mechanisms, I understand neoliberal apartheid as a combination of mechanisms that are ontologically closer the level of the actual.
This has implications for public engagement. Towards the end of their webinar, Steinmetz and Gorski discuss possibilities of using a real type analysis for public or engaged sociology. Gorski suggests that critical realists can identify what is at stake in conflicts and clarify the normative relationships built into our social structures. Steinmetz goes further to argue that critical realists can also uncover and clarify the relationship between struggles taking place throughout the social order. Steinmetz’s formulation resonates with my work, which seeks to identify the underlying dynamics that connect structures of oppression and struggles for liberation. For instance, while most discussions of Palestine/Israel invoke a sense of exceptionality, I attempt to situate Palestine/Israel in relation to processes reshaping social relations throughout much of the world. By invoking the concept of neoliberal apartheid to understand the ruling regimes in South Africa and Palestine/Israel today, I hope that my work can be useful for organizers seeking to build transnational connections between struggles for social justice. Identifying real types that are definitive of a particular era makes it easier to draw out these connections. And, importantly, these connections extend beyond South Africa and Palestine/Israel to other communities confronting combinations of extreme inequality, racialized poverty, and militarized policing. Buchholz wished that I said more about global generalizability in the book, and perhaps I should have. But this is precisely the dialogue that takes place when organizers and activist scholars engage with my work. That is my goal. And it is the reason I appreciate the recognition that Neoliberal Apartheid could properly be a book about San Francisco. One way to determine its value as a real type is to measure the extent to which neoliberal apartheid becomes a useful framework for building links between movements confronting racism, capitalism, colonialism, and empire.
 Clarno 2017;  Facebook post, February 2017; Buchholz 2019;  Steinmetz and Gorski 2017 Lowe 2015;  Brenner and Theodore 2002; Peck and Tickell 2002.
Brenner, Neil and Nik Theodore. 2002. “Cities and the Geographies of ‘Actually Existing Neoliberalism.’” In N. Brenner and N. Theodore (Eds). Spaces of Neoliberalism: Urban Restructuring in North America and Western Europe. Oxford: Blackwell.
Buchholz, Larissa. 2019. “Real Type Formation through Global Comparative Work: Andy Clarno’s Neoliberal Apartheid.” Perspectives (Summer).
Clarno, Andy. 2017. Neoliberal Apartheid: Palestine/Israel and South Africa after 1994. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lowe, Lisa. 2015. The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham: Duke University Press
Peck, Jamie, and Adam Tickell. 2002. “Neoliberalizing Space.” Antipode 34 (3):380-404.
Steinmetz George and Phil Gorski. 2017. “Ideal Types vs Real Types.” Critical Realism Network Webinar Series, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOr5jvUJtQk