The Quotidian Associations № 006| Libidinal Economy

The Quotidian Associations № 006| Libidinal Economy
Photo by Andrew Coop / Unsplash

Events that have taken place during the past few days have got me thinking about libidinal economy. Marxists (and other politically interested people) think about political economy. Psychoanalysts think about libidinal economy.


Nowadays, people will often use the term libido as a synonym for sex drive, but I want to use the term differently.

I want to follow Freud and describe libido as a quantifiable energy that can be invested into or withdrawn from different objects via the mechanism of cathexis (i.e., caring about something, getting emotionally invested in something) and anticathexis (i.e., not caring about something, removing an emotional investment from something).

The economic part of the libidinal economy is also super interesting. Freud did not believe people had an unlimited amount of libido! There is a fixed amount of libido within a person as a system at any given point in time. At any given moment, libido is being created, invested, and destroyed (i.e., being taken out of circulation).

Libido can be internally invested into internally; this is when we invest our libido into self. Libido can also be invested in objects outside of the self. If the libido keeps moving around in the right amounts, the economy keeps working.

But sometimes there are problems:

  • A person can have too much libido. This happens when people narcissistically invest all their libido into themselves instead of investing some of it into objects that are outside of the self. If the libido is invited in the self, and new libido is produced, there can be too much libido in the system --too much supply, not enough demand. When this happens, the body experiences tension. This tension could manifest as anxiety, panic, or physical symptoms.
  • If a person is overly libidinally invested in an object and lost that object, the person would also have lost the libido invested into the object. This might mean there is too little libido in the system. This tends to manifest as depression or schizoid tendencies.


I think it would be helpful if we started to examine things that are happening in the world through the concept of libidinal economy...

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