17 February 2010

Book: Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies

Jodi Dean, "Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics" (Duke University Press, July 2009):


From the publisher's description: "Through an assessment of the ideologies underlying contemporary political culture, Jodi Dean [...] argues that the left's ability to develop and defend a collective vision of equality and solidarity has been undermined [...]. As Dean explains, communicative capitalism is enabled and exacerbated by the Web and other networked communications media, which reduce political energies to the registration of opinion and the transmission of feelings. The result is a psychotic politics where certainty displaces credibility and the circulation of intense feeling trumps the exchange of reason. Dean's critique ranges from her argument that the term democracy has become a meaningless cipher invoked by the left and right alike to [...] confronting the marriage of neoliberalism and democracy".

Under the title "W(h)ither the State", she yesterday wrote on her blog: "In a discussion of Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies today some students pressed a point of weakness in my discussion: namely, the critique of democracy in all or nothing terms. Rather than considering the multiplicity of forms of local action and community engagement, I reject the democratic 'system,' its liberal-democratic justifications, and its materialization in communicative capitalism. The state is rotten and thus the only solution is revolution."

Reviews: "Her diagnosis of 'communicative capitalism' discloses how our 'really existing democracies' curtail prospects of radical emancipatory politics. Dean demonstrates this status of democracy as a political fantasy not through cheap, pseudo-Marxist denunciations but through a detailed examination of social, symbolic, and libidinal mechanisms and practices. To anyone who continues to dwell on illusions about liberal democracy, one should simply say: 'Hey, didn't you read Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies?'" (Slavoj Žižek, University of Ljubljana/Birkbeck College, London)

"Jodi Dean provides an incredibly lucid explanation of what neoliberalism has been in terms of both policy and collective fantasies regarding the relation of markets to freedom." (Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago)

Dean is also the author of a number of articles apparently opposed to democracy. Among those I haven't been able to access (and that were published in journals that many university libraries may not be subscribed to) is "The Democratic Deadlock" ("Theory & Event", 10 [4], 2007: pp. not given):


Excerpt: "A commonplace of media punditry in the middle years of the first decade of the twenty-first century concerns the deep divide in American politics. Whether in terms of political parties, red states and blue states, support or opposition to US militarism in Afghanistan and Iraq, or the ongoing culture war between the religious right and the secular left, the United States is depicted as a nation split in its fundamental ethico-political self-understanding. This depiction is misleading. It occludes the way these seeming opponents continue to appeal to democracy. Thus, the administration of George W. Bush presents itself as actively engaged in bringing democracy to the Middle East, as encouraging countries throughout the world to strengthen their democratic institutions. The Left, although seemingly opposed to the Bush administration, also appeals to democracy as that which it wishes to restore, redeem, or reach. Why does the Left continue to appeal to democracy? Is democracy, as Slavoj Žižek asks, the ultimate horizon of political thought? For Žižek, to accept this horizon is to accept an impoverished political field, a diminishment of aspirations to something better. We accept the limitation of democracy, convinced that this is as good as it gets. Real existing constitutional democracies privilege the wealthy. They exclude, exploit, and oppress the poor. Crucial determinants of our lives and conditions remain outside the frame of political deliberation and response."

I also had no access to her article "Feminism, Communicative Capitalism, and the Inadequacies of Radical Democracy", published as a chapter in the contributed volume "Radical Democracy and the Internet: Interrogating Theory and Practice", eds. Lincoln Dahlberg and Eugenia Siapera (Palgrave Macmillan, July 2007).

Presumably the book covers most of the arguments she made in her earlier articles.

Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Erasmus Professor of the Humanities in the Faculty of Philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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