ArticlePDF Available

Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics

Authors:

Abstract

What is the political impact of networked communications technologies? I argue that as communicative capitalism they are profoundly depoliticizing. The argument, first, conceptualizes the current political-economic formation as one of communicative capitalism. It then moves to emphasize specific features of communicative capitalism in light of the fantasies animating them. The fantasy of abundance leads to a shift in the basic unit of communication from the message to the contribution. The fantasy of activity or participation is materialized through technology fetishism. The fantasy of wholeness relies on and produces a global both imaginary and Real. This fantasy prevents the emergence of a clear division between friend and enemy, resulting instead in the more dangerous and profound figuring of the other as a threat to be destroyed. My goal in providing this account of communicative capitalism is to explain why in an age celebrated for its communications there is no response.
CULTURAL POLTICS
51
REPRINTS AVAILABLE
DIRECTLY FROM THE
PUBLISHERS.
PHOTOCOPYING
PERMITTED BY LICENSE
ONLY
PRINTED IN THE UK
CULTURAL POLITICS
COMMUNICATIVE
CAPITALISM:
CIRCULATION AND
THE FORECLOSURE
OF POLITICS
JODI DEAN
ABSTRACT What is the political impact of
networked communications technologies?
I argue that as communicative capitalism
they are profoundly depoliticizing. The
argument, fi rst, conceptualizes the
current political-economic formation as
one of communicative capitalism. It then
moves to emphasize specifi c features of
communicative capitalism in light of the
fantasies animating them. The fantasy of
abundance leads to a shift in the basic
unit of communication from the message
to the contribution. The fantasy of activity
or participation is materialized through
technology fetishism. The fantasy of
wholeness relies on and produces a global
both imaginary and Real. This fantasy
prevents the emergence of a clear division
VOLUME 1, ISSUE 1
PP 51–74
JODI DEAN IS A POLITICAL
THEORIST TEACHING
AND WRITING IN UPSTATE
NEW YORK. HER MOST
RECENT WORK INCLUDES
PUBLICITY’S SECRET:
HOW TECHNOCULTURE
CAPITALIZES ON DEMOCRACY
AND, CO-EDITED WITH PAUL
A. PASSAVANT,
EMPIRE’S
NEW CLOTHES: READING
HARDT AND NEGRI
. SHE IS
CURRENTLY WORKING ON
A BOOK ON THE POLITICAL
THEORY OF SLAVOJ ZIZEK.
CULTURAL POLTICS
52
JODI DEAN
>
between friend and enemy, resulting instead in the more dangerous
and profound fi guring of the other as a threat to be destroyed. My
goal in providing this account of communicative capitalism is to
explain why in an age celebrated for its communications there is
no response.
NO RESPONSE
Although mainstream US media outlets provided the
Bush administration with supportive, non-critical and even
encouraging platforms for making his case for invading Iraq,
critical perspectives were nonetheless well represented in the
communications ow of mediated global capitalist technoculture.
Alternative media, independent media and non-US media provided
thoughtful reports, insightful commentary and critical evaluations
of the “evidence” of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Amy
Goodman’s syndicated radio program, “Democracy Now,” regularly
broadcast shows intensely opposed to the militarism and unilateralism
of the Bush administration’s national security policy. The
Nation
magazine offered detailed and nuanced critiques of various reasons
introduced for attacking Iraq. Circulating on the Internet were lists with
congressional phone and fax numbers, petitions and announcements
for marches, protests and direct-action training sessions. As the
march to war proceeded, thousands of bloggers commented on
each step, referencing other media supporting their positions. When
mainstream US news outlets failed to cover demonstrations such as
the September protest of 400,000 people in London or the October
march on Washington when 250,000 people surrounded the White
House, myriad progressive, alternative and critical left news outlets
supplied frequent and reliable information about the action on the
ground. All in all, a strong anti-war message was out there.
But, the message was not received. It circulated, reduced to the
medium. Even when the White House acknowledged the massive
worldwide demonstrations of February 15, 2003, Bush simply re-
iterated the fact that a message was out there, circulating the
protestors had the right to express their opinions. He didn’t actually
respond to their message. He didn’t treat the words and actions
of the protestors as sending a message to him to which he was in
some sense obligated to respond. Rather, he acknowledged that there
existed views different from his own. There were his views and there
were other views; all had the right to exist, to be expressed – but that
in no way meant, or so Bush made it seem, that these views were
involved with each other. So, despite the terabytes of commentary
and information, there wasn’t exactly a debate over the war. On the
contrary, in the days and weeks prior to the US invasion of Iraq, the
anti-war messages morphed into so much circulating content, just
like all the other cultural effl uvia wafting through cyberia.
We might express this disconnect between engaged criticism
and national strategy in terms of a distinction between politics as
CULTURAL POLTICS
53
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
the circulation of content and politics as offi cial policy. On the one
hand there is media chatter of various kinds – from television talking
heads, radio shock jocks, and the gamut of print media to websites
with RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds, blogs, e-mail lists and the
proliferating versions of instant text messaging. In this dimension,
politicians, governments and activists struggle for visibility, currency
and, in the now quaint term from the dot.com years, mindshare.
On the other hand are institutional politics, the day-to-day activities
of bureaucracies, lawmakers, judges and the apparatuses of the
police and national security states. These components of the political
system seem to run independently of the politics that circulates as
content.
At fi rst glance, this distinction between politics as the circulation
of content and politics as the activity of offi cials makes no sense.
After all, the very premise of liberal democracy is the sovereignty
of the people. And, governance by the people has generally been
thought in terms of communicative freedoms of speech, assembly
and the press, norms of publicity that emphasize transparency and
accountability, and the deliberative practices of the public sphere.
Ideally, the communicative interactions of the public sphere, what
I’ve been referring to as the circulation of content and media chatter,
are supposed to impact offi cial politics.
In the United States today, however, they don’t, or, less bluntly
put, there is a signifi cant disconnect between politics circulating as
content and offi cial politics. Today, the circulation of content in the
dense, intensive networks of global communications relieves top-level
actors (corporate, institutional and governmental) from the obligation
to respond. Rather than responding to messages sent by activists and
critics, they counter with their own contributions to the circulating fl ow
of communications, hoping that suffi cient volume (whether in terms
of number of contributions or the spectacular nature of a contribu-
tion) will give their contributions dominance or stickiness. Instead
of engaged debates, instead of contestations employing common
terms, points of reference or demarcated frontiers, we confront a
multiplication of resistances and assertions so extensive that it
hinders the formation of strong counterhegemonies. The prolifera-
tion, distribution, acceleration and intensifi cation of communicative
access and opportunity, far from enhancing democratic governance
or resistance, results in precisely the opposite – the post-political
formation of communicative capitalism.
Needless to say, I am not claiming that networked communications
never facilitate political resistance. One of the most visible of the
numerous examples to the contrary is perhaps the experience of B92
in Serbia. Radio B92 used the Internet to circumvent governmental
censorship and disseminate news of massive demonstrations against
the Milosevic regime (Matic and Pantic 1999). My point is that the
political effi cacy of networked media depends on its context. Under
conditions of the intensive and extensive proliferation of media,
messages are more likely to get lost as mere contributions to the
CULTURAL POLTICS
54
JODI DEAN
circulation of content. What enhances democracy in one context be-
comes a new form of hegemony in another. Or, the intense circulation
of content in communicative capitalism forecloses the antagonism
necessary for politics. In relatively closed societies, that antagonism
is not only already there but also apparent at and as the very frontier
between open and closed.
