Contemporary marketing and innovation strategies often turn on the notion of desire, seeking to address most individual concerns, provide thrills and enjoyment, and have customers lust for the next novelty by turning it into a compelling experience. In doing so, they often seek to mobilize customer movements that contribute to the value creating processes by exploring far out ideas, inventing novel concepts, and valorising new aspects of the products, services, or experiences that are being promoted. Encouraging passionate engagement with the offering, and enrolling the customer as co-designer, co-creator, co-producer will, moreover, tighten the bond to the supplying party, stage an added value, unify and enhance the common interests of the parties involved. Judging, at least, by much contemporary innovation management and marketing literature, such is the dominating belief in many domains of post-industrial society, with its focus on customization and the co-creation of individualized, unique, singular experiences. [N:1] One of the central concerns of seminal works on co-creation, such as C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy’s (2004) The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value With Customers, is how to organize the interface to the customers – facilitate, but indeed also set limits to participation in the creation and production processes.
While such visionary and ultimately normative work exists in abundance, the outlook on how co-creation imperatives of this kind may operate with respect to unconscious desires, and how they may stand in relation to the creative input/output generated at this limit of (im)possibility, is however far less explored and theoretically underdeveloped. Put differently, little management, organization, or marketing research has paid any serious theoretical attention to the regulative and the creative powers of the fantasies and desires that are being staged, activated, and perhaps also directed through marketing schemes and PR efforts which emphasize individualized customer dialogues and the co-creation of unique and singular experiences. Little research has paid any serious theoretical attention to the structural or machinic workings of the creative forces that gain their momentum from such seductive marketing fantasies, and thrive on desire – and to the ethics and the politics involved in such movements, and in the (un)manageable off-shoots they may ultimately generate (for a few exceptions, see, e.g., Cederström & Grassman, 2010; Sköld, 2009; 2010; Sköld & Olaison, 2012). The theoretical understanding of this inter-relational locus of value creation and innovation appears, therefore, to be insufficiently advanced, and makes out the main target of this paper.
Now, a most intuitive move to better understand the creative and productive nature of desire, and the ethics and the politics involved in the kind of desiring production prompted by co-creation practices, would be to consult the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze – particularly the works he co-authored with political activist and Lacanian psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. Demonstrating how desiring-production has become bound up with power, domination, and repression under different kinds of socio-economic régimes, and how it plays a central role in the self-revolutionary or deterritorializing/reterritorializing movement of the capitalist machine, famously led them, in their two volumes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia from the beginning of the nineteen seventies and eighties, towards an ethics and a politics aimed at the liberation of these machineries from the repressive, molar workings of established interests within the social formation. Their means of mapping the unconscious, social machineries of desire that are constitutive of productive forces in contemporary society, and understanding how these machineries play into the continuous organization and reorganization of socio-economic activity, led them to outline a mode of relating to these forces, which sought to escape some of their repressive and subjugating powers – first in Anti-Oedipus (1972/1983) and later in A Thousand Plateaus (1980/1987).
However, forty years have passed since Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborative work was first published. And since then, it has been suggested that the kind of ethics and politics they advocate has been appropriated by the capitalist machinery and lost much of its potency; it has been suggested that its creative ethos, and the liberation of desire which it allegedly prescribes, has been incorporated into post-industrial innovation strategies and co-creation schemes – appropriated by Capital as yet another means for generating surplus value, now by enabling customers to engage in creative processes seemingly on their own terms (see, e.g., Lecercle, 1996; Massumi, 2003; Žižek, 2004). Some, such as Slavoj Žižek (2004), have argued, moreover, that in order to properly understand the ideological landscape of contemporary capitalism, and the productive workings of desire, one had best turn to Lacan for theoretical support. In advancing this position, Žižek has also argued that the affinity between Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan, with respect to how they understand the logic of desire, and its relationship to creativity and the creation of the new, is much more intimate than it usually is taken to be – especially in organization studies (cf. Jones, 2010). In addition to this, Žižek has also argued that it is the earlier Deleuze – the one which had not yet teamed up with Guattari, and which for instance manifests itself in The Logic of Sense (1969/1990) – who comes closest to formulating a Lacanian materialist ontology that is capable of shedding light on the conditions under which the creation of the new emerges; much more so, than the kind of materialist ontology manifested through the political philosophy of Capitalism and Schizophrenia.[N:2]
While the first part of such an analysis appears to have gained acceptance also among avid readers and proponents of Deleuze and Guattari’s joint work, the second part has been subject to severe criticism. For instance has Daniel Smith (2004) suggested that Anti-Oedipus is a very open-hearted attempt to build on Lacan’s thinking, albeit by taking it in a different direction than many of his own disciples – an attempt to continue Lacan’s own project of turning psychoanalysis against itself, taken to its extreme (see also Deleuze, 1995). Moreover has he maintained that the linkages between these two strands of thinking do indeed remain obscured, and ought to be explored further. Taking this conflict as its starting point, this paper starts out with a close reading of Anti-Oedipus, exploring at the same time how it attempts to build on Lacan, and how the ethics and the politics it advocates relates to the desiring production instigated by a contemporary co-creation paradigm. The paper then goes on to explore how Lacan’s own thinking on the different discursive modalities outlined in Seminar XVII and given in 1969-70, against this background and as deployed by contemporary Lacanian theorists such as Slavoj Žižek, may (not) be understood as extending our understanding of the machinic workings of contemporary capitalist dynamics – and thus also furthering the ethical and political implications of the desiring production involved herein.
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1. For influential work supporting this belief, see, e.g., Grönroos, 2000; Pine II & Gilmore, 1999; Vargo & Lusch, 2004; von Hippel, 1988; 2005. For a somewhat longer, and indeed also broader view on this phenomenon, see, e.g., Davis, 1987; Grönroos & Gummesson, 1985; Levitt, 1986; Pine II, 1992.
2. In a conversation with Antonio Negri from 1990, Deleuze claims that ‘Anti-Oedipus was from beginning to end a book of political philosophy.’ (Deleuze, 1995: 170)
ESCP Europe Paris, 2013. 59-62 p.
International Conference "Re-working Lacan at work", ESCP Europe Paris Campus, 14-15 June 2013