Floating signifiers and the construction of hegemonies

In recent months, following the emergence of We can, we have spoken on numerous occasions of the “floating signifiers“To explain the ideological triumph that shook the Spanish political landscape. What are floating signifiers? What theory are we talking about?

Theoretical framework of floating signifiers

The theory of floating signifiers and equivalences comes from the work of Jacques Lacan and Ernesto Laclau and is part of the tradition of psychoanalysis. The premise from which it starts is that the ideological space is made of loose, untied elements, whose identity is open, overdetermined by the articulation of the same in a chain with other elements, that is – that is, their “literal” meaning depends on its metaphorical meaning. more sense.

At this stage it is very important to remember that for Lacan there is always a primacy of the signifier over the signified (on language and psychoanalysis you can consult the article I wrote for Psychology and the mind a few weeks ago by clicking here).

These unrelated items, which “float” in the meaningful chain, can be items such as “corruption”, “rich”, “big business”, “people”. The ideological struggle then resides in what Lacan calls “Filling points “ (nodal points) which will be able to total and include all these “free”, “floating” elements, in a single series of equivalences. In this way, each of the floating signifiers will be part of a series of equivalences. Most metaphorically, they must connect with all the other elements of a signifying chain, thus determining their identity. For example, for a communist, to fight corruption is to fight the capitalist order.

But as it reminds us Slavs Zizek a The sublime object of ideology: “The chain is only possible on condition that a certain signifier, the Lacanian U”, cools “the whole field, and, by encompassing it, realizes its identity”. The crucial point in understanding both the success of Podemos and that of any hegemonic ideology is precisely this: knowing how to determine which Lacanian is capable of filling the rest of the floating signifiers.

Floating Signifiers: Practical Examples

It is common, during a debate with an Orthodox Communist, to end up with walls that prevent the discussion from moving forward. These walls are the materialization of the ideological nodal point of communism which is generally the capitalist order.. In this way, the war will only be the result of the 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 masculinity: capitalism is a masculinized system, made by and for men, to fight against masculinity is to fight against capitalism. If we adjust our peephole well, we will see that the pattern is reproduced eternally, since the nodal point that deadens communist theory and gives it an 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 bring us answers and solutions. This is where the success of a hegemonic ideology lies.

But obviously ideology is everywhere. For a neoliberal, for example, floating signifiers such as “freedom”, “property”, “individual” always narrow under the nodal point of private property as they understand it. Thus, the concept of “freedom” will fit into the chain of the more metaphorical sense of private property.. Examples: “there is freedom only in private space, there is freedom only where there is private property or its setbacks: there is no freedom in public space”. One of the greatest achievements of neoliberal ideology is, for example, to convince us that there are no ideologies. A neoliberal will most likely tell us that we are little marginal calculating machines that are guided by selfish and individual interests and maximize their utility. The funny thing about this phenomenon is that we are never only utilitarian, we must pretend to be utilitarian. In this way, I will make a schedule for the day, a well-marked schedule or I will organize the space of my house in order to make the most of it. That is, I’m at a meta-utilitarian level where I don’t have to be utilitarian, but impose a utilitarian view of my life and tell myself, “how productive and practical I am in ordering this to happen.” this way “.

Floating signifiers and ideology

Ideology is not a veil that prevents us from seeing the other side of things, ideology is the very support of our daily realities. And this goes hand in hand with an ideology that triumphs anyway, the facts that at first glance contradict it start to work as arguments in its favor. If I am a neoliberal who defended austerity until death as the best way to face the economic crisis and who, currently, given the catastrophic consequences it has had both on the macroeconomic level and on the standard of living of the populations, I still insist that the problem is the public expenditure, it is when the ideology has succeeded.

We very often observe that “it is because the deficit has not been absorbed enough” or “the resistance of the Welfare State is still too great to be able to implement normally the wonderful adjustment program which will solve everything” . It is the materialization of the success of a given ideology. Everything is suspect and every element that contradicts my first premise is positively captured to reinforce it.

We can is the re-articulation and construction of a new nodal point to paddle floating signifiers that could have been stuffed under a different nodal point. In most European countries, elements such as “corruption”, “loss of national sovereignty”, “unemployment”, “poverty” have been brought together and stuffed under the nodal point of the national struggle against globalization as well as under the point of liberalism. – bourgeois decadence of contemporary capitalism. That is to say that the sequence was carried out under neo-fascism (the National Front is a terrible example).

One can have stuffed these elements without tying under the chain of “democracy” and “people against caste”. And it worked wonderfully because it generated a new hegemony.

Don’t miss it maintenance to the author of this article: Alejandro Pérez Polo

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