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Cultural Studies

ISSN: 0950-2386 (Print) 1466-4348 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcus20

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Ernesto Laclau
To cite this article: Ernesto Laclau (2012) REPLY, Cultural Studies, 26:2-3, 391-415, DOI:
10.1080/09502386.2011.647651
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Published online: 30 Mar 2012.

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Ernesto Laclau

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In the reply to his critics and interlocutors, Laclau clarifies his position regarding
a series of concepts such as representation, fraternity (or democratic solidarity),
identification, signification, affect, extimacy, spectacle and social sedimentation
as they arise in or pertain to his theory of populism and populist reason. In the
process of those clarifications, Laclau also explains how his views differ from other
relevant thinkers such as Hannah Pitkin (on representation), Jurgen Habermas
(on new social movements), Guy Debord (on spectacle) and Jacques Lacan (on
extimacy).
Keywords demand; empty signifier; fraternity; hegemony; populism;
representation

The category of representation


This is the notion on which the remarkable piece by Lisa Disch is centred.
Before going into the detail of her analysis, let me say something about why I
see representation as crucial for political analysis.
In theoretical philosophy, representation has been at the centre of many
controversies, but, I would argue, many of these controversies are, in my
view, grounded in some fundamental misunderstandings. For Jacques Derrida,
for instance, representation plays an absolutely central role in the
constitution of objectivity. In some sense, there is nothing but representation.
For Gilles Deleuze, on the contrary, the notion of representation has to be
resolutely abandoned. There is no representation but only simulacra.
Apparently, each is saying exactly the opposite of the other, but, I would
argue, as far as this issue is concerned, they are saying exactly the same thing.
For Derrida there is only representation if an original presentation which
would be later duplicated by the re- of representation never obtains. We live
in a world in which there is no original presence and so we are necessarily
caught in the nets of representation. For Deleuze, there is no original
presentation either, but for him the notion of representation presupposes an
original of which representation would be a copy, he abandons representation
altogether and calls a copy which has no original a simulacrum. But
obviously, the Derridean representation and the Deleuzian simulacrum are
as similar to each other as two drops of water.
Cultural Studies Vol. 26, Nos. 23 MarchMay 2012, pp. 391415
ISSN 0950-2386 print/ISSN 1466-4348 online # 2012 Taylor & Francis
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This is a good starting point to explain why I see representation as crucial


in the constitution of political identities. Democratic theory has always
distrusted processes of representation because it has seen them as potential
ways of betraying the will of those who are represented. But, as I have argued,
this distrust fails to see what is in fact the essential point: the degree to which
there is a pre-constituted will which is merely re-duplicated in the process of
representation. As in the case of Derrida and Deleuze, we are here again facing
the question of the original and the copy. Social situations vary enormously
in this respect. A corporate group, with clear-cut interests, would tend to
subordinate its representatives to a narrow set of options dictated by a will
which is largely (although never entirely so) autonomous from the
representative process; while the marginal masses of shanty towns depend
much more on the representative net for the constitution of their own identity.
And if we consider the general conditions of our globalised world, we
immediately see that we live in societies in which there are only simulacra and
not originals (Deleuze) or only representation and not presentation (Derrida).
This is what Disch has very well perceived as distinctive of my approach:
that representative processes are essential to the constitution of political
identities. Her analysis is very much centred on a comparison between my
approach and that of Hannah Fenichel Pitkin  and on the way she sees my
views go beyond the limitations of Pitkins perspective. She starts by asserting
that I have been slightly unfair to Pitkin because, in Dischs opinion, she has
advanced in my direction more than I realise, and that her departure from
traditional views would be more radical than I am prepared to recognise. I
think that Disch is a bit optimistic about Pitkin, but the disagreement is not
really important, given that, in the first place, I have myself asserted that
Pitkins book is the best study we have, so far, on political representation, and,
secondly, that Dischs remarks concerning Pitkins shortcomings, wholly go in
a direction with which I am fully sympathetic.
The whole question turns around the rather dismissive treatment by Pitkin
of the notion of symbolic representation, which belongs for me to the essence
of any representative process. For Pitkin, symbolic representation is essentially
manipulative, because it involves the subordination of the people to the leader
and, in that way, there is a magic fascination by which people lose
consciousness of their own interests  that is, it teleologically leads in the
direction of fascism. For me the question should be put in an entirely different
way. The real issue is whether one can have a process of identity formation
which skips the moment of identification. As somebody well acquainted with
Freudian theory, Pitkin should know that this is impossible. Without
identification there is no identity, and identification involves a moment of
externality which is unavoidable. Without this externality inscribed at the heart
of identification there is neither identity nor interests which could be
recognised. And identification is the essence of symbolic representation.
Identification has, indeed, operated in Fascism, but also in all other kinds of

