Posts tagged ‘mouffe’

29 November 2010

Radikale Demokratie

New (sort of) blog on radical democracy in German, with interesting posts, interviews and literature lists.

Run by Andreas Hetzel and Reinhard Heil, the site points to what looks like a new blooming of (theoretically inspired) radical democracy in Germany. Agonism, Mouffe and Laclau fare well on the site.

Another sign of the new blooming might be that new editions of Althusser are being published. Ideologie und ideologische Staatsapparate (VSA Verlag) is due out in December 2010 (just in time for Christmas!). Für Marx (Suhrkamp) due April 2011.

7 February 2009

Brief introduction to discourse theory

patrick_de_vosPatrick De Vos has posted the talk with which he will introduce Chantal Mouffe’s keynote lecture at Ghent University College on 11 February.

The talk is an excellent introduction to discourse theory, which he believes is “one of the most advanced models of language and politics available to us today”.

Concise summary:

Discourse Theory is at once a social ontology that avoids any form of essentialism, a theory of political identity constructed through antagonism, and a democratic theory.

Subtly countering the oft-cited objection that in discourse theory “everything is discourse”:

All social phenomena and objects can only acquire meaning within a discourse, but such a discourse can only achieve a partial fixation of meaning, which openmouffe_2801s up the space for all social practices to be articulatory; i.e. to continuously generate new meaning and identity.

On antagonism and identification:

Conflict and antagonism should not be understood as a confrontation between social agents that already possess a fully constituted identity (as liberal theory typically does), but rather, it is seen to occur when the presence of an ‘Other’ prevents me from fully attaining ‘my identity’. This impossibility to accomplish a fully closed identity is seen as a mutual experience. Identities are mutually formed through political struggles: they are mutually constitutive, yet they threaten one another. Antagonisms and conflicts simultaneously form and destabilise identities. Social formations too are constituted through the construction of antagonistic relations, by which political frontiers between social agents are drawn. Here too a fully ‘sutured’ society is seen as impossible.

On hegemony:

The success of any political project can be measured by its ability to fix meaning (at least partially and temporally) within a given context. This is what Laclau and Mouffe have called hegemony. Hegemony is seen as more than just dominance or force over others, and as more than the mere creation of consent among social actors. Hegemony involves the political articulation of different identities into a common project that then becomes our social horizon. Hegemonic articulation is indeed seen as the process of social construction of truth.

On agonism:

But if we accept that we cannot eliminate antagonism or escape the need for mouffe_on_politicalidentity, how are we then to conceive of a democratic society? The alternative proposed by Chantal Mouffe involves the transformation of antagonism into an agonism. In a democracy the friend/enemy relation is to be replaced by an adversarial model that allows us to get rid of the violent character of antagonism, while fully acknowledging the dynamics of group identification. The art of agonistic democracy is thus not to ignore or circumvent social conflict, but to control it, or if you like: sublimate it. Instead of going beyond left and right, where conflict first seems to disappear but is eventually played out in the moral register of good-versus-evil, Mouffe urges us to finally come to terms with the conflictual nature of politics and the ineradictability of antagonism. If we ever wish to escape the present dominance of neo-liberalism, we’d better listen to what she has to say – and learn from it.

3 October 2008


Current research thoughts, developing from a discussion in my thesis: the diverse translations of ‘dispositif’ in Foucault’s writings. Take Histoire de la sexualité: La volonté de savoir. In German, Der Wille zum Wissen: Sexualität und Wahrheit I translates dispositif throughout as ‘Dispositiv’. In English, The Will to Knowledge: The history of sexuality: 1 contains the following translations:

  • devices (p. 30), deployment(s) (p. 61, 86, 106), apparatus (p. 84), system (p. 95), construct (p. 105), and on p. 113 both deployment and system.

Dispositif refers to ‘the relations among elements in a ‘decidedly heterogeneous ensemble which is comprised of discourse, institutions, architectural establishments, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral or philanthropic dogmas – in short, the said as much as the unsaid’ (Foucault 1980: 194; check the Foucault Blog for a longer quote).

Laclau and Mouffe differentiate their approach to discourse from Foucault’s by arguing that he retains the distinction between discursive and non-discursive practices (Laclau 1993: 436; Laclau & Mouffe 1985: 107). This term ‘dispositif’, however, is Foucault’s way of combining linguistic aspects of the discursive with what he considers to be non-linguistic aspects. The possibility and/or necessity of distinguishing between discursive and non-discursive is rendered inconsequential.

So, German scholars have one single term to refer to dispositif, whereas English-speaking scholars do not. Has this affected each language community’s Foucauldian research traditions? More soon in a paper publication…