In her new book, “Crowds and Party” (forthcoming Feb. 9 from Verso Books), Jodi Dean, who holds the Donald R. Harter ’39 Professorship of the Humanities and Social Sciences, argues for a vision of leftist politics with a renewed focus on the political party as a vehicle for lasting change.
Building on the work of her previous book, “The Communist Horizon,” which learns from and critically engages the Occupy movement, Dean remains concerned with the political organization of the radical left but takes the issue further in “Crowds and Party,“ arguing that the “left needs to return to the party as a form for radical political action. So enough of identity, issues, and momentary events; we need a politics that can actually endure.”
In the first chapters of the new book, Dean offers a critique of individualism and the legacy of the 20th century, and the barriers they impose on collective action.
“We will never get anywhere if people don’t think and act as a collective,” she explains. “Some fear left political power because they think of it only in terms of state socialism. But this fear proceeds as if we were incapable of learning from experience. I think we can. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and even the complex political process around Syriza in Greece suggest a leftward turn on the part of ever more people and an interest in party politics. So I think we are on the right track.”
“Crowds and Party” also continues Dean’s work surrounding the concept of “communicative capitalism,” with a focus on the promises and shortcomings of social media.
“We’ve learned that social media does not enhance democracy — which was the promise of the 90’s ‘town hall for millions.’ Really, it’s better for circulating outrage and cat photos,” she says.
However with hashtags, memes, emojis and selfies, patterns appear, images “go viral” and “an image and idea commons” emerges, which is “important for radical left politics for two reasons,” Dean continues. “One, we can argue that what is common cannot and should not be owned. When we make the content, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and so on should not own it. Two, on the organizing front we can see the power of the common name or image. This suggests a change in left tactics away from creative pluralization and toward militant uniformity. The more common our practices, the more the left starts to feel and potentially act as a party. Common images work, then, to make the tighter left organization more convincing and attractive.”
This winter on Still Searching, a blog moderated by the Fotomuseum Winterthur in Switzerland, Dean examines some of these ideas surrounding contemporary media and the political repercussions of what she calls “secondary visuality…a kind of communication that blends together speech, writing, and image into something irreducible to its components, something new.”
The author or editor of 11 books including “Blog Theory” and “Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies,” Dean elaborated on her newest work in a Jan. 23 interview on This is Hell, the weekly longform political interview radio program on Chicago’s WNUR.
The photo above features Professor of Political Science Jodi Dean teaching at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.