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political movements, from Gaullism to Leninism, from the 1968 mobilisations


to the Algerian Revolution. It does not make sense to multiply the examples,
because symbolic representation is the core of any representation whatsoever,
and representation is the core of the political.
In all these aspects the outlook of Disch is very close to my own. Let me
enumerate the aspects of her analysis that I find particularly congenial. Firstly,
her assertion that Pitkins analysis remains half-way between the bedrock
norm and the retreat from the radical conclusions that would follow from her
own theoretical intervention. In Dischs words:
Pitkin made a bold critique of the bedrock norm, acknowledged the
people as limit and then recoiled from the most radical implications of
her argument as if they posed a threat to democratic politics. Laclaus
work, which does not merely refute Pitkins but advances a line of
argument that she sets in motion, reveals that what Pitkin feared may well
be the vitality of democracy.
Secondly, her recognition of Pitkins limited conception of symbolic
representation, which she conceives as pathology. Thirdly, Dischs way of
pointing out Pitkins morally charged distinction between a leadership which
is compatible with democracy and a manipulation which is essentially
authoritarian. In this connection, Disch accepts entirely the critique that I have
made of the way Pitkin uses the distinction between causes and reasons. For
the same reason, as Disch points out, Pitkin is blind to the role that
imagination must play in representation. The moment of emptiness, which is
so central to my own approach to these matters, has to be either ignored or
strictly limited in Pitkins study, largely because of the reasons mentioned by
Disch.
Those sections of Dischs piece which present the structure and
implications of my own analysis are quite insightful and accurate and I have
no objection to them. The only reservation I have is in Dischs treatment of the
question of metaphor. According to her:
Whereas metaphor posits a mythical unity among elements that are
necessarily related, analogous to one another and, so, perfectly
substitutable for one another, metonymic preserves the heterogeneity of
the elements of a unity . . . Whereas metaphoric unity is an alignment of
wills incarnated by a leader, hegemony, the metonymic alliance of a
multifarious democratic identity that preserves the specificity and
particular objectives of the various struggles of which it is composed.
I would put the argument in a slightly different way. I would say that metaphor
and metonymy are not separated by an ontological chasm but that they are
both constitutive dimensions of all political experience  although their

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relative weight would vary from case to case. A space only constituted in a
metonymic way, without being contaminated by any metaphoric operation
would be a pure space of differences, incompatible with the action of
hegemonic logics. But the unilateralisation of metaphor would lead to the same
result: if all differences collapse there would be an uncontaminated unity, and
there would be nothing to hegemonise (even the leader would become entirely
unnecessary). What there is, in fact, is a constant process of mutual
contamination between metaphor and metonymy, which is what gives its
centrality to hegemony as a political logic. Disch herself seems to be quite
close to this conclusion when she asserts: In practice the two (metaphor and
metonymy) are intertwined. A hegemonic operation will always try to
represent itself as incarnating a necessary alliance, while a mythical unity will
always be contaminated by metonymic contingency. I entirely agree with
this way of presenting the argument.

Levels of articulation of the social whole


The discussion on representation is crucial, because it is the royal road leading
to the central role that the notion of articulation plays in socio-political
analysis. If the different levels of social reality are not united by an unbroken
chain making possible a smooth transition from one sphere to the other, in that
case the links between them are to be explained by mechanisms different from
those available to mere gradualism. It is here that representation starts
revealing all its ontological potentialities. This question is at the root of both
the interventions by Oliver Marchart and Henry Kripps.
Before moving to the substantive arguments by Marchart, I would like to
make a small biographical rectification. Marchart makes reference to my
participation in the Peronist student movement. In actual fact I was never a
member of that movement, largely because it developed in a significative way
only in the second half of the 1960s, in the wake of the military coup of 1966,
at a time in which I had already finished my university studies. In the first half
of the 1960s  the time of my student militancy  what predominated in
university circles were different factions of the Left. The watershed was that
between a national and popular Left, which gave critical support to Peronism
and a liberal cosmopolitan Left. I belonged to the first, but although our propopulist orientation was clear, it was that of political formations different from
the Peronist Youth, which was going to flourish in a later period. In the same
way, I have never tried to present Peronism as an archetypal model of
populism. My theory on populism has its historical sources in a variety of
political experiences and not only on that of Peronism  even if I consider
Peronism, especially that of the 1960s as a particularly revealing example of
how an equivalential logic operates.

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Coming now to Marcharts substantive claims, I think that he draws quite an


accurate picture of the contrasts between the Cultural Studies tradition and that
association with the hegemonic approach that I have advocated. I do not have
any disagreement with Marcharts formulations, so rather than paraphrasing
them, I will simply add a few complementary remarks.
In the first place, I want to stress the fact that the differential and
equivalential logics, which are the two possible forms of articulation  a notion
whose pivotal role in explaining the constitution of the social Marchart correctly
underlines  are not privative of either what he calls the micro or the macro
levels but cut across both. This is quite crucial to my hegemonic approach.
Hegemony is not a category applicable to just one level of social reality with
exclusion of the other but is the very logic of constitution of any social identity
whatsoever. Gramsci asserted that the construction of hegemony started at the
factory floor. And as Marchart quite rightly points out, a writer like Stuart Hall,
whose work has been decisive in the emergence of Cultural Studies, constantly
transgresses the line separating the micro from the macro analytical levels 
in his studies on Thatcherism, for instance. As I have tried to show in my work, a
hegemonic logic blurs the distinction between State and civil society and
contaminates the categories belonging to both. As against the Marxist emphasis
on civil society, which reduces the State to a mere superstructure, Gramsci sees
the becoming State of a class as the highest moment in constituting itself as an
hegemonic sector. And as against Hegel, he does not see, however, the State as a
sphere separated from civil society, because the latter is already the locus of a
political construction. The consequence is that neither State nor civil society, as
particular spheres, can operate as a ground of the social, as points at which one
could find the sole course of social change.
Secondly, however, an interrogation remains open. If there is no orderly
transition from one sphere of social reality to the other, so that all of them,
in their differential ontic specificity would concur to the structuration of a
complete whole, how to conceive of the actual relation between spheres,
between whole and parts? It is here that our previous consideration of the
relation of representation shows its full relevance. The whole, we have
said, is not a ground so it cannot assign, through its immanent endogenous
movements, differential locations to the particular spheres. Does this,
however, mean that the whole simply disappears as an ontological
dimension? Several reasons conspire against this solution, the most important
being that if ontic differences were the only thing that ontologically is, one
would have to determine the terrain in which those differences constitute
their differential specificity, and with this the dimension of grounded, which
we were trying to exclude, would be smuggled back into the argument. We
have tried to provide a different answer to this question, and Marchart shows
very well what that answer is. In its most general formulation it consists in
asserting that the holistic dimension remains, but that it does not consist in a
ground but in a horizon. While in a ground, in the strong sense of the term,

