January 2018

Jodi Dean: The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism


We are told that democracy thrives on engagement, that it requires near universal participation by voters in bi- or quadrennial elections. In this video, Jodi Dean critiques neoliberal democratic “participation” as a moment of capture and diffusion of political sentiment.

Dean suggests that while we may seek to deploy and define “democracy against capitalism” (as Ellen Meiksins Wood has said, and as Chantal Mouffe will attempt later in this series), we need to consider equally how democratic expression is coopted by its own platforms. In “communicative capitalism,” participation paradoxically serves to depoliticize the participant and to estrange them from a sense of collective possibility, burrowing deeper into an individualized politics. Dean’s lecture suggests that the terms on which we engage democracy must change, considering capital’s increasing commodification of communication and sociality itself. Otherwise, political expression merely increases the value generated and unequally distributed by capitalist networks.

An important part of Dean’s argument is that democracy operates within capitalism not so much as a series of ideals or as a political structure but as a kind of “drive” that can be exploited. The more complex this network becomes, the more effective it is at channeling political expression into a repetitive loop. Diabolically, the “democratic drive” is used to divert us from democratic politics.

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