The Subject in the Crowd: A Critical Discussion of Jodi Dean’s “Crowds and Party”

A Research Paper by Jacob Johanssen, published by TripleC

This article presents a critical discussion of Jodi Dean’s (2016) book “Crowds and Party”. I pay particular attention to her discussion of crowds that is influenced by psychoanalysis. Dean has put forward an important argument for the affectivity within crowds that may be transformed into a Communist Party that is characterised by a similar affective infrastructure. I suggest that Dean’s discussion of affect is slightly vague at times and may be supplemented with Sigmund Freud’s work on affect. In contrast to Dean, who stresses the collectivity and deindividuation of the crowd, I argue that the crowd needs to be thought of as a place where individuality and collectivity come together and remain in tension.

Introduction

Jodi Dean’s recently published book Crowds and Party (2016) was possibly triggered by current uprisings and past demonstrations that have all occurred over the last 5–10 years or so: the Arab Spring, the Indignados movement in Spain, the Occupation of Gezi Park in Turkey, the Occupy movement across the world, mass demonstrations against austerity in Greece, the UK and the rest of Europe, the recent Nuit Debout protests in France to name only a few. They may be seen as grassroots uprisings against forms of domination that are deeply rooted within capitalism and specifically what Dean has called “communicative capitalism” (Dean 2009) elsewhere. But most importantly for her work that results from these developments: they all take the form of the crowd, or crowd gatherings. As a result, Dean wishes to analytically define and value the crowd as a form of emancipatory uprising characteristic of the Left in general. The second major point of her work that is held together by the word “and” in the book’s title concerns a passionate argument for a revival of the Communist Party. Dean’s book is a gripping read. She weaves a tapestry of different writers and argues with a verve for a unified Left that one finds it difficult not to agree to. It is particularly Dean’s drawing on psychoanalysis and specifically Freud (1949) and Lacan (2002) that is important and impressive, for she manages to develop theories of the crowd and the Communist Party that may account for affective, unconscious and conscious subjective and intersubjective dynamics in both phenomena. I explore both crowd and party components of the book in more detail in this article and argue that there are some problems with the book that concern (a) Dean’s discussion of affectivity within crowds and (b) her slightly romantic discussion of the Communist Party. She writes what characteristics a new Party should have without providing ideas or visions of how we can transform crowds into the Party or parties. In the following, I suggest that Dean’s discussion of Freud’s work on crowds can be supplemented with his work on affect that has remained largely ignored within academia. Secondly, I suggest that we must envision and embrace a model of the Party that is characterised by affect (as Dean herself does) but also by divisions, antagonisms and differences as they occur in groups and individuals alike. This article is not meant as a critique of Dean’s work. My suggestions and theoretical discussion may possibly make her arguments stronger.

Read the whole of Jacob’s article on TripleC

Jacob Johanssen

About

Jacob Johanssen's work revolves mainly around two themes: exploring Freudian psychoanalysis as a theory and method for media audience research with a particular focus on psychoanalytic conceptualisations of affect, as well as using psychoanalysis to think critically about contemporary digital culture more broadly.

His research interests include audience research, social media, digital labour, psychoanalysis and the media, affect theory, psychosocial studies, critical theory, as well as digital culture. His work has appeared in the International Journal of Cultural Studies, International Communication Gazette, and Interactions: Studies in Communication and Culture.

Details

Date
25th October 2016
Published By
TripleC
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