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The floating signifiers and the construction of hegemonies

The floating signifiers and the construction of hegemonies

July 18, 2024

In recent months, following the emergence of We can , has been spoken on numerous occasions of the "floating signifiers "To explain the ideological triumph that has shaken the Spanish political landscape. What are floating signifiers? What theory are we referring to?

Theoretical framework of floating signifiers

The theory of floating signifiers and equivalences comes from the works of Jacques Lacan and Ernesto Laclau and is part of the tradition of psychoanalysis. The premise of which part is that the ideological space is made of elements without linking, without binding, whose identity is open, overdetermined by the articulation of them in a chain with other elements, that is, their "literal" meaning depends on its plus of metaphorical significance.


At this point it is It is very important to remember that for Lacan there is always a primacy of the signifier over the meaning (about language and psychoanalysis you can consult the article I wrote for Psychology and Mind a few weeks ago clicking here).

Those elements that are unlinked, that "float" in the significant chain, can be such things as "corruption", "rich", "big businessmen", "people". The ideological struggle then resides in what Lacan calls "Points of capiton " (nodal points) that will be able to totalize and include all those "free", "floating" elements, in a single series of equivalences. In this way, each of these floating signifiers will be part of a series of equivalences. Through the metaphorical plus, they will connect with all the other elements of a significant chain, thus determining their identity. For example, for a communist, to fight against corruption is to fight against the capitalist order.


But, as it reminds us Slavoj Zizek in The sublime object of ideology: "Chaining is possible only on the condition that a certain signifier, the Lacanian One," "cushion" the whole field, and, when encompassing it, effect the identity of it. " The crucial point to understand both the success of Podemos and that of any hegemonic ideology is precisely this: knowing how to determine which is the Lacanian one that is capable of quilting the rest of floating signifiers.

Floating meanings: practical examples

It is common, when discussing with an orthodox communist, to end up finding walls that prevent the discussion from moving forward. These walls are the materialization of the ideological nodal point of communism that is usually the capitalist order . In this way, the war will be the fruit solely of imperialist expansion of particular capitalist interests. The equivalence here is as follows: to fight for peace is to fight against the capitalist order. Another classic is that of patriarchy and that of machismo: capitalism is a masculinized system, made by and for men, to fight against machismo is to fight against capitalism. If we adjust our peephole well, we will see that the pattern reproduces eternally because the nodal point that quilts the communist theory and that endows it with identity is the capitalist order. All the free elements, all the floating signifiers, can be reduced to the explanation of the contemporary capitalist order and the struggle against it will give us the answers and the solutions. Here lies the success of a hegemonic ideology.


But, obviously, ideology is everywhere. For a neoliberal, for example, the floating signifiers such as "freedom", "property", "individual", are always quilted under the nodal point of private property as they understand it. In this way, the concept of "freedom" will be inscribed in the most metaphorical chain of meaning of private property . Examples: "there is only freedom in the private space, there is only freedom where there is private property or its reverse: there is no freedom in public space " One of the greatest successes of neoliberal ideology is, for example, to convince us that there are no ideologies. A neoliberal will tell us, most likely, that we are small marginalist calculation machines that are guided by selfish and individual interests and that maximize their utility. The curious thing about this phenomenon is that We are never only utilitarian, but we must appear to be utilitarian . In this way, I will make a planning of the day, a well-marked schedule or organize the space of my house in order to get the most out of everything.That is to say, I am on a meta-utilitarian level in which I must not be utilitarian, but impose a utilitarian vision of my life and tell myself: "how productive and practical I am to order this in such and such a way".

Floating meanings and ideology

Ideology is not a veil that prevents us from seeing the behind things, ideology is the very sustenance of our everyday realities . And this goes hand in hand with an ideology that triumphs when even the facts that at first sight contradict it begin to work as arguments in their favor. If I am a neoliberal who has defended austerity to death as the best way to face the economic crisis and who, currently, considering the catastrophic consequences that have led to both the macro-economic level and the level of life of people, I continue The problem is that public spending is when the ideology has triumphed.

We often find ourselves with "the fact that the deficit has not been sufficiently adjusted" or "the resistance of the Welfare State is still too important to be able to apply with normality the wonderful program of adjustment that will solve everything". This is the materialization of the success of a given ideology. Everything is under suspicion and any element that contradicts my first premise is positively collected to reinforce it.

We can is the rearticulation and the construction of a new nodal point for quilting floating signifiers that could have been padded under a different nodal point. In most European countries, elements such as "corruption", "loss of national sovereignty", "unemployment", "poverty" have been collected and quilted under the nodal point of the national struggle against globalization as well as under the point of the liberal-bourgeois decadence of contemporary capitalism. That is to say, the chain has been carried out under neofascism (the National Front is a terrible example of this).

We can have quilted these elements without tying up under the chain of "democracy" and "people against caste". And it has worked very well because it has generated a new hegemony.

Do not miss the interview to the author of this article: Alejandro Pérez Polo

Stuart Hall - Race, Gender, Class in the Media (July 2024).


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