Phantom Possession: Authoritarianism and its Domains (PhantomAiD)

Horizon2020: Marie-Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowship, EU project n° 896973

Authoritarian political forces are a growing global phenomenon. In critical theory, this is explained either by material factors, running the risk of economic reductionism, or by psychological traits, individualising the matter in a problematic way.
Following my recent work, I suggest that the concept of “phantom possession” can redress this problem, and provide the basis for a new analysis of authoritarianism.

With the concept of “phantom possession”, I capture the observation that current authoritarian claims often seem to imply entitlement to a domain which is framed as a rightful possession, yet lacks reality in the eyes of others. I argue that this property logic is derived from historical forms of domination, such as patriarchy, white supremacy and extractivism. Precisely because those forms of domination have been partly surpassed and are widely contested in liberal democracies, they can be politicized in a particular, neo-authoritarian way. The emancipation of some comes to be seen as the amputation of others, as it were in a zero sum game. As with a lost limb, the object of ownership in question is phantasmatic. It is no longer institutionally warranted and it never was normatively justified. Nevertheless, the pain experienced by phantom owners upholds the idea that their domains are real. This creates the urgent need for external forces – such as authoritarian movements and governments – to stabilise the phantom and promise fixes for the pain.

PhantomAiD expands and corroborates my account of authoritarianism as defense of phantom possession by updating accounts of the authoritarian personality, especially those formulated by Theodor W. Adorno and Hannah Arendt. I investigate the politics and the psychology of the phantom owner in two respective modules of the project and test my account on several domains of right-wing mobilisation – anti-genderism, climate change denial, “stolen election”, immigration politics, to name a few.

Institutionally, PhantomAiD allows me to move to the Dept. of Human Sciences in Verona. The UNIVR Department offers expertise in feminist philosophy, psychoanalysis, and Arendt studies, and is home to the interdisciplinary Research Center for Politics and Theories of Sexuality (PoliTeSse), directed by my MSCA supervisor Prof. L. Bernini, who investigates far-right mobilisation through the lenses of queer and intersectional theory.

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