Rethinking the Spectacle
252 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Release Date:01 Feb 2020
Release Date:15 Jun 2019
Release Date:15 Jun 2019
Release Date:15 Jun 2019

Rethinking the Spectacle

Guy Debord, Radical Democracy, and the Digital Age

UBC Press

Spectacle is usually considered a superficial form of politics, which tries to influence viewers by shocking, distracting, emotionally overwhelming, or even deceiving them. It is difficult to see how this type of politics could be reconciled with the democratic requirement of active and informed agency.

In Rethinking the Spectacle, Devin Penner re-examines the tension between spectacle and political agency in our digital society and explores the nature of spectacle and radical democracy. Penner uses the theories and practices of Guy Debord and the organization of social revolutionaries he co-founded, the Situationist International, as a point of departure, offering both a critical review of Situationist ideas and a way to develop their radical democratic potential in the current political climate. Penner asserts that we cannot assume witnesses to spectacle are merely passive consumers, as Debord claimed. Emphasizing the importance of thinking about the connection between spectacles and broader democratic processes, the book includes an assessment of various models of social and political organization and an in-depth look at the 2011 Occupy movement.

Ultimately, Rethinking the Spectacle concludes that spectacles can be used to mobilize the public for egalitarian purposes, but we must ensure they enhance rather than replace democratic dialogue.

This book will appeal to scholars and students of democratic theory and radical politics, and in particular to those interested in the ideas of Guy Debord and the Situationist International, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Hannah Arendt.

Guy Debord was one of the greatest radical thinkers of the twentieth century, and his work is increasingly resonant in the twenty-first. In Rethinking the Spectacle, Devin Penner introduces readers to Debord’s theories and their relevance to current debates about radical democracy in the information society. Richard Gilman-Opalsky, author of Spectacular Capitalism: Guy Debord and the Practice of Radical Philosophy
Rethinking the Spectacle brings Guy Debord and the Situationists into conversation with contemporary theories of radical democracy in this novel and important book. Lasse Thomassen, Reader, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary, University of London
Devin Penner is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Studies at Trent University. He is a coeditor of, and contributor to, Thinking Radical Democracy: The Return to Politics in Post-War France.


1 The Spectacle in Theory: Debord’s Conception and Beyond

2 Practical Implications: From the Situationist International to Autonomist Marxism

3 Rethinking the Spectacle 1: Lessons from the Situationist International

4 Rethinking the Spectacle 2: Toward a Radically Democratic Approach

5 The Spectacular Politics of the 2011 Occupy Movement


Notes; Bibliography; Index

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