My argument proceeds as follows. For the sake of clarity, I begin
by situating the notion of communicative capitalism in the context
of other theories of the present that emphasize changes in com-
munication and communicability. I then move to emphasize specifi c
features of communicative capitalism in light of the fantasies animat-
ing them. First, I take up the fantasy of abundance and discuss the
ways this fantasy results in a shift in the basic unit of communication
from the message to the contribution. Second, I address the fantasy
of activity or participation. I argue that this fantasy is materialized
through technology fetishism. Finally, I consider the fantasy of whole-
ness that relies on and produces a global both imaginary and Real.
I argue that this fantasy prevents the emergence of a clear division
between friend and enemy, resulting instead in the more dangerous
and profound fi guring of the other as a threat to be destroyed. My
goal in providing this account of communicative capitalism is to
explain why in an age celebrated for its communications there is
no response.
In the months before the 2002 congressional elections, just as
the administration urged congress to abdicate its constitutional
responsibility to declare war to the President, mainstream media
frequently employed the trope of “debate. Democratic “leaders,
with an eye to this “debate,” asserted that questions needed to be
asked. They did not take a position or provide a clear alternative to
the Bush administration’s emphasis on preventive war. Giving voice to
the ever-present meme regarding the White House’s public relations
strategy, people on the street spoke of whether Bush had “made
his case. Nevertheless, on the second day of Senate debate on
the use of force in Iraq, no one was on the fl oor – even though many
were in the galler y. Why, at a time when the means of communication
have been revolutionized, when people can contribute their opinions
and access those of others rapidly and immediately, has democracy
failed? Why has the expansion and intensifi cation of communication
networks, the proliferation of the very tools of democracy, coincided
with the collapse of democratic deliberation and, indeed, struggle?
These are the questions the idea of communicative capitalism helps
us answer.
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM
The notion of communicative capitalism conceptualizes the common-
place idea that the market, today, is the site of democratic aspirations,
indeed, the mechanism by which the will of the demos manifests
CULTURAL POLTICS
55
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
itself. We might think here of the circularity of claims regarding
popularity. McDonald’s, Walmart and reality television are depicted
as popular because they seem to offer what people want. How do
we know they offer what people want? People choose them. So,
they must be popular.
The obvious problem with this equation is the way it treats com-
mercial choices, the paradigmatic form of choice per se. But the
market is not a system for delivering political outcomes – despite the
fact that political campaigns are indistinguishable from advertising
or marketing campaigns. Political decisions – to go to war, say, or to
establish the perimeters of legitimate relationships – involve more
than the mindless reiteration of faith, conviction and unsupported
claims (I’m thinking here of the Bush administration’s faith-based
foreign policy and the way it pushed a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda).
The concept of communicative capitalism tries to capture this strange
merging of democracy and capitalism. It does so by highlighting the
way networked communications bring the two together.
Communicative capitalism designates that form of late capitalism
in which values heralded as central to democracy take material form
in networked communications technologies (cf. Dean 2002a; 2002b).
Ideals of access, inclusion, discussion and participation come to be
realized in and through expansions, intensifi cations and interconnec-
tions of global telecommunications. But instead of leading to more
equitable distributions of wealth and infl uence, instead of enabling
the emergence of a richer variety in modes of living and practices of
freedom, the deluge of screens and spectacles undermines political
opportunity and effi cacy for most of the world’s peoples.
Research on the impact of economic globalization makes clear
how the speed, simultaneity and interconnectivity of electronic
communications produce massive concentrations of wealth (Sassen
1996). Not only does the possibility of superprofi ts in the nance and
services complex lead to hypermobility of capital and the devaloriza-
tion of manufacturing but fi nancial markets themselves acquire the
capacity to discipline national governments. In the US, moreover, the
proliferation of media has been accompanied by a shift in political
participation. Rather than actively organized in parties and unions,
politics has become a domain of nancially mediated and profes-
sionalized practices centered on advertising, public relations and the
means of mass communication. Indeed, with the commodifi cation
of communication, more and more domains of life seem to have
been reformatted in terms of market and spectacle. Bluntly put,
the standards of a nance- and consumption-driven entertainment
culture set the very terms of democratic governance today. Chang-
ing the system – organizing against and challenging communicative
capitalism – seems to require strengthening the system: how else
can one organize and get the message across? Doesn’t it require
raising the money, buying the television time, registering the domain
name, building the website and making the links?
CULTURAL POLTICS
56
JODI DEAN
My account of communicative capitalism is affi liated with Georgio
Agamben’s discussion of the alienation of language in the society
of the spectacle and with Slavoj Zizek’s emphasis on post-politics.
And, even as it shares the description of communication as capitalist
production with Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, it differs from their
assessment of the possibilities for political change.
More specifi cally, Agamben notes that “in the old regime . . . the
estrangement of the communicative essence of human beings was
substantiated as a presupposition that had the function of a common
ground (nation, language, religion, etc.)” (Agamben 2000: 115). Under
current conditions, however, “it is precisely this same communicativity,
this same generic essence (language), that is constituted as an
autonomous sphere to the extent to which it becomes the essential
factor of the production cycle. What hinders communication, therefore,
is communicability itself: human beings are being separated by what
unites them.” Agamben is pointing out how the commonality of the
nation state was thought in terms of linguistic and religious groups.
We can extend his point by recognizing that the ideal of constitutional
states, in theories such as Jurgen Habermas’s, say, has also been
conceptualized in terms of the essential communicativity of human
beings: those who can discuss, who can come to an agreement with one
another at least in principle, can be in political relation to one another.
As Agamben makes clear, however, communication has detached
itself from political ideals of belonging and connection to function
today as a primarily economic form. Differently put, communicative
exchanges, rather than being fundamental to democratic politics,
are the basic elements of capitalist production.
Zizek approaches this same problem of the contemporary fore-
closure of the political via the concept of “post-politics.” Zizek explains
that post-politics “emphasizes the need to leave old ideological
divisions behind and confront new issues, armed with the necessary
expert knowledge and free deliberation that takes people’s concrete
needs and demands into account” (1999: 198). Post-politics thus
begins from the premise of consensus and cooperation. Real
antagonism or dissent is foreclosed. Matters previously thought to
require debate and struggle are now addressed as personal issues
or technical concerns. We might think of the ways that the exper t
discourses of psychology and sociology provide explanations for
anger and resentment, in effect treating them as syndromes to be
managed rather than as issues to be politicized. Or we might think
of the probabilities, measures and assessments characteristic of
contemporar y risk management. The problem is that all this tolerance
and attunement to difference and emphasis on hearing another’s
pain prevents politicization. Matters aren’t represented – they don’t
stand for something beyond themselves. They are simply treated in all
their particularity, as specifi c issues to be addressed therapeutically,
juridically, spectacularly or disciplinarily rather than being treated as
elements of larger signifying chains or political formations. Indeed,
CULTURAL POLTICS
57
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
this is how third-way societies support global capital: they prevent
politicization. They focus on administration, again, foreclosing the
very possibility that things might be otherwise.
The post-political world, then, is marked by emphases on multiple
sources of value, on the plurality of beliefs and the importance of
tolerating these beliefs through the cultivation of an attunement to the
contingencies already pervading one’s own values. Divisions between
friends and enemies are replaced by emphases on all of us. Likewise,
politics is understood as not confi ned to specifi c institutional fi elds
but as a characteristic of all of life. There is an attunement, in other
words, to a micropolitics of the everyday. But this very attunement
forecloses the confl ict and opposition necessary for politics.
