Rethinking Development Politics (co-authored with Gavin Fridell; Edward Elgar Publishing)

In this innovative book, Ilan Kapoor and Gavin Fridell rethink development politics psychoanalytically, investigating its unconscious. The book reassesses development in relation to three significant schools of thought: Modernization; (neo)Marxist political economy; and Postdevelop-ment/Decoloniality. It exposes how all three disavow the unconscious temptations of development, resulting in the rationalization of the market, the undervaluation of fantasy and fetishism, and the advocacy of an uncritical politics of authenticity. The book distinguishes the psychoanalytic approach from its predecessors by focusing on contemporary case studies, including digital and green modernization, trade, neopopulism, anti-racist training, and radical politics in present-day Iran. Crucially, these case studies speak to the extent to which the unconscious may be a political resource for reconfiguring development politics to put the subaltern first.

“Ilan Kapoor and Gavin Fridell confront the invisible but active unconscious in development politics and they deliver not just a ‘rethinking’ of issues but an ‘unthinking’ development politics — as they critique modernization, Marxist political economy, postdevelopment and decoloniality. Theirs is a refreshing take predicated on critical psychoanalysis, which explodes the seductive ideologies of development.” — Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, University of Bayreuth, Germany.

Global Libidinal Economy (co-authored with Gavin Fridell, Maureen Sioh, and Pieter de Vries; SUNY Press)

This is the first book to examine global political economy from a psychoanalytic perspective. It claims that the libidinal—the site of unconscious desire—plays not a supplementary or trivial, but a constitutive role in global political economy. Consumption, for example, is not simply a way of satisfying a material or biological need but a doomed attempt at soothing our deeply held sense of loss; and capital is not just a means to material growth and prosperity but is invested with “drive” that seduces, beguiles, and manipulates in the service of unending accumulation. Thus, in contrast to political economy, which assumes a rational subject, libidinal economy is founded on the notion of a desiring subject, who obeys a logic not of good sense or self-interest but profligacy and irrationality. By applying a psychoanalytic lens, Global Libidinal Economy thereby seeks to uncover the unconscious excesses and antagonisms emergent in such key political economy categories as “production,” “trade,” and “ecology,” while also bringing out significant contemporary themes relating to “gender” and “race.”

Global Libidinal Economy is a game changer. This highly innovative and accessible book deserves to be read widely and carefully by scholars of global political economy and global development to better understand the role of unconscious desire in shaping our world.” — Susanne Soederberg, Queen’s Unversity

Universal Politics (co-authored with Zahi Zalloua; Oxford University Press, 2022)

In Universal Politics, Ilan Kapoor and Zahi Zalloua argue that, in the face of the relentless advance of global capitalism, a universal politics is needed today more than ever. But rather than appealing to the narrow particularism of identity politics, the authors argue for a negative universality rooted in social antagonism (i.e., shared experiences of exploitation and marginalization). This conception of shared struggle avoids the trap of a neocolonial universalism, while foregrounding the politics of the systematically dispossessed and excluded. The book examines what a universal politics might look like in the context of key current global sites of struggle, including climate change, workers’ struggles, the Palestinian question, the refugee crisis, Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Political Islam, the Bolivian state under Morales, the European Union, and COVID-19. 

Universal Politics by Ilan Kapoor and Zahi Zalloua comes at a moment that could not have been more timely—when the world seems to be exploding with particularisms and when capital appears as the only universal. Avoiding both the trap of neocolonial universalism and the narrow particularism of identity-based politics, the book develops a truly compelling concept of universal politics. An absolute must-read for anyone interested in emancipatory politics.” — Alenka Zupančič, Institute of Philosophy at the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts

Confronting Desire: Psychoanalysis and International Development (Cornell U Press, 2020)

By applying psychoanalytic perspectives to key themes, concepts, and practices underlying the development enterprise, Confronting Desire offers a new way of analyzing the problems, challenges, and potentialities of international development. Ilan Kapoor makes a compelling case for examining development’s unconscious desires, and in the process inaugurates a new field of study: psychoanalytic development studies.

“This provocatively structured book queers the pursuit of happiness as capitalist development by lodging it in the Lacanian unconscious as read by Slavoj Žižek. Movements for change must take this into account, acknowledging their own enjoyment of/in the undertaking. Required reading.”— Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Columbia University

Psychoanalysis and the GlObal (edited, U of Nebraska Press, 2018)

Psychoanalysis and the GlObal is about the hole at the heart of the “glObal,” meaning the instability and indecipherability that lies at the hub of globalization. The contributors use psychoanalysis to expose the unconscious desires, excesses, and antagonisms that accompany the world of economic flows, cultural circulation, and sociopolitical change. Unlike the mainstream discourse of globalization, which most often assumes unencumbered movement across borders, these contributors uncover what Lacan calls “the Real” of the glObal—its rifts, gaps, exceptions, and contradictions.

Psychoanalysis and the GlObal brilliantly confirms Jacques Lacan’s thesis that the unconscious is political. It not merely applies psychoanalysis to global economic and political movements; it reveals how the unconscious itself is already traversed by social and political antagonisms. For this reason alone, this edited volume by Ilan Kapoor is obligatory reading, not only for those who want to penetrate the dark underside of our social life but also for those who want to bring out the economic and political mediation of our most intimate traumas.”—Slavoj Žižek, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity (Routledge, 2013)

In the last two decades especially, we have witnessed the rise of ‘celebrity’ forms of global humanitarianism and charity work, spearheaded by entertainment stars, billionaires, and activist NGOs (e.g. Bob Geldof, Bono, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Bill Gates, George Soros, Save Darfur, Medeçins Sans Frontières). This book examines this new phenomenon, arguing that celebrity humanitarianism legitimates, and indeed promotes, neoliberal capitalism and global inequality. 

“Ilan Kapoor’s stunning new book exposes the most appealing–and thus most dangerous–sacred cows of contemporary ideology: the humanitarian actor, the billionaire philanthropist, and the NGO. Kapoor shows that it is precisely where we feel most emotionally satisfied that we must be most suspicious. Celebrity Humanitarianism represents a landmark in the critique of ideology and a decisive blow in the struggle against apolitical ethics.”—Todd McGowan, University of Vermont

The Postcolonial Politics of Development (Routledge, 2008)

This book uses a postcolonial lens to question development’s dominant cultural representations and institutional practices, investigating the possibilities for a transformatory postcolonial politics. 

“Kapoor forces development theory and practice to face an unlikely combination of critical traditions: European social theory, postcolonial analysis, and dependencia thinking. In relatively few words, he hits the missing notes in standard and critical scores of foreign aid, democratization, local participation, liberal modernity, basic needs, structural adjustment, good governance, and human rights. Then he serves up Homi Bhabha as antidote. Terrific –and very stylish.”Christine Sylvester, Lancaster University