In this episode of High Theory, Eli Cook tells us about choice architecture. The term was invented by behavioral economists in 2008 who proposed it as a soft-power model of “libertarian paternalism” to influence consumer choice. Eli traces their concept through a twentieth-century history of structured choices, from personality tests and the five-star rating to the swipes and likes of platform capitalism. He shifts our attention from the rhetoric of consumer choice as freedom to the power of “choice architects” who determine the options for us.
Eli takes the term “choice architecture” from Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Yale UP, 2008). He mentions the industrial psychologist Walter Dill Scott and the inventors of behavioral economics, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Amusingly, there is a New Yorker article about Tversky and Kahneman written by Thaler and Sunstein, called “The Two Friends Who Changed How We Think About How We Think.” (New Yorker 7 Dec 2016). In the full version of our conversation, Eli referenced the work of Sophia Rosenfeld on the longue durée history of choice.
Eli Cook is a historian of American capitalism. He works as a Senior Lecturer in History and as head of the American Studies Program at the University of Haifa in Israel. His first book The Pricing of Progress: Economic Indicators and the Capitalization of American Life was published by Harvard University Press in 2017. Last year, he was a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center where he worked on his new book about choice architecture.
Image: © 2023 Saronik Bosu
Kim talks with Michelle Rada about the death drive in psychoanalysis.
Michelle references Todd McGowan’s Enjoying What We Don’t Have: The Political Project of Psychoanalysis, University of Nebraska Press, 2013.
She also recommends Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets, by Todd McGowan.
In our longer conversation, she also quoted, What IS Sex? by Alenka Zupančič, MIT Press, 2017.
She also recommends a special issue of differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies on “Constructing the Death Drive.” This issue includes an article by Luce Cantin, “The Drive, the Untreatable Quest of Desire” which she discusses in the epidsode. Michelle thinks the whole issue is worth checking out, and especially recommends the article in there by Tracy McNulty as well, “Unbound: The Speculative Mythology of the Death Drive” and the piece by Willy Apollon, “Psychoanalysis and the Freudian Rupture.”
She also highly recommends Life and Death in Psychoanalysis by Jean Laplanche (Johns Hopkins UP, 1976), which really informs her understanding of the economics/psychic structure of the drive.
and of course….Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud.
And “On Narcissism: An Introduction,” Freud’s 1914 essay on primary/secondary narcissism.
Michelle Rada is a PhD candidate in English at Brown University and Affiliated Faculty at Emerson College. Her research is on modernist aesthetics, form, the novel, and psychoanalysis. Michelle’s work has appeared in Room One-Thousand, The Comparatist, The James Joyce Quarterly, The Journal of Beckett Studies, and The Journal of Modern Literature. She is Senior Assistant Editor at differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies.