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December 27, 2010


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Well, you have got me thinking! Let me summarise your analysis in under 140 characters; the revolution is not erupting because of the decline of symbolic efficiency.

Hmmm, that might be true. It is a bit like saying that the book once it escaped the control of the Church led to the decline of the church. In the same way the granularity of identity (due to liberalism and the Internet) makes it hard to have consciousness of ourselves as members of a class, particularly a revolutionary class.

I don't quite get your two options but what if...

The networks also have a tendency towards centralism? Google and Facebook and twitter, and also Wikipedia and Linux have central points of authority, as well as being broadly distributed. They have unifying ideas eg "Don't be Evil" as much crap as that is. I respect the Wikipedia one: Neutral point of view. What if we had a social network with a revolutionary centre? Could it happen?


wow I enjoyed your analysis. It's very hard to find contemporary blogs, especially the mainstream liberal or conservative blogs, that do adequate system analyses. Most get lost in the details, lost in the events of the moment and never analyze any farther than that. Although I'm not a communist and as far as international relations, I am a realist, I'm also a feminist and I've tried to step outside the mainstream political blog with my own blog and analyze from the top down. I just posted about alienation so I found this very interesting. I will be back for more.

Jodi Dean

SoraRyu--thanks for your comments. Your blog sounds interesting--I'll check it out.

Walter--thanks for your comment. Your idea about the tendency toward centralism is interesting; it makes sense in part in terms of hubs as a property of complex networks. I'm not sure what the ideological/symbolic repercussions are of this characteristic of networks, though.

On the one hand, it seems like it must have some kind of hegemonic effect (we can think of McDonalds, the big 3 networks prior to cable, even American Idol to the extent that folks know they don't like it). But I'm reluctant to say that this effect is anchoring in any efficient or strong sense.

On the other hand, you use examples of consciously undertaken ventures that have been able to exert some kind of centralizing effects, effects that go beyond the internet (I have in mind the social role of facebook as well as the cell phone dimensions of Twitter). It would have to be the case that these material aspects of communication, work, life, have ideological effects or that they enable some kind of symbolic efficiencies even if these are too weak to be thought of as collective identities. My sense is that the effects at this point are disaggregating and individualizing AND that the sense of disaggregation and individuation is "common."

The repercussion is a odd paradox of sharing the sense that we don't share anything.

Some on the academic left, perhaps we could call them "postmodernists" or "multiculturalists" have viewed this sense of difference as revolutionary. As I see it, it has been revolutionary for capital, enabling extreme expansions and hindering collective action.


Very thought provoking - especially this: "it's clear now more than ever that capitalism is coming to an end; the struggle is over what comes next." I wonder if this is really true. The economic collapse has stripped bare the barbarism of the system and yet it persists. No doubt, the austerity that is being implemented around the globe will have dire consequences but will this even produce an end to capitalism? I think whatever counter movement or organization forms must be ready for the twilight struggle to last a long time, perhaps several decades, until the system exhausts itself.

I know this has been discussed here before but it needs to be brought up again and again – what is the tipping point at which austerity measures cause massive social unrest to the point that the elites begin to feel threatened? Even conventional-liberal economists (Stiglitz, Krugman, Baker) are pointing to the fact that over the last several months most of the job losses are occurring in the public sector and that these losses will accelerate as austerity is fully implemented.

Thanks again.

Jodi Dean

Thanks, Alain. On the question is it true that capitalism is coming to an end. Here are some thoughts:
--we know that capitalism is a historical formation; it had a beginning and so it will have an end.
--we know that markets are not the same as capitalism, so the continuation of markets, is not the same as the continuation of capitalism;
--it's questionable as to whether the Chinese model of authoritarianism plus markets is capitalist; I think there are good arguments in differing directions here;
--we know that some in the business sector have been criticizing Obama as unfriendly to business (I really don't get this after the bailout); some go so far as to see Obama as a socialist... this would be a strange kind of socialism, a finance socialism that accompanies corporate welfare, an amping up of the state that serves capitalism;

Austerity and massive social unrest: it happened in France, no discernible effect at this point; it's happening in Greece, Italy, and the UK; it happened in Ireland and contributed to calls for new elections. These are just the parts of the world I know a little bit about--I'm sure there are other parts. What about here?

Generally speaking, it's fair to say that in the US the practice of masses taking to the streets is weak, particularly in the last 30 years. Yes, there have been and are organized demonstrations--from the "astro-turf" tv-driven demonstrations of this past fall, to the anti-war demonstrations during most of the Bush administration, to the anti-globalization demonstrations like Seattle.

Academic political science interlude: my partner tells me that, historically speaking, there are more demonstrations when a Democrat is president than when a Republican occupies the White House. I wonder if there is a correlation between decline in union membership and decline in strikes and demonstrations. I don't know the answer, but it couldn't be that difficult to figure out.

Why no mass demonstrations on Wall Street in 2008 and 2009? (And there were a couple of small ones, I think). The left was still supporting Obama and thinking he would be more progressive than he is. I think that is still the case, although it's changing (apparently, there is a racial dimension here with more blacks and latinos thinking he is doing a good job than whites on the left think).

In the UK and Ireland, the protests seem stimulated first by education cuts; these were interesting as a single issue (specific changes to education policy) became galvinizing for the expression of more general discontent with austerity measures. Also, in the UK--there were protests, and the measures still passed--one of the next questions is whether the Lib-Dems will dissolve as a viable party because they went back on their campaign promises.

Will there be revolts in the US if they start dicking around with social security? if they take back the health care plan (although, really, there is something so deeply unsavory about a plan that requires people to buy something on the private market)?

I tend to think that revolts and demonstrations require some kind of organized planning; this planning then helps create the conditions under which all sorts of unpredictable moves occur.

