Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is Professor of Political Science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She is the author or editor of eleven books, including Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies and The Com­mun­ist Hori­zon (Verso, Octo­ber 2012).

Saying ‘We’ Again: A Conversation with Jodi Dean on Democracy, Occupy and Communism

Biebricher & Celikates (‘B&C’): You argue that democracy is so intimately tied up with what you call ‘communicative capitalism’ that every attempt from the left to re-appropriate the term, to give it a more radical meaning and to distinguish it from the electoral regimes of representative democracy has to fail. This seems difficult to accept for many people on the left.

Jodi Dean (‘JD’): There are a couple of reasons why I take this position. First, and most broadly, democracy is not a category of contestation anymore. Right and left agree on democracy and use a democratic rhetoric to justify their positions. George Bush claimed to be defending democracy all over the world by bombing all sorts of people. If that is democracy, then that is not a language that the left can use to formulate an egalitarian and emancipatory potential or hope. A second reason, which is a repercussion of the first one, is that democracy is a kind of ambient milieu, it’s the air we breathe, everything is put in terms of democracy nowadays. And this relates to the third reason: the rhetoric of democracy is particularly strong now in the way in which it is combined with the form of capitalism I call ‘communicative capitalism’, where ideals of inclusion and participation, of making one’s voice heard and one’s opinion known are also used by TMobile and Apple. Participation ends up being the answer to everything. If that’s the case, referring to it is not making a cut with our dominant frame, it’s just reinforcing it. If governments and corporations are encouraging one to participate then leftists don’t add one thing that’s not already present if they say that what we need is to make sure that everyone is participating and included—that’s already what we have. For the left to be able to make a break we have to speak a language that is not already the one we’re in.

Occupy Wall Street and the Left

Occupy Wall Street, for all its talk of horizontality, autonomy, and decentralized process, is recentering the economy, engaging in class warfare without naming the working class as one of two great hostile forces but instead by presenting capitalism as a wrong against the people. It’s putting capitalism back at center of left politics—no wonder, then,…

Consensus

I have been critical of the consensus-based, horizontal practices associated with contemporary anarchism. My criticism has been based on what I’ve viewed as an underlying individualism–no one has the right to speak for any other, each person must speak for themselves, etc. Graeber sometimes describes the virtues of anarchism in terms of an underlying individualism…