Desire and discipline in neoliberal Ghana
(University of Pennsylvania)
Paper short abstract:
Examining corruption and anticorruption in Ghana over the past two decades, this paper seeks to understand the role of desire in constituting capitalism and the state in Africa and beyond.
Paper long abstract:
Examining corruption and anticorruption in neoliberal Ghana, this paper seeks to understand the role of desire in constituting capitalism and the state in Africa and beyond. Neoliberal transformations in have unleashed new waves of desire: for commodities and media, for freedom and social justice. While championing the liberating forces of desire in economic and political realms, neoliberal discourses from global institutions tend to banish and demonize desire in the realm of the state. In the name of efficiency, democracy, and anti-corruption, the state is subject to new rigors of discipline and abnegation. Traditional approaches conceptualize desire as libidinal motivation in the direction of a missing object. Desire is a longing for a certain state of completion or plenitude. This definition holds well with the naturalization of capitalism as the economic manifestation of the human psyche: (neurotic) subjects naturally long for commodities (as substitutes or sublimations) and organically generate the social realm in their pursuit of them. This model of desire sees the state as an external regulatory institution, a neutral referee enforcing the humanitarian rules of the game. Thus, the functional state must be free from desire. Desire acts as a contaminant in the state, manifesting itself in the pathologies of corruption, tyranny, and violence. Informed by precolonial and colonial history, this paper aims to show how a completely different conceptualization of desire infuses realms of the market and the state in Ghana--one that places social and communal desire at the heart of the state.
Desire and the ethnography of economic and political change