I guess this is a long winded way of saying I don't know if there is a tipping point and I suspect that it has to be created for it to emerge at all.


Thanks for the thoughtful response. I was just writing a comment on your "more inequality" post as you were writing this. I actually think they strangely are in dialogue with each other.

The UK protests have been of interest to me personally because it seems that philosophers and theorists and their students are actively involved. I read in horror about the young philosophy student beaten over the head and had to have brain surgery. But as you point out, the measures still passed.

I ultimately agree that the movement must be created in order for it to emerge. But this still requires a certain level of degradation and economic loss that Americans have not seen since the depression. I suspect we are approaching that point shortly and an organized alternative will have an opportunity to make an impact.


A very compelling post Jodi. Some distinction between protests in the UK and Ireland may be helpful though. What has been astonishing,over the last years, but particularly since October 2010, is the sheer difficulty in mobilising popular opposition. The reasons are manifold and too often over-simplified; distrust of unions,lack of a left political force, or the mainstream favourite that 'we all partied, and therefore all share the blame'. Yet as the risks and crimes of finance capitalism have been transferred to the public, legislated for and ultimately gifted society in Ireland as collateral (damage), it is as if the dimensions of capitalist realism have been re-set and strengthened. The IMF-EU 'bailout', for example - which among other things transfers the National Pension Reserve Fund to the bailout fund as part of the deliberate over-financialisation of the banks- has been very successfully parlayed as a surgical incision, or the necessary discipline of the stern parent 'we' really need, or the dispassionate science of grey cosmocrats. You know the stuff, what is startling is how sticky that discourse is.
Which brings me to your critique of communicative capitalism, which I have found very influential. In the week leading up to the IMF-inspired budget in December 2010, we assembled a network of activists, bloggers, academics, etc, to see to what extent we could 'jam' the recited truths of capitalist realism. Intensively for one week, in a way that is possible in a small country, we tried to draw on the precisely your first 3 positive correlatives and monitor and contest mainstream coverage and political utterances,challenging amnesias, producing fact sheets on billionaires calling for cuts in the minimum wage, or on the IMF, etc. The website is here: http://tinyurl.com/2a3n9p7
I don't want to post for too long here, but it is precisely the relation to antagonism that is now in question. The success of this, if it was successful, is how it provided a space for the coordination of protest and action within affective networks and interconnections. But it is an open question where this goes now. Thanks again.


Gavan - that looks like an incredible website. As you say, it may be more effective because Ireland is a relatively small country. In the US I am afraid it would hardly get noticed. Also, the antagonism is more clearly defined because the EU and IMF are directly involved in stripping the Irish commons bare. I wish you luck.

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thanks for this inspiring post. one point that I seem to disagree is your comment about lots of people liking their jobs and your appeal to interviews with walmart workers in relation to this. although I am not informed about this specific interview, it seems to me that a considerable amount of adaptive attitude is likely to be involved in such answers. having discovered that one is constrained in the possibility of choices available, one might easily be led to shape one's aspirations accordingly. for example, this is so much the case with researches on poverty.
I cant make up my mind about the refusal of work issue. Although it makes sense that it is not a good tactic in high unemployment as you say, I tend to think it is still worthy of consideration since work itself is an important aspect of "manipulation of time" - so to speak. I definitely agree with "uncoupling work from the provisioning of housing, food, and health care", which reminds me of "basic citizenship income".
so thanks again.


Thanks, Alain, and here's to a new year of antagonism!

Jodi Dean

Gavan--thanks for the links to your site and for the information about the situation in Ireland. The site looks really excellent.

Demet--your point makes sense. I realized that what I wrote is way too simple and crude. My idea is try to take job satisfaction or liking one's job out of the critical-political equation. It seems to me to cloud issues of justice and equity: liking one's work seems a justification for crappy pay and vice versa. So my idea was to try to circumvent that kind of argument.

I've been reading an interesting ethnography of investment bankers--most of them absolutely hate their jobs--particularly the insecurity/precarity and the boring nature of the work. They think of their obscene pay as close to well-deserved because their job sucks so much (and they also seem to think that they deserve it more than those in other even shittier jobs because they think of themselves as much, much smarter).

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yes, ı definitely agree with you about "liking a job or not" must be taken out of the equation. that ethnographic work sounds really interesting, is it a book? I would love to read it. one more thing: meeting you and this blog was a very good thing of 2010 for me and I share your wishes for 2011.

Jodi Dean

Demet--sorry to be so late in responding; the book is Liquidated by Karen Ho published by Duke University Press


Walter et al, all life has tendency towards centralism. That is what life is. Life temporarily defies entropy by a process that we could term as centralism, but is better described as an attempt to persist.

An entity, either a single biological entity or a collection of the same is not going to persist versus entropy by decentralising. And for the avoidance of doubt, reproduction is not decentralisation.

If gravity is actually an expression of entropy, as leading physicists are now suggesting, then gravity's centralising tendency is both the reason for life to exist and also threatens its ultimate extinction (following which, by the logic of Einstein, it would be born again).

A reduction in the degree of separation due to an increase in network connectivity seems to me to permit more distinct/distinguishable central nodes to exist. But the decrease in centralisation that implies is offset by the increase in centralisation represented by the network as a whole.

Isn't a decline in symbolic efficiency equivalent to a rise in the number of relevant central nodes/attractors?.

Jodi Dean

One of the key insights of psychoanalysis is the death drive--the tendency to disruption, repetition, stuckness, a persistence that doesn't serve life but cuts across it.

On the decline of symbolic efficiency: the question is the number of central numbers. If you think about it in terms of discourse, if you and are each oriented around a different node (if we express our ideas in terms of different primary signifiers) then we will have a very difficult time communicating.

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