Finally, Hardt and Negri’s description of the current techno-global-
capitalist formation coincides with Agamben’s account of communica-
tion without communicability and with Zizek’s portrayal of a global
formation characterized by contingency, multiplicity and singularity.
For example, they agree that “communication is the form of capitalist
production in which capital has succeeded in submitting society
entirely and globally to its regime, suppressing all alternative paths”
(Hardt and Negri 2000: 347; cf. Dean 2002b: 272–5). Emphasizing
that there is no outside to the new order of empire, Hardt and Negri
see the whole of empire as an “open site of confl ict” wherein the
incommunicability of struggles, rather than a problem, is an asset
insofar as it releases opposition from the pressure of organization
and prevents co-optation. As I argue elsewhere, this position, while
inspiring, not only embraces the elision between the political and
the economic but also in so doing cedes primacy to the economic,
taking hope from the intensity and immediacy of the crises within
empire. The view I advocate is less optimistic insofar as it rejects
the notion that anything is immediately political, and instead prior-
itizes politicization as the diffi cult challenge of representing specifi c
claims or acts as universal (cf. Laclau 1996: 56-64). Specifi c or
singular acts of resistance, statements of opinion or instances of
transgression are not political in and of themselves; rather, they have
to be politicized, that is articulated together with other struggles,
resistances and ideals in the course or context of opposition to a
shared enemy or opponent (cf. Laclau and Mouffe 1986: 188). Crucial
to this task, then, is understanding how communicative capitalism,
especially insofar as it relies on networked communications, prevents
politicization. To this end, I turn now to the fantasies animating com-
municative capitalism.
THE FANTASY OF ABUNDANCE: FROM MESSAGE TO
CONTRIBUTION
The delirium of the dot.com years was driven by a tremendous
faith in speed, volume and connectivity. The speed and volume
of transactions, say, was itself to generate new “synergies” and
hence wealth. A similar belief underlies the conviction that enhanced
CULTURAL POLTICS
58
JODI DEAN
communications access facilitates democracy. More people than
ever before can make their opinions known. The convenience of the
Web, for example, enables millions not simply to access information
but also to register their points of view, to agree or disagree, to vote
and to send messages. The sheer abundance of messages, then,
is offered as an indication of democratic potential.
In fact, optimists and pessimists alike share this same fantasy
of abundance. Those optimistic about the impact of networked
communications on democratic practices emphasize the wealth of
information available on the Internet and the inclusion of millions
upon millions of voices or points of view into “the conversation”
or “public sphere.” Pessimists worry about the lack of lters, the
data smog and the fact that “all kinds of people” can be part of
the conversation (Dyson 1998; cf. Dean 2002a: 72–3). Despite
their differing assessments of the value of abundance, then, both
optimists and pessimists are committed to the view that networked
communications are characterized by exponential expansions in
opportunities to transmit and receive messages.
The fantasy of abundance covers over the way facts and opinions,
images and reactions circulate in a massive stream of content, losing
their specifi city and merging with and into the data fl ow. Any given
message is thus a contribution to this ever-circulating content. My
argument is that a constitutive feature of communicative capitalism
is precisely this morphing of message into contribution. Let me
explain.
One of the most basic formulations of the idea of communication
is in terms of a message and the response to the message. Under
communicative capitalism, this changes. Messages are contributions
to circulating content – not actions to elicit responses.
1
Differently
put, the exchange value of messages overtakes their use value.
So, a message is no longer primarily a message from a sender to a
receiver. Uncoupled from contexts of action and application – as on
the Web or in print and broadcast media – the message is simply
part of a circulating data stream. Its particular content is irrelevant.
Who sent it is irrelevant. Who receives it is irrelevant. That it need be
responded to is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is circulation,
the addition to the pool. Any particular contribution remains secondary
to the fact of circulation. The value of any particular contribution
is likewise inversely proportionate to the openness, inclusivity or
extent of a circulating data stream – the more opinions or comments
that are out there, the less of an impact any one given one might
make (and the more shock, spectacle or newness is necessar y for
a contribution to register or have an impact). In sum, communication
functions symptomatically to produce its own negation. Or, to return
to Agamben’s terms, communicativity hinders communication.
Communication in communicative capitalism, then, is not, as
Habermas would suggest, action oriented toward reaching under-
standing (Habermas 1984). In Habermas’s model of communicative
CULTURAL POLTICS
59
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
action, the use value of a message depends on its orientation.
In sending a message, a sender intends for it to be received and
understood. Any acceptance or rejection of the message depends
on this understanding. Understanding is thus a
necessary
part of
the communicative exchange. In communicative capitalism, however,
the use value of a message is less impor tant than its exchange
value, its contribution to a larger pool, ow or circulation of content.
A contribution need not be understood; it need only be repeated,
reproduced, forwarded. Circulation is the context, the condition for
the acceptance or rejection of a contribution. Put somewhat differ-
ently, how a contribution circulates determines whether it had been
accepted or rejected. And, just as the producer, labor, drops out of
the picture in commodity exchange, so does the sender (or author)
become immaterial to the contribution. The circulation of logos,
branded media identities, rumors, catchphrases, even positions and
arguments exemplifi es this point. The popularity, the penetration and
duration of a contribution marks its acceptance or success.
Thinking about messages in terms of use value and contributions
in terms of exchange value sheds light on what would otherwise
appear to be an asymmetry in communicative capitalism: the fact
that some messages are received, that some discussions extend
beyond the context of their circulation. Of course, it is also the case
that many commodities are not useless, that people need them. But,
what makes them commodities is not the need people have for them
or, obviously, their use. Rather, it is their economic function, their role
in capitalist exchange. Similarly, the fact that messages can retain
a relation to understanding in no way negates the centrality of their
circulation. Indeed, this link is crucial to the ideological reproduction
of communicative capitalism. Some messages, issues, debates are
effective. Some contributions make a difference. But more signifi cant
is the system, the communicative network. Even when we know that
our specifi c contributions (our messages, posting, books, articles,
lms, letters to the editor) simply circulate in a rapidly moving and
changing ow of content, in contributing, in participating, we act
as if we do not know this. This action manifests ideology as the
belief underlying action, the belief that reproduces communicative
capitalism (Zizek 1989).
The fantasy of abundance both expresses and conceals the shift
from message to contribution. It expresses the shift through its
emphases on expansions in communication – faster, better, cheaper;
more inclusive, more accessible; highspeed, broadband, etc. Yet even
as it emphasizes these multiple expansions and intensifi cations, this
abundance, the fantasy occludes the resulting devaluation of any
particular contribution. Social network analysis demonstrates clearly
the way that blogs, like other citation networks, follow a power law
distribution. They don’t scale; instead, the top few are much more
popular than the middle few, and the middle few are vastly more
popular than the bottom few. Some call this the emergence of an “A
CULTURAL POLTICS
60
JODI DEAN
list” or the 80/20 rule. As Clay Shirkey summarily puts it, “Diversity
plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity,
the more extreme the inequality” (Shirkey 2003).
2
Emphasis on the
fact that one can contribute to a discussion and make one’s opinion
known misdirects attention from the larger system of communication
in which the contribution is embedded.
To put it differently, networked communications are celebrated for
enabling everyone to contribute, participate and be heard. The form
this communication takes, then, isn’t concealed. People are fully
aware of the media, the networks, even the surfeit of information.
But, they act as if they don’t have this knowledge, believing in the
importance of their contributions, presuming that there are readers
for their blogs. Why? As I explain in the next section, I think it involves
the way networked communications induce a kind of registration
effect that supports a fantasy of participation.