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the ontological function of grounding derives from the ontic specificity of the
entity fulfilling that function, in the case of a horizon such an automatic
derivation does not obtain. The function of grounding remains an ontological
unavoidable requirement, but such a function is only possible if the entity
fulfilling it cancels, or at least blurs, its ontic specificity that is, if it becomes
an empty signifier, in the sense that we have attributed to this term. And an
empty signifier is a hegemonic one, if hegemony is conceived as a relation in
which a particularity, without ceasing to be particular, assumes the
representation of a universality which is utterly incommensurable with its
ontic differential identity. But if this is the primary ontological terrain, if the
totality is not directly derivable from any such ontic identity, but is
constructed through this hegemonic taking over of the grounding function,
in that case relations of representation are ontologically constitutive (in the
transcendental sense of the term). This explains why, for us, there is an
intimate imbrication between the micro and the macro levels to which
Marchart refers.
Finally, let us say something concerning the various approaches to the
interactions between the micro and the macro levels. There are
approaches for which the macro level is the only possible source of
society effects  for instance, Hobbes Leviathan. He is at one remove
from classical forms of essentialism as for him the covenant is an artificial
act, but the mortal God that this act constitutes remains a logical necessity
of the social order, as far as the only alternative to it is the state of nature.
At the other extreme, we have the extreme forms of particularism as in
some contemporary multiculturalist approaches, for which only the micro
level of society counts, while the macro level is dismissed as a source of
totalitarian interference. Multiculturalism has been criticised with the
argument that particularistic demands can be easily integrated by the forces
of the status quo. There is some truth in this argument (at least when it is
addressed to extreme forms of particularism), but it is considerably
weakened when accompanied by the frequent parallel assertion that there
are social actors (the working class is usually brought to the fore here) who,
given their structural social location would escape the danger of this
integrationist trend. Slavoj Zizek is a particularly nave example of this
approach. The truth is that there is no social actor  neither working class,
nor anybody else  who can escape the danger of integration since, for the
reasons that we have presented, there is no structural social location which
can produce out of itself society effects (let alone emancipatory ones). To
have the latter something else is needed: hegemonic practices which, through
equivalential relations between a plurality of structural positions, would
construct new popular identities.
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Henry Kripps addresses also the problem of the specific demands emerging
from particular sectors and movements and the possibility of their
universalisation through their inscription in a wider public sphere. He does
it, however, from a different angle than Marcharts: by discussing the New
Social Movements which have emerged since the 1960s and their interpretation
by the sociological literature, in particular the work of Habermas and that of
Andrew Arato and Jean Cohen.
As far as Habermas is concerned, his approach, as presented by Kripps,
would be part of his theory of a public sphere which would have developed
since the eighteenth century and would have resulted in the constitution of an
intermediate terrain of resistance both to the encroachment by the economic
subsystem and the colonisation by the political subsystem. (This intermediate
place of resistance would constitute the more optimistic Habermasian
alternative to the unimpeded rationalisation process detected by the earlier
Frankfurt School theorists.) It is within this cycle of an expanding public sphere
that, according to Habermas, the New Social Movements (NSM) have to be
inscribed. There would be, however, an essential ambiguity in their
emergence, for if the NSM fully participate in the general democratic impulse,
they would lose their particularistic identity and would not be new at all;
while, if they assert that particularistic identity, they would be condemned to a
purely defensive politics and their democratic potential would be threatened.
In Krippss words: according to Habermas, the politics of NSM split between
two alternatives: either a familiar offensive liberal politics or a purely defensive
identity politics. Kripps later discusses the various approaches to NSM (the
Resource Mobilization Paradigm and the New Social Movements theory)
and the way in which Habermas stands in relation to them, and points to the
existence of a third paradigm (the identity politics proposed by Gorz and Offe)
with its insistence in the possibility of constituting counter-institutions which
would be the starting point of a culture of resistance putting limits to the
action of both the economic and the politico-administrative subsystems.
Habermas, however, would dismiss this third alternative as unrealistic,
probably, as Kripps adds, because their counter-offensive against the colonising
system is neither broad nor expansive enough.
As for Arato and Cohen, they would try, in Krippss view, to open up the
Habermasian game, insisting that the NSM can have a creating political role in
hanging systemic social structures, but they would finally remain anchored in
the Habermasian problematic, by restricting the effectivity of the NSM to be
just the preconditions of a purely political intervention, whose only terrain can
be civil and political society. It is here that Kripps finds the potential of my
own populistic approach: in transcending the Habermasian dichotomy and in
appealing to a new terrain which would go deeper than the dichotomy itself. In
Krippss words:

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I will show that Laclaus concept of populist reason provides a way of


avoiding this devastating conclusion [the Habermasian dichotomy]. In
particular it offers a way of understanding NSMs as a new post-liberal
form of democratic-emancipatory politics that it sources in the lifeworld.
I will not go into the detail of Krippss presentation of my own approach,
which the reader will find in his contribution to this volume and which I find
accurate, although, on occasion, I am hesitant to follow his terminology  as
when he assimilates Gramscis hegemonic articulation to manufactured
consent. The problem is that manufactured consent has pejorative
connotations in the sociological literature, and although those connotations
are absent from Krippss use of the term, I do not think it wise to give a new
use to a term which has such a widespread established meaning. What I will
instead do is to add to Krippss analyses some comments which are, I think,
pertinent to his argument.
The first point I want to make is that Krippss and Marcharts discussions
are addressing, although from different angles, similar issues. For Marchart,
the issue was how to connect what he called the micro and the macro levels
of political analysis, which he illustrated by the different but complementary
approaches of Cultural Studies and the theory of hegemony. As I have argued 
and Marchart concurs  the latter involves that the frontier separating both
levels of analysis has to be constantly transgressed. And, as Kripps shows, for
Habermas that frontier not only can never be transgressed, but its rigidity
generates an ambiguity in the identity of social movements which can never be
mediated. Thus, the dichotomic alternative. This is exactly the point at which a
universalism a` la Habermas and the theory of hegemony part company: while
for the former the universal is the precipitate of a dialogical interaction
between rational agents, for the latter the only conceivable universality is a
hegemonic one, which presupposes the emptying of a particular content
through the operation of equivalential logics. This involves a mechanism of
identification which is entirely absent from the dialogical perspective. Kripps
has rightly indicated that this could be described as what he calls a movement
from the sign to the signifier, from the notion of a signifier which would be the
transparent medium through which a signified shows itself, to what in Lacanian
terms could be called the constant slide of the signified under the signifier,
which submits the signified to its own logic. I would add, incorporating a
logical distinction, that the emptier the signifier is, the richer it becomes in its
extensionality, but the poorer in its intensionality.
There are two further aspects of Krippss analysis to which I would like to
refer. The first concerns his assertion that the politicising of a set of
heterogeneous demands within a populist movement comes at a cost, because
those demands experience a partial loss of their original heterogeneity.
However, as Kripps adds, that loss is compensated by a counter-movement,
given that the progressive emptying of a signifier allows it to represent an

