Conspicuous by Presence: The Empty Signifier ‘Interdisciplinarity’ and the Representation of Absence

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The aim of this chapter is to theorize absence and its representation in the empty signifier within poststructuralist discourse theory following Laclau and Mouffe. It is by way of empty signifiers that absence relates to hegemony. Discourse theory, in contrast to (Critical) Discourse Analysis, builds on a social ontology meaning that its point of departure is signifying practices rather than linguistic analysis—practices that involve different means of representation such as a fixed, floating or empty signifier; while the means of representation and their function are different, their linguistic manifestation, i.e. their form, is identical.
The example used throughout the chapter is the signifier ‘interdisciplinarity’ which can be both (partially) fixed, floating and empty. As it is only the empty signifier that represents absence, the challenge is how to distinguish the empty signifier from a signifier that is floating or a signifier that is partially fixed. The form of the signifier is identical in all three cases, but their function is not. This chapter is an exploration of the challenges of theorizing absence through the identification of the empty signifier. A model of signification and the logic of hegemony is developed that may serve as a guide to exploring the emptying and filling processes of the signifier in the tension between particularity and universality. The chapter traces concrete practices and logics of equivalence and difference using an analytical distinction between the function of the signifier and its linguistic manifestation to encourage further research into the linguistic aspects of discourse theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExploring Silence and Absence in Discourse : Empirical Approaches
EditorsMelani Schröter, Charlotte Taylo
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9783319645797
ISBN (Electronic)9783319645803
Publication statusPublished - 2018
SeriesPostdisciplinary Studies in Discourse

Bibliographical note

Published online: 20. December 2017

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