THE FANTASY OF PARTICIPATION: TECHNOLOGY
FETISHISM
In their online communications, people are apt to express intense
emotions, intimate feelings, some of the more secret or signifi cant
aspects of their sense of who they are. Years ago, while surfi ng
through Yahoo’s home pages, I found the page of a guy who featured
pictures of his dog, his parents, and himself fully erect in an SM-
style harness. At the bottom of his site was the typical, “Thanks
for stopping by! Don’t forget to write and tell me what you think!”
I mention this quaint image to point to how easy many nd it to
reveal themselves on the Internet. Not only are people accustomed
to putting their thoughts online but also in so doing they believe
their thoughts and ideas are registering –
write and tell me what you
think
! Contributing to the infostream, we might say, has a subjective
registration effect. One
believes
that it matters, that it contributes,
that it means something.
Precisely because of this registration effect, people believe that
their contribution to circulating content is a kind of communicative
action. They believe that they are active, maybe even that they are
making a difference simply by clicking on a button, adding their
name to a petition or commenting on a blog. Zizek describes this
kind of false activity with the term “interpassivity. When we are
interpassive, something else, a fetish object, is active in our stead.
Zizek explains, “you think you are active, while your true position, as
embodied in the fetish, is passive . . .” (1997: 21). The frantic activity
of the fetish works to prevent actual action, to prevent something
from really happening. This suggests to me the way activity on the
Net, frantic contributing and content circulation, may well involve a
profound passivity, one that is interconnected, linked, but passive
nonetheless. Put back in terms of the circulation of contributions that
fail to coalesce into actual debates, that fail as messages in need of
CULTURAL POLTICS
61
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
response, we might think of this odd interpassivity as content that
is linked to other content, but never fully connected.
Weirdly, then, the circulation of communication is depoliticizing,
not because people don’t care or don’t want to be involved, but
because we do! Or, put more precisely, it is depoliticizing because the
form of our involvement ultimately empowers those it is supposed
to resist. Struggles on the Net reiterate struggles in real life, but
insofar as they reiterate these struggles, they displace them. And this
displacement, in turn, secures and protects the space of “offi cial”
politics. This suggests another reason communication functions
fetishistically today: as a disavowal of a more fundamental political
disempowerment or castration. Approaching this fetishistic disavowal
from a different direction, we can ask, if Freud is correct in saying
that a fetish not only covers over a trauma but that in so doing it
also helps one through a trauma, what might serve as an analogous
socio-political trauma today? In my view, in the US a likely answer
can be found in the loss of opportunities for political impact and
effi cacy. In the face of the constraining of states to the demands
and conditions of global markets, the dramatic decrease in union
membership and increase in corporate salaries and benefi ts at the
highest levels, and the shift in political parties from person-intensive
to nance-intensive organization strategies, the political opportunities
open to most Americans are either voting, which increasing numbers
choose not to do, or giving money. Thus, it is not surprising that many
might want to be more active and might feel that action online is a
way of getting their voice heard, a way of making a contribution.
Indeed, interactive communications technology corporations rose
to popularity in part on the message that they were tools for political
empowerment. One might think of Ted Nelson, Stewart Brand, the
People’s Computer Company a
nd their emancipatory images of computing technology. In the
context of the San Francisco Bay Area’s anti-war activism of the early
seventies, they held up computers as the means to the renewal of
participatory democracy. One might also think of the image projected
by Apple Computers. Apple presented itself as changing the world,
as saving democracy by bringing technology to the people. In 1984,
Apple ran an ad for the Macintosh that placed an image of the
computer next to one of Karl Marx. The slogan was, “It was about
time a capitalist started a revolution.” Finally, one might also recall
the guarantees of citizens’ access and the lure of town meetings
for millions, the promises of democratization and education that
drove Al Gore and Newt Gingrich’s political rhetoric in the nineties
as Congress worked through the Information and Infrastructure
Technology Act, the National Information Infrastructure Act (both
passing in 1993) and the1996 Telecommunications Act. These
bills made explicit a convergence of democracy and capitalism, a
rhetorical convergence that the bills brought into material form. As
the 1996 bill affi rmed, “the market will drive both the Internet and
CULTURAL POLTICS
62
JODI DEAN
the information highway” (Dyer-Witheford 1999: 34–5). In all these
cases, what is driving the Net is the promise of political effi cacy, of
the enhancement of democracy through citizens’ access and use of
new communications technologies. But, the promise of participation
is not simply propaganda. No, it is a deeper, underlying fantasy
wherein technology functions as a fetish covering over our impotence
and helping us understand ourselves as active. The working of such
a fantasy is clear in discussions of the political impact of a new
device, system, code or platform. A particular technological innovation
becomes a screen upon which all sorts of fantasies of political
action are projected.
We might think here of peer-to-peer le sharing, especially in
light of the early rather hypnotic, mantra-like appeals to Napster.
Napster – despite that fact that it was a commercial venture – was
heralded as a sea change; it would transform private property, bring
down capitalism. More than piracy, Napster was a popular attack on
private property itself. Nick Dyer-Witheford, for example, argues that
Napster, and other peer-to-peer networks, present “real possibilities
of market disruption as a result of large-scale copyright violation.”
He contends:
While some of these peer-to-peer networks like Napster
– were created as commercial applications, others – such as
Free Net – were designed as political projects with the explicit
intention of destroying both state censorship and commercial
copyright . . The adoption of these celebratory systems as a
central component of North American youth culture presents a
grassroots expansion of the digital commons and, at the very
least, seriously problematizes current plans for their enclosure.
(Dyer-Witheford 2002: 142)
Lost in the celebratory rhetoric is the fact that capitalism has never
depended on one industry. Industries rise and fall. Corporations like
Sony and Bertelsmann can face declines in one sector and still make
astronomical profi ts in others. Joshua Gamson’s point about the legacy
of Internet-philia is appropriate here: wildly displaced enthusiasm
over the political impact of a specifi c technological practice results
in a tendency “to bracket institutions and ownership, to research and
theorize uses and users of new media outside of those brackets,
and to let ‘newness’ overshadow historical continuity” (Gamson
2003: 259). Worries about the loss of the beloved paperback book
to unwieldy e-books weren’t presented as dooming the publishing
industry or assaulting the very regime of private property. Why should
sharing music fi les be any different?
It shouldn’t – and that is my point; Napster is a technological fetish
onto which all sor ts of fantasies of political action are projected. Here
of course the fantasy is one deeply held by music fans: music can
change the world. And, armed with networked personal computers, the
CULTURAL POLTICS
63
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
weapons of choice for American college students in a not-so-radical
oh-so-consumerist entertainment culture, the wired revolutionaries
could think they were changing the world comforted all the while
that nothing would really change (or, at best, they could get record
companies to lower the prices on compact disks).
The technological fetish covers over and sustains a lack on the
part of the subject. That is to say, it protects the fantasy of an active,
engaged subject by acting in the subject’s stead. The technological
fetish “is political” for us, enabling us to go about the rest of our
lives relieved of the guilt that we might not be doing our part and
secure in the belief that we are after all informed, engaged citizens.
The paradox of the technological fetish is that the technology acting
in our stead actually enables us to remain politically passive. We
don’t have to assume political responsibility because, again, the
technology is doing it for us.
