Serving Coffee with Žižek: On Decaf, Half-caf and Real Resistance at Starbucks

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This paper investigates the term decaf resistance, which signifies a resistance, which, although experienced as risky, is harmless in reality, because it – like decaf coffee – is stripped of its potentially dangerous main ingredient. Theoretically, the article is based on Alessia Contu’s previous outline of the term and Slavoj Žižek’s theory of ideology. The explanatory force of this theoretical perspective is examined through the use of the online chat forum, where baristas at Starbucks, amongst other topics, describe how they as a form of resistance serve decaf coffee to customers who have ordered regular coffee. The paper concludes that while useful in explaining the individual employees’ libidinal investment in and subjective experience of his or her resistance, the decaf-perspective also implies a rigid dichotomy between ‘real’ and ‘decaf’ resistance, which is rather unhelpful for distinguishing between different types of resistance. The analysis thus shows how the sharing of hidden acts of resistance on a public online-forum seems to make these acts subjectively less ‘decaf’ for the baristas, albeit without crossing the Žižekian threshold, which would allow for a characterization of these acts as ‘real’ resistance. This leads to a discussion of how this type of ‘half-caf’ resistance, which is neither harmless nor revolutionary, challenges the Žižekian dichotomy between decaf and Real act.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)551-576
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Žižek
  • Decaf
  • Resistance
  • Cynicism
  • Jouissance
  • Ideological fantasy

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