This paper introduces and evaluates the Lacanian idea that racism can be conceptualized both as a mode of enjoyment (jouissance) and as a reaction to the perceived “theft of enjoyment.” Despite the distinct analytical advantages of this conceptualization—which grapples with racism not merely as discourse or socio-historical construction but in its affective, embodied, sensuous, and fantasmatic dimensions—the “theft of enjoyment” hypothesis can nonetheless be critiqued as: (1) guilty of a depoliticizing psychological reductionism; (2) conceptually under-differentiated and overly inclusive in its field of reference; (3) inattentive to different modes of enjoyment; and (4) conceptually decontextualized, cut off from the associated psychoanalytic concepts that necessarily accompany its proper application. Responding to these critiques, and by way of a defence of the analytic value of this hypothesis, this paper argues that: (1) jouissance is more a sociological than a psychological concept; (2) the notion of enjoyment must remain empty of definitive contents if it is to serve as an anti-essentialist variable of analysis; (3) three inter-connected modes of jouissance should be distinguished (bodily excitation, libidinal treasure, and the surplus vitality of the other); and (4) a series of psychoanalytic notions (drive, fantasy, object petit a, superego) should necessarily accompany any rigorous analytical application of the notion of jouissance to the social field.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D., and Sanford, R.N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper Row.
Baldwin, J. (2017) The Fire Next Time. London: Penguin.
Cohen, P. (2002) Psychoanalysis and racism: Reading the other scene. In: D.T. Goldberg and J. Solomos (eds.) A Companion to Racial and Ethnic Studies. Malden, MA: Backwell, pp. 170–201.
Dean, J. (2006) Žižek’s Politics. London: Routledge.
Engelken-Jorge, M. (2010) The anti-immigrant discourse in Tenerife: Assessing the Lacanian theory of ideology. Journal of Political Ideologies 15(1): 69–88.
Frosh, S. (1989) Psychoanalysis and Psychology: Minding the Gap. London: Macmillan.
George, S. (2014) From alienation to cynicism: Race and the Lacanian unconscious. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 19(4): 360–378.
George, S. (2016) Trauma and Race: A Lacanian Study of African American Identity. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.
Glynos, J. (2001) The grip of ideology: A Lacanian approach to the theory of ideology. Journal of Political Ideologies 6(2): 191–214.
Hazlitt, W. (1822/2004) On the Pleasure of Hating. London: Penguin.
Hook, D. (2017) What is “enjoyment as a political factor”? Journal of Political Psychology 38(4): 605–620.
Huntington, S. (1997) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lacan, J. (1990) Television: A Challenge to the Psychoanalytic Establishment. London: Norton.
Lacan, J. (1995) Proposition of 9 October 1967 on the psychoanalyst of the school. Analysis 6:1–13.
Lane, C. (ed.) (1998) The Psychoanalysis of Race. New York: Columbia University Press.
Leader, D. and Corfield, D. (2007) Why Do People Get Ill? London: Hamish Hamilton.
Marcuse, H. (1964) One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. New York: Beacon Press.
Miller, J.-A. (1994) Extimité. In: M. Bracher, M.W. Alcorn, R.J. Cortell, and F. Massardier-Kenney (eds.) Lacanian Theory of Discourse: Subject, Structure and Society. New York: New York University Press, pp. 74–87.
Pinker, S. (2007) The Stuff of Thought. New York: Allen Lane.
Samuels, R. (2017) Psychoanalyzing the Politics of the New Brain Sciences. London: Palgrave.
Satrapi, M. (2006) Persepolis. London: Random House.
Stavrakakis, Y. (1999) Lacan and the Political. London: Routledge.
Stavrakakis, Y. (2007) The Lacan Left. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Verhaeghe, P. (2002) Beyond Gender. New York: Other Press.
Weisband, E. (2017a) The Macabresque: Human Violation and Hate in Genocide, Mass Atrocity, and Enemy-Making. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weisband, E. (2017b) Personal communication, 23 May.
Žižek, S. (1992) Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Žižek, S. (1993) Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Žižek, S. (1997) The Plague of Fantasies. London: Routledge.
Žižek, S. (2002) For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor. London: Verso.
Žižek, S. (2005) Interrogating the Real. New York: Continuum.
Žižek, S. (2007) Tolerance as an ideological category. Critical Inquiry 34(4): 660–682.
Žižek, S. (2016) Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours. London: Penguin.
About this article
Cite this article
Hook, D. Racism and jouissance: Evaluating the “racism as (the theft of) enjoyment” hypothesis. Psychoanal Cult Soc 23, 244–266 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41282-018-0106-z