The technological fetish also covers over a fundamental lack or
absence in the social order. It protects a fantasy of unity, wholeness or
order, compensating in advance for this impossibility. Differently put,
technologies are invested with hopes and dreams, with aspirations to
something better. A technological fetish is at work when one disavows
the lack or fundamental antagonism forever rupturing (yet producing)
the social by advocating a particular technological fi x. The “fi x” lets
us think that all we need is to universalize a particular technology,
and then we will have a democratic or reconciled social order.
Gamson’s account of gay websites provides a compelling illustration
of this fetish function. Gamson argues that in the US, the Internet
has been a major force in transforming “gay and lesbian media from
organizations answering at least partly to geographical and political
communities into businesses answering primarily to advertisers
and investors” (2003: 260). He focuses on gay portals and their
promises to offer safe and friendly spaces for the gay community.
What he notes, however, is the way that these safe gay spaces now
function primarily “to deliver a market share to corporations.” As he
explains, “community needs are confl ated with consumption desires,
and community equated with market” (Ibid.: 270–1). Qua fetish,
the portal is a screen upon which fantasies of connection can be
projected. These fantasies displace attention from their commercial
context.
Specifying more clearly the operation of the technological fetish
will bring home the way new communications technologies reinforce
communicative capitalism. I emphasize three operations: condensa-
tion, displacement and foreclosure.
The technological fetish operates through
condensation
. The com-
plexities of politics – of organization, struggle, duration, decisiveness,
division, representation, etc. – are condensed into one thing, one
problem to be solved and one technological solution. So, the problem
of democracy is that people aren’t informed; they don’t have the
information they need to participate effectively. Bingo! Information
CULTURAL POLTICS
64
JODI DEAN
technologies provide people with information. This sort of strategy,
however, occludes the problems of organizing and political will. For
example, in the United States – as Mary Graham explains in her study
of the politics of disclosure in chemical emissions, food labeling and
medical error policy – transparency started to function as a regula-
tory mechanism precisely at a time when legislative action seemed
impossible. Agreeing that people had a right to know, politicians
could argue for warning labels and more data while avoiding hard
or unpopular decisions. Corporations could comply – and fi nd ways
to use their reports to improve their market position. “Companies
often lobbied for national disclosure requirements,” Graham writes.
“They did so,” she continues,
because they believed that disclosure could reduce the chances
of tougher regulation, eliminate the threat of multiple state
requirements, or improve competitive advantage . . . Likewise,
large food processing companies and most trade associations
supported national nutritional labeling as an alternative to
multiple state requirements and new regulations, or to a
crackdown on health claims. Some also expected competitive
gain from labeling as consumers, armed with accurate informa-
tion, increased demand for authentically healthful productions.
(Graham 2002: 140)
Additional examples of condensation appear when cybertheorists
and activists emphasize singular websites, blogs and events. The
MediaWhoresOnline blog might be celebrated as a location of critical
commentary on mainstream and conservative journalism but it
is also so small that it doesn’t show up on blog ranking sites like
daypop or Technorati.
The second mode of operation of the technological fetish is through
displacement. I’ve addressed this idea already in my description
of Napster and the way that the technological fetish is political for
us. But I want to expand this sense of displacement to account
for tendencies in some theory writing to displace political energies
elsewhere. Politics is displaced upon the activities of everyday or
ordinary people – as if the writer and readers and academics and
activists and, yes, even the politicians were somehow extraordinary.
What the everyday people do in their everyday lives is supposed to
overfl ow with political activity: confl icts, negotiations, interpretations,
resistances, collusions, cabals, transgressions and resignifi cations.
The Net – as well as cell phones, beepers and other communications
devices (though, weirdly, not the regular old telephone) is thus
teeming with politics. To put up a website, to deface a website, to
redirect hits to other sites, to deny access to a website, to link to a
website – this is construed as real political action. In my view, this
sort of emphasis displaces political energy from the hard work of
organizing and struggle. It also remains oddly one-sided, conveniently
CULTURAL POLTICS
65
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
forgetting both the larger media context of these activities, as if there
were not and have not been left and progressive print publications
and organizations for years, and the political context of networked
communications – the Republican Party as well as all sorts of other
conservative organizations and lobbyists use the Internet just as
much, if not more, than progressive groups.
Writing on Many-2-Many, a group web log on social software, Clay
Shirkey invokes a similar argument to explain Howard Dean’s poor
showing in the Iowa caucuses following what appeared to be his
remarkable successes on the Internet. Shirkey writes:
We know well from past attempts to use social software to
organize groups for political change that it is hard, very hard,
because participation in online communities often provides
a sense of satisfaction that actually dampens a willingness
to interact with the real world. When you’re communing with
like-minded souls, you
feel
[original emphasis] like you’re
accomplishing something by arguing out the smallest details
of your perfect future world, while the imperfect and actual
world takes no notice, as is its custom.
There are many reasons for this, but the main one seems to
be that the pleasures of life online are precisely the way they
provide a respite from the vagaries of the real world. Both the
way the online environment fl attens interaction and the way
everything gets arranged for the convenience of the user makes
the threshold between talking about changing the world and
changing the world even steeper than usual.
3
(Shirkey 2004)
This does not mean that web-based activities are trivial or that
social software is useless. The Web provides an important medium
for connecting and communicating and the Dean campaign was
innovative in its use of social software to build a vital, supportive
movement around Dean’s candidacy. But, the pleasures of the medium
should not displace our attention from the ways that political change
demands much, much more than networked communication and the
way that the medium itself can and does provide a barrier against
action on the ground. As the Dean campaign also demonstrates,
without organized, mobilized action on the ground, without responses
to and from caucus attendees in Iowa, for example, Internet politics
remains precisely that – a politics of and through new media, and
that’s all.
The last operation of the technological fetish follows from the
previous ones: foreclosure. As I have suggested, the political purchase
of the technological fetish is given in advance; it is immediate,
presumed, understood. File sharing
is
political. A website
is
political.
Blogging
is
political. But this very immediacy rests on something
else, on a prior exclusion. And, what is excluded is the possibility
of politicization proper. Consider this breathless proclamation from
Geert Lovink and Florian Schneider:
CULTURAL POLTICS
66
JODI DEAN
The revolution of our age should come as no surprise. It
has been announced for a long time. It is anticipated in the
advantage of the open source idea over archaic terms of
property. It is based on the steady decline of the traditional
client-server architecture and the phenomenal rise of peer-to-
peer technologies. It is practiced already on a daily basis: the
overwhelming success of open standards, free software and
le-sharing tools shows a glimpse of the triumph of a code that
will transform knowledge-production into a world-writable mode.
Today revolution means the wikifi cation of the world; it means
creating many different versions of worlds, which everyone can
read, write, edit and execute. (Lovink and Schneider 2003; cf.
King 2004)
Saying that “revolution means the wikifi cation” of the world
employs an illegitimate short circuit. More specifi cally, it relies on an
ontologization such that the political nature of the world is produced
by particular technological practices. Struggle, confl ict and context
vanish, immediately and magically. Or, they are foreclosed, eliminated
in advance so as to create a space for the utopian celebration of
open source.
To ontologize the political is to collapse the very symbolic space
necessary for politicization, a space between an object and its
representation, its ability to stand for something beyond itself. The
power of the technological fetish stems from this foreclosure of
the political. Bluntly put, a condition of possibility for asserting the
immediately political character of something web radio or open-source
code, say, is not simply the disavowal of other political struggles;
rather, it relies on the prior exclusion of the antagonistic conditions
of emergence of web radio and open source, of their embeddedness
within the brutalities of global capital, of their dependence for
existence on racialized violence and division. Technologies can and
should be politicized. They should be made to represent something
beyond themselves in the service of a struggle against something
beyond themselves. Only such a treatment will avoid fetishization.
