Racism and jouissance: Evaluating the “racism as (the theft of) enjoyment” hypothesis

Abstract

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.

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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

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Keywords

  • enjoyment
  • fantasy
  • jouissance
  • Lacan
  • superego