Dilip Gaonkar and the Phenomenology of the Multitude


An interesting rumination on the historical and contemporary meaning of the crowd and riots by Dilip Gaonkar. Here is a brief passage from Gaonkar’s “After the Fictions: Notes Towards a Phenomenology of the Multitude,” which you can read in full at e-flux:

The careers of the crowd as a social formation and rioting as a mode of collective agency have a parallel but not identical history. The crowd is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for any mob/riot to materialize. While the attitude towards rioting has remained steadfastly hostile, crowds are seen as unavoidable. Rioting, often viewed as politically motivated (although it does sometimes erupt in religious and recreational contexts), is denounced as having no “redeeming social value.” Crowds are a different matter. Modern capitalism, in its various phases from the mercantile to the financial, has made peace with crowds. Within the capitalist imaginary, crowds have progressed from being regarded as a necessary evil (the consumer crowd) to a source of wisdom (crowd sourcing). Moreover, the crowd ethos is considered an indispensable (and enhancing) part of the consuming experience. By contrast, the liberal democracy remains deeply fearful of crowds. From that perspective, there is something intrinsically “illiberal” about the crowd to the extent that it leads to the dissolution of the “individual.” Within the liberal imaginary, the individual is the bedrock of social ontology, moral responsibility, and economic calculation and the crowd jeopardizes all those invaluable assets. Every crowd is a potential mob and susceptible to rioting. Hence, the contemporary conjuncture (or political economy) is caught in an irresolvable aporia: coveting crowds and fearing riots. . .

The material reality of the people qua multitude cannot be scattered and settled into a matrix of multiple identities and roles offered by the associational life of civil society, nor into class solidarities, nor into the cultural identities of race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference. This confirms and discloses the fact that the category of people is a collective remainder, ever present and operative, something that exceeds all (real, imagined, and hailed) identities. People precede them both as a source and survive as the remainder as they pass through these identity forms.


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