THE FANTASY OF WHOLENESS: A GLOBAL ZERO
INSTITUTION
Thus far I’ve discussed the foreclosure of the political in communicative
capitalism in terms of the fantasy of abundance accompanying
the reformatting of messages as contributions and the fantasy of
participation accompanying the technology fetishism. These fantasies
give people the sense that our actions online are politically signifi cant,
that they make a difference. I turn now to the fantasy of wholeness
further animating networked communications. This fantasy furthers
our sense that our contributions to circulating content matter by
locating them in the most signifi cant of possible spaces – the global.
To be sure, I am not arguing that the world ser ves as a space for
CULTURAL POLTICS
67
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
communicative capitalism analogous to the one the nation provided
for industrial capitalism. On the contrary, my argument is that the
space of communicative capitalism is the Internet and that networked
communications materialize specifi c fantasies of unity and wholeness
as the global. The fantasies in turn secure networked transactions
as the Real of global capitalism.
To explain why, I draw from Zizek’s elucidation of a concept introduced
by Claude Levi-Strauss, the zero institution (Zizek 2001: 221–3). A
zero institution is an empty signifi er. It has no determinate meaning
but instead signifi es the presence of meaning. It is an institution
with no positive function all it does is signify institutionality as
such (as opposed to chaos for example). As originally developed
by Levi-Strauss, the concept of the zero institution helps explain
how people with radically different descriptions of their collectivity
nevertheless understand themselves as members of the same tribe.
To the Levi-Straussian idea Zizek adds insight into how both the
nation and sexual difference function as zero institutions. The nation
designates the unity of society in the face of radical antagonism,
the irreconcilable divisions and struggles between classes; sexual
difference, in contrast, suggests difference as such, a zero level of
absolute difference that will always be fi lled in and overdetermined
by contextually given differences.
In light of the nation’s failing capacity to stand symbolically for
institutionality, the Internet has emerged as the zero institution
of communicative capitalism. It enables myriad constituencies to
understand themselves as part of the same global structure even
as they radically disagree, fail to co-link, and inhabit fragmented and
disconnected network spaces. The Internet is not a wide-open space,
with nodes and links to nodes distributed in random fashion such
that any one site is equally likely to get hits as any other site. This
open, smooth, virtual world of endless and equal oppor tunity is a
fantasy. In fact, as Albert-Laszlo Barabasi’s research on directness
in scale-free networks makes clear, the World Wide Web is broken
into four major “continents” with their own navigational requirements
(Barabasi 2003: 161–78). Following links on one continent may
never link a user to another continent; likewise, following links in
one direction does not mean that a user can retrace links back to
her starting point. So despite the fact that its very architecture (like
all directed networks) entails fragmentation into separate spaces,
the Internet presents itself as the unity and fullness of the global.
Here the global is imagined and realized. More than a means through
which communicative capitalism intensifi es its hold and produces its
world, the Internet functions as a particularly powerful zero institution
insofar as it is animated by the fantasy of global unity.
The Internet provides an imaginary site of action and belonging.
Celebrated for its freedoms and lack of boundaries, this imagined
totality serves as a kind of presencing of the global. On the one
hand the Internet imagines, stages and enacts the “global” of global
CULTURAL POLTICS
68
JODI DEAN
capital. But on the other this global is nothing like the “world” – as if
such an entity were possible, as if one could designate an objective
reality undisturbed by the external perspective obser ving it or a
fully consistent essential totality unruptured by antagonism (Zizek
2002: 181).
The oscillations in the 1990s debate over the character of the
Internet can clarify this point. In the debate, Internet users appeared
either as engaged citizens eager to participate in electronic town
halls and regularly communicate with their elected representatives,
or they appeared as web-surfi ng waste-of-lives in dark, dirty rooms
downloading porn, betting on obscure Internet stocks or collecting
evidence of the US government’s work with extraterrestrials at Area 51
(Dean 1997). In other versions of this same matrix, users were either
innocent children or dreadful war-game playing teenage boys. Good
interactions were on Amazon. Bad interactions were underground
and involved drugs, kiddie porn, LSD and plutonium. These familiar
oscillations remind us that the Net has always been particular and
that struggles over regulating the Internet have been struggles over
what kind of particularity would and should be installed. Rather
than multiply far-reaching, engaging and accessible, the Internet
has been constituted in and through confl ict over specifi c practices
and subjectivities. Not everything goes.
We might even say that those who want to clean up the Internet,
who want to get rid of or zone the porn and the gambling, who want
to centralize, rationalize and organize commercial transactions in
ways more benefi cial to established corporations than to small, local
businesses, express as a difference on the Internet what is actually
the starker difference between societies traversed and mediated
through electronic communications and fi nancial networks and those
more reliant on social, interpersonal and extra-legal networks. As
Ernesto Laclau argues, the division between the social and the
non-social, or between society and what is other to it, external and
threatening, can only be expressed as a difference internal to society
(Laclau 1996: 38). If capital today traverses the globe, how can the
difference between us and them be expressed? The oscillations in
the Internet debate suggest that the difference is between those who
are sexualized, undisciplined, violent, irrational, lazy, excessive and
extreme on the one hand, and those who are civilized, mainstream,
hard-working, balanced and normal on the other. Put in psychoanalytic
terms, the other on the Internet is the Real other – not the other I
imagine as like me and not the symbolic other to be recognized and
respected through abstract norms and rights. That the other is Real
brings home the fact that the effort to clean up the Internet was
more than a battle of images and involved more than gambling and
porn. The image of the Internet works as a fantasy of a global unity.
Whatever disrupts this unity cannot be part of the global.
The particularity of the fantasies of the global animating the
Internet is striking. For example, Richard Rogers’ research on linking
CULTURAL POLTICS
69
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
practices on the World Wide Web brings out the Web’s localism and
provincialism. In his account of the Dutch food safety debate, Rogers
notes “little in the way of ‘web dialogue’ or linkage outside of small
Dutch ‘food movement’” (Rogers 2002). Critics of personalized news
as well as of the sheltered world of AOL click on a similar problem
the way the world on the Web is shrunken into a ver y specifi c image
of the global (Patelis 2000). How would fringe culture fans of blogs
on incunabula.org or ollapodrida.org come into contact with sites
providing Koranic instruction to modern Muslims – even if there were
no language problems? And, why would they bother? Why should they?
Indeed, as a number of commentators have worried for a while now,
opportunities to customize the news and announcements one reads
not to mention the already undigestible amount of information
available on topics in which one is deeply interested – contribute to
the segmentation and isolation of users within bubbles of opinions
with which they already agree.
The particularity of these fantasies of the global is important
because this is the global that networked communications produce.
Our networked interactions produce our specifi c worlds as the global
of global capital. They create the expectations and effects of com-
municative capitalism, expectations and effects that necessarily
vary according to one’s context. And, precisely because the global is
whatever specifi c communities or exchanges imagine it to be, anything
outside the experience or comprehension of these communities either
does not exist or is an inhuman, otherworldly alien threat that must
be annihilated. So, if everything is out there on the Internet, anything
I fail to encounter or can’t imagine encountering isn’t simply
excluded (everything is already there), it is foreclosed. Admitting
or accessing what is foreclosed destroys the very order produced
through foreclosure. Thus, the imagined unity of the global, a fantasy
lled in by the particularities of specifi c contexts, is one where there
is no politics; there is already agreement. Circulating content can’t
effect change in this sort of world – it is already complete. The only
alternative is the Real that ruptures my world, that is to say the evil
other I cannot imagine sharing a world with. The very fantasy of a
global that makes my networked interactions vital and important
results in a world closed to politics on the one hand, and threatened
by evil on the other.
