Journal Papers

The failure of transition: Identities, ideologies and imaginary institutions in times of global capitalist crisis







Abstract: Purpose – This paper aims to link the process of “transition”, which started in the former Soviet system about 20 years ago, to the recent global financial and economic crisis. The paper considers “transition” as a shift from one socio-economic “dreamworld” to another, rather than as a real change towards freedom and democracy, as most mainstream commentators would have it. The argument is that this “transition” to a capitalist, free market society was bound up with a host of dream-like imaginations of social and economic progress, which were also found on the imaginary horizon of the Soviet system. It is argued that the two systems, and hence also the recent global capitalist crisis, can be understood as being determined by complementary economies of desires, which, however, cannot be fulfilled. Design/methodology/approach – The paper combines a critical theory perspective, influenced by Buck-Morss and Benjamin, with a Lacanian analysis of subjectivity to critically analyze collective fantasies as the key organizational principle behind the workings and eventual demise of the socialist utopia as well as the more recent downfall of the neoliberal discourse. Findings – The paper demonstrates why both socialism and capitalism can be understood as “real existing” systems where social processes, institutions, ideologies and identities are organized at the interface of political-agonistic and symbolic-imaginary dimensions. Social implications – The paper calls for assuming responsibility for our work as public intellectuals and academics, aiming at the continuous unmasking of illusions, fantasies and ideologies at work in society, which we see as politics proper. Originality/value – The paper uses critical-theoretic, psychoanalytic and post-structuralist frames in order to unravel the fantasmatic kernel at work of both socialist and capitalist utopias. These fantasies do not only struggle to uphold their hegemonic grip on the economy but on the very production of subjectivity.”

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