Screaming Compliance – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Screaming Compliance

What if the blog you write, the online petition you signed and the “alternative” news you read are creating no socio-political change at all? What if, actually, all of those efforts really supported the very “system” that you opposed? Sound like speculation? For Professor of Political Science Jodi Dean, it’s flat fact, and her most recent publication proves it. Dean recently published Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics as a chapter in MIT Press’ new release, “Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times.” “As a chapter in this book, the article helps to begin a dialogue that many of the other featured theorists go on to grapple with” Dean said. “My article is based on a concept of ‘communicative capitalism’ that I’ve been developing since 2002 as a way for us to talk about how our particular formation of capitalism relies on people enjoying, expressing their opinions, reading others’ opinions and the like.” “In the context of this book, I’m the critic against whom the other views are set up,” Dean explained. “In one sense Jodi Dean’s chapter throws down the gauntlet: ‘How does one make sense of the phenomenon that, in the face of power, no amount of ‘facts,’ arguments or rational counterpoints impact decisions being made by ‘elected’ officials,'” wrote University of Toronto’s Associate Professor of Theory and Policy Studies and the book’s editor, Megan Boler, in her introduction. “I argue against supporters of such digital media as what the Dutch call ‘tactical media,'” Dean said. “Essentially, I see people ‘becoming aware’ from Web sites, expressing their opinions and oppositions on blogs and Myspace pages, reading ‘alternative’ news sources and the like, and I ask, Where is the radical political movement in that?” “To stress that these activities do not oppose capitalism and in fact support it, I use psychoanalysis to formulate three fantasies: Participation, Abundance and Wholeness,” Dean said. “On one level, this fantasy structure and the article are approachable in terms of these buzz words. However, the argumentation for these fantasies requires a fair amount of theoretical knowledge to understand in depth.” Dean’s critique of what is usually considered dissent doesn’t end there. “What’s inherent in communicative capitalism is a shift from message to contribution,” Dean said. “Typically a message is sent from a sender to receiver, which warrants a response. However, in communicative capitalism the message is sent without needing a response as part of the general circulation of data flow. Feeling like they’re ‘contributing,’ people are in fact performing a pseudo-engagement in which they feel active without enacting any real activity.” “We should understand that under communicative capitalism, every speech act and image leads to a sense of a participating voice, which is in fact a pseudo-activity that is essentially killing us and the planet,” Dean said. “Not only is this book important to changing the way we live and find ways to actually engage politically, it’s also important for even knowing how to talk about media,” Dean explained. “It keeps in mind the languages of other media besides those, like film, that are typically studied in media studies.” “The book also features articles that focus on such high profile topics as The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, Al Jazeera, radio in South America, surveillance and censorship,” Dean said. To find out more about “Digital Media and Democracy,” visit The MIT Press. Another article by Dean, titled “Enjoining Neoliberalism,” is featured in the Spring Issue of the journal Cultural Politics, Volume 4, Number 1. It continues to develop her notion of communicative capitalism. Another article in the same issue of the journal critically engages and extends her work. Dean’s work is stimulating new directions in theorizing digital media.

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