Serving Coffee at Starbucks with Žižek: Revisiting ‘Decaf Resistance’ as an Analytical Concept

Erik Mygind du Plessis

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This paper investigates and tests the term decaf resistance (Contu, 2008), which is understood as a resistance which, although experienced as dangerous and risky, is harmless in reality, because it - like decaf coffee - is stripped of its potentially dangerous main ingredient. The empirical point of departure is the internet chat forum, where baristas at Starbucks, amongst other topics, describe how they as a critical practice serve decaf coffee to customers who have ordered regular coffee. Theoretically, the article is based on Slavoj Žižek’s theory of ideology (see forexample Butler, Laclau, & Žižek, 2000; Žižek, 1989, 1997, 2004, 2007) and Allesia Contu’s previous outline of the term ‘decaf resistance’ (Contu, 2008). These are tested as an analytical framework through the ideas of cynicism, ideological fantasy and jouissance. The paper concludes that the utilization of ‘decaf resistance’ as an analytical concept is fruitful in terms of identifying the barista’s subjective investment in his or her criticism, and how resistance can contribute to maintaining the status quo. The weakness of this Žižekian framework is, however, that it hardly allows identifying anything but harmless and conserving decaf criticism and resistance, because it’s ideal of radical transformative resistance, the real act, is very difficult to bring about in practice. Thereby it loses a certain amount of empirical sensibility towards the internal differences between the many different forms of criticism and resistance, which are characterized as decaf en bloc. It is thus suggested, that Žižekian theory should draw inspiration from the menu at Starbucks, and consider the idea of a half-caf, as a resistance that places itself between the status quo-maintaining decaf resistance and the extremely caffeinated real act. Furthermore it is suggested, that workplace resistance via the internet should be investigated further – both as an interesting new avenue for criticism and dissent, and as a fruitful empirical point of departure for studies of organization.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2014
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes
Event9th Organization Studies Summer Workshop: Resistance, Resisting, and Resisters in and Around Organizations - Corfu Holiday Palace, Corfu, Greece
Duration: 22 May 201424 May 2014
Conference number: 9


Conference9th Organization Studies Summer Workshop
LocationCorfu Holiday Palace
Internet address


  • Žižek
  • Contu
  • Decaf resistance
  • Cynicism
  • Jouissance
  • Ideological fantasy

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