CONCLUSION
A Lacanian commonplace is that a letter always arrives at its destina-
tion. What does this mean with respect to networked communica-
tions? It means that a letter, a message, in communicative capitalism
is not really sent. There is no response because there is no arrival.
There is just the contribution to circulating content.
Many readers will likely disagree. Some may say that the line I draw
between politics as circulating content and politics as governance
makes no sense. Dot.orgs, dot.coms, and dot.govs are all clearly
CULTURAL POLTICS
70
JODI DEAN
interconnected and intertwined in their personnel, policies and posi-
tions. But, to the extent that they are interconnected, identifying
any impact on these networks by critical opponents becomes all
the more diffi cult.
Other readers might bring up the successes of MoveOn (www.
moveon.org). From its early push to have Congress censure Bill
Clinton and “move on,” to its presence as a critical force against the
Iraq war, to recent effor ts to prevent George W. Bush from acquiring
a second term, MoveOn has become a presence in mainstream
American politics and boasts over two million members worldwide.
In addition to circulating petitions and arranging e-mails and faxes to
members of Congress, one of MoveOn’s best actions was a virtual
sit-in: over 200,000 of us called into Washington, DC at scheduled
times on the same day, shutting down phone lines into the capital
for hours. In early 2004, MoveOn sponsored an ad contest: the
winning ad would be shown on a major television network during
the Super Bowl football game. The ad was great – but CBS refused
to broadcast it.
As I see it, far from being evidence against my argument, MoveOn
exemplifi es technology fetishism and confi rms my account of the
foreclosure of the political. MoveOn’s campaigns director, Eli Pariser,
says that the organization is “opt-in, it’s decentralized, you do it from
your home” (Boyd 2003: 14). No one has to remain committed or be
bothered with boring meetings. Andrew Boyd, in a positive appraisal
of the group, writes that “MoveOn’s strength lies . . . in providing a
home for busy people who may not want to be a part of a chapter-
based organization with regular meetings . . . By combining a nimble
entrepreneurial style with a strong ethic of listening to its members
via online postings and straw polls – MoveOn has built a responsive,
populist and relatively democratic virtual community” (Ibid.: 16). Busy
people can think they are active – the technology will act for them,
alleviating their guilt while assuring them that nothing will change
too much. The responsive, relatively democratic virtual community
won’t place too many (actually any) demands on them, fully aware
that its democracy is the democracy of communicative capitalism
opinions will circulate, views will be expressed, information will
be accessed. By sending an e-mail, signing a petition, responding
to an ar ticle on a blog, people can feel political. And that feeling
feeds communicative capitalism insofar as it leaves behind the
time-consuming, incremental and risky efforts of politics. MoveOn
likes to emphasize that it abstains from ideology, from division.
While I nd this disingenuous on the surface – MoveOn’s politics are
progressive, anti-war, left-democratic – this sort of non-position strikes
me as precisely that disavowal of the political I’ve been describing:
it is a refusal to take a stand, to venture into the dangerous terrain
of politicization.
Perhaps one can nd better reasons to disagree with me when
one looks at alternative politics, that is when one focuses on the role
CULTURAL POLTICS
71
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
of the Internet in mass mobilizations, in connecting activists from all
over the world and in providing an independent media source. The
February 15, 2003 mobilization of ten million people worldwide to
protest the Bush administration’s push against Iraq is perhaps the
most striking example, but one might also mention MoveOn’s March
16, 2003 candlelight vigil, an action involving over a million people
in 130 countries. Such uses of the Internet are vitally important for
political activists especially given the increasingly all-pervasive
reach of corporate-controlled media. Through them, activists establish
social connections to one another even if not to those outside
their circles. But this does not answer the question of whether such
instances of intense social meaning will drive larger organizational
efforts and contribute to the formation of political solidarities with
more duration. Thus, I remain convinced that the strongest argument
for the political impact of new technologies proceeds in precisely the
opposite direction, that is to say in the direction of post-politics. Even
as globally networked communications provide tools and terrains
of struggle, they make political change more diffi cult and more
necessary – than ever before. To this extent, politics in the sense
of working to change current conditions may well require breaking
with and through the fantasies attaching us to communicative
capitalism.
NOTES
I am grateful to Lee Quinby and Kevin Dunn for comments on an
earlier draft of this paper and to John Armitage and Ryan Bishop for
immeasurable help and patience. My thinking on this paper benefi ted
greatly from exchanges with Noortje Marres, Drazen Pantic, Richard
Rogers and Auke Towslager.
1. A thorough historical analysis of the contribution would spell out
the steps involved in the uncoupling of messages from responses.
Such an analysis would draw out the ways that responses to the
broadly cast messages of television programs were confi gured as
attention and measured in terms of ratings. Nielsen families, in
other words, responded for the rest of us. Yet, as work in cultural
studies, media and communications has repeatedly emphasized,
ratings are not responses and provide little insight into the actual
responses of viewers. These actual responses, we can say, are
uncoupled from the broadcast message and incorporated into
other circuits of communication.
2. I am grateful to Drazen Pantic for sending me a link to this site.
3. Special thanks to Auke Towslager for this url and many others
on blogspace.
REFERENCES
Agamben, G. (2000),
Means Without End: Notes on Politics
, trans. by
V. Binetti and C. Casarino, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press.
CULTURAL POLTICS
72
JODI DEAN
Barabasi, A.-L. (2003),
Linked: How Everything is Connected to
Everything Else and What It Means
, New York: Plume.
Boyd, A. (2003), “The Web Rewires the Movement,
The Nation
(August 4/11): 14.
Dean, J. (1997), “Vir tually Citizens,”
Constellations
4(2) (October):
264–82.
—— (2002),
Publicity’s Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on
Democracy
, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
—— (2004), “The Networked Empire: Communicative Capitalism and
the Hope for Politics,” in P.A. Passavant and J. Dean (eds),
Empire
Strikes Back: Reading Hardt and Negri
, New York: Routledge, pp.
265–88.
Dyer-Witheford, N. (1999),
Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in
High Technology Capitalism
, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
—— (2004), “E-Capital and the Many-Headed Hydra, in G. Elmer
(ed.),
Critical Perspectives on the Internet
, Lanham: Rowman and
Littlefi eld.
Dyson, E. (1998), “The End of the Offi cial Story,”
Brill’s Content
(July/
August): 50–1.
Gamson, J. (2003), “Gay Media, Inc.: Media Structures, the New Gay
Conglomerates, and Collective Sexual Identities,” in M. McCaughey
and M.D. Ayers (eds),
Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory
and Practice
,
New York: Routledge.
Graham, M. (2002),
Democracy by Disclosure: The Rise of Techno-
populism
, Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.
Habermas, J. (1984),
The Theor y of Communicative Action, Volume I:
Reason and the Rationalization of Society
, trans. by T. McCarthy,
Boston: Beacon Press.
Hardt, M. and Negri, A. (2000),
Empire
, Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press.
King, J. (2004), “The Packet Gang,Mute 27 (Winter/Spring), available
at www.metamute.com.
Laclau, E. (1996),
Emancipations
, London: Verso.
Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1986),
Hegemony and Socialist Strategy
,
London: Verso.
Lovink, G. and Schneider, F. (2003), “Reverse Engineering Freedom,”
available at http://www.makeworlds.org/?q=node/view/20
Matic, V. and Pantic, D. (1999), “War of Words,
The Nation
(November 29), available at http://www.thenation.com/doc.
mhtml?i=19991129&s=matic
Patelis, K. (2000), “E-Mediation by America Online,” in R. Rogers (ed.)
Preferred Placement: Knowledge Politics on the Web
, Maastrict:
Jan van Eyck Academie, pp. 49–64.
Rogers, R. (2002), “The Issue has Left the Building,” paper presented
at the Annual Meeting of the International Association of Internet
Researchers, Maastricht, the Netherlands, October 13–16.
CULTURAL POLTICS
73
COMMUNICATIVE CAPITALISM: CIRCULATION AND THE FORECLOSURE OF POLITICS
Sassen, S. (1996),
Losing Control?
, New York: Columbia University
Press.
Shirkey, C. (2003), “Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality,” available at
http://shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html. First published
February 8, 2003 on
the “Networks, Economics, and Culture” mailing list.
—— (2004), “Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?” Many-
2-Many, posted on January 26, available at http://www.corante.
com/many/archives/2004/01/26/is_social_software_bad_for_
the_dean_campaign.php.
Zizek, S. (1989),
The Sublime Object of Ideology
, London: Verso.
—— (1997),
The Plague of Fantasies
, London: Verso.
—— (1999),
The Ticklish Subject
, London: Verso.
—— (2001),
Enjoy Your Symptom
(second edition), New York:
Routledge.
—— (2002), “Afterward: Lenin’s Choice,” in
Revolution at the Gates:
Selected Writings of Lenin from 1917
, London: Verso.
... And while "hiding", we might also deceive ourselves into believing that the newfound convenience of online political activities can adequately replace the hard work of public engagement necessary to mobilize effective social action (see e.g., clicktivism and the fantasy of participation, cf. Dean, 2005, and in this book). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Ahmed brings an extraordinary depth of philosophical and sociological insight to his study of the silenced historical and ideological underpinnings of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). As I note in the afterword, these insights are grounded in field-internal concerns and priorities related to English for Academic Purposes, additional language teaching and language teacher education. In this respect, this book is an invaluable resource for fostering critical engagement and teacher agency for CALL settings and purposes.
... Para Castells (2012) son las siguientes: tener un fuerte compromiso con la organización, adoptar las demandas que sostiene, permanencia regular y voluntaria y un alto grado de participación. Dean (2005) afirma además que la publicación o el intercambio de información por parte de los individuos en plataformas digitales posiciona el flujo de mensajes como un tipo de "acción comunicativa". El autor sugiere que las personas pueden percibir que están activas y haciendo una transformación con sólo hacer clic en un botón, añadir su nombre a una petición o comentar en un blog, teniendo como resultado un activismo pasivo que no se transforma en otros tipos de acción fuera de línea. ...
Book
Full-text available
El objetivo principal de este libro es analizar la importancia que tienen los procesos de acción colectiva y la movilización social en diversos campos y escenarios específicos del sistema político reciente en México.
... A fantasia da participação, tal como definida por Jodi Dean (2005) em sua noção de capitalismo comunicativo, descreve amplamente, em tempos de redes sociais digitais, a igualdade forjada da esfera pública habermasiana, que suprime as diferenças em defesa de uma suposta neutralidade, como critica Nancy Fraser (1992). Anita Gurumurthy, uma das fundadoras e líderes da ONG IT for Change, na Índia, descreve a manifestação dessa reflexão a partir de sua experiência. ...
Article
Full-text available
Este artigo resgata, inicialmente, a influência de Paulo Freire no desenvolvimento de uma epistemologia latino-americana da comunicação para, em seguida, propor a sistematização de uma teoria da comunicação subjacente ao conjunto da obra do educador brasileiro. Assim, dá origem a uma abordagem circular à comunicação, em oposição à abordagem linear, inspirada fundamentalmente na teoria da ação comunicativa de Habermas. Demonstra também a necessidade de desdobrar o pensamento de Freire e incluir outras referências, como as provenientes de cosmologias indígenas e tradicionais. Responde ainda a uma maior aproximação entre as teorias da comunicação e do conhecimento, com um olhar para a diversidade epistemológica e para a interdisciplinaridade.
Chapter
This chapter examines the contentious Covid therapeutic, hydroxychloroquine, using Andrew Feenberg’s theory of technological democratization. I explore whether the use of this experimental medicine is suitable, fit for, or reflective of a process of technological democratization in a manner that is similar to that of HIV/AIDS medicines and trials. In answering this, I draw on Feenberg‘s technological democratization thesis and extend his conception of care, bodily integrity, and communication in medicine using a reconstructed concept of care as expressed by feminist ethics. My central argument is that technological democratization of Covid-19 treatments and the underlying science has been made extremely difficult because hydroxychloroquine has become emblematic of polarized and polarizing political battles. In doing so, I articulate a model of “distorted technological democratization” to explain this phenomenon.
Article
In this article, I draw upon 20 months of participant observation to compare the labor processes of routine, office staff in the popular music and digital content industries in the U.S. In both cases, workers play a game of disappearing, pursuing immersive experiences in their efforts to be more productive. These pleasurably immersive experiences vis-à-vis technology described by informants bear a similarity to aesthetic experiences typically associated with art objects. Comparing how workers describe their aesthetic experiences, I show how the materiality of technology as well as management mediate workers’ immersion. In doing so, this article extends theories of control over work by highlighting the importance of work's affective and aesthetic dimensions while also making an empirical contribution by examining the culture industries’ often overlooked, routine workers in conventional and platformized contexts.
Chapter
En este capítulo analizamos las experiencias de activistas feministas costarricenses que defienden los derechos de las mujeres en redes sociales, enfatizando en las formas en las que al posicionar una agenda pro-derechos y anti-violencia, son a la vez centro de violen- cia digital ejercida por otras personas interactuantes (Sautel, et al., 2007). Los hallazgos son parte de un proceso de investigación que indaga sobre las narrativas de los activismos feministas digitales en torno a sus identidades, agendas políticas y estrategias de comuni- cación para organizar, circular y dialogar información acerca de los derechos de las muje- res y sujetos feminizados en el espacio público digital. Esto con la intención de identificar los usos políticos de las redes sociales y conocer experiencias individuales y colectivas de confrontación y superación de la violencia machista en el entorno digital.
The Networked Empire: Communicative Capitalism and the Hope for Politics
  • J Dean
Dean, J. (1997), "Virtually Citizens," Constellations 4(2) (October): 264-82. --(2002), Publicity's Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy, Ithaca: Cornell University Press. --(2004), "The Networked Empire: Communicative Capitalism and the Hope for Politics," in P.A. Passavant and J. Dean (eds), Empire Strikes Back: Reading Hardt and Negri, New York: Routledge, pp. 265-88.
E-Capital and the Many-Headed Hydra
  • N Dyer-Witheford
Dyer-Witheford, N. (1999), Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, Urbana: University of Illinois Press. --(2004), "E-Capital and the Many-Headed Hydra," in G. Elmer (ed.), Critical Perspectives on the Internet, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefi eld.
The End of the Offi cial Story
  • E Dyson
Dyson, E. (1998), "The End of the Offi cial Story," Brill's Content (July/ August): 50-1.
Reverse Engineering Freedom
  • G Lovink
  • F Schneider
Lovink, G. and Schneider, F. (2003), "Reverse Engineering Freedom," available at http://www.makeworlds.org/?q=node/view/20