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expanded chain of social demands. This point is crucial and it shows in all
purity the crossroad where our analysis parts company with that of Habermas.
What for Habermas was a dichotomy opening an exclusive alternative, for us is
the moment of a tension, and this tension is what constitutes the political as
such. It is true that the erosion of heterogeneity is the precondition of the
emergence of a hegemonic centre; but the reverse is also true: any centre will
be systematically eroded by the operation of a non-eradicable heterogeneity.
That is why society is constitutively political and why hegemony is the very
form of the political as such.
Finally, a few words concerning populus. The notion of populus, in my
work, has been opposed  following a Latin distinction  to that of plebs.
While populus is the body of all citizens, without distinctions, plebs is a
partitive category within that body. But beyond those juridical distinctions,
plebs has also come to signify the underdog, those excluded from full
participation in the life of the community. Once this second signification has
been attached to the category, there is only one step to reverse the moment of
exclusion, and to make it the signified uniting those aspiring, in spite of their
exclusion, to become the totality of the community  the only authentic
community. That is, plebs comes to name the subject of an emancipatory
process, as the cross, which was before a symbol of ignominy became, for the
Christians, a symbol of the highest dignity. Once this reversal has taken place,
we have the people of populism.

On fraternity
At this point I would like to answer three questions put to me by Ivor Chipkin.
He writes:
If the condition of the demos is an affective relation between its citizens
then several questions present themselves. In the first place, will any
affective relation do? Or does a democracy require a particular kind of
solidarity between its citizens? If so, what are the conditions of democratic
love?
In the first place, it is necessary to separate the general question of affect from
the question of democracy. Affect is constitutive of any human experience and
it is not limited to any particular content, political or otherwise. Strong
solidarity  and, as a result, fraternity  can exist among members of a
community, without the identification link between those members being
democratic at all. Several of the examples that Chipkin gives are particularly
explicit in this respect. Anybody knows that feelings of fraternity were very
important in Fascist movements. What is essential in an affective relation is
that particular symbols are the objects of a strong emotional investment. So the

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answer to the first question is that  given the right context  any political
content can be the point of an affective investment  be it positive or negative.
And this applies as well to the case of Althussers ideological State apparatuses
that Chipkin mentions. In different situations the State interpellates individuals
as subjects in diametrically opposed ways.
As for the other two questions, their meaning requires clarification before
an answer is possible. Are they normative questions? If so, the analyst must
determine what he understands by democracy independently of particular
political arrangements, and later to assess the latter on the basis of their
coincidence or not with the general norm. The really relevant question,
however, is whether it is possible to ground democracy in a purely formal
system of rules  merely procedural, as the Habermasians would have it 
independently of all type of substantive collective identification. I do not think
this is possible, among other reasons, because to agree in those procedures
already involves an agreement about more substantive matters. So we have, on
the one hand, substantive collective identifications and, on the other, forms of
democratic participation extended to increasingly larger sections of the
population. The essential point is that there is no logical transition, no square
circle that allows a move from the one to the other. But as we are not in
the business of drawing blueprints of ideal societies, it does not matter that the
transition is not logically grounded, as far as it can be the object of a hegemonic
construction. Heterogeneous principles can be discursively articulated. In
South Africa we have all kinds of racial and ethnic identification, as Chipkin
points out, but also the construction of an identification of people as citizens,
without discrimination, which cuts across particularistic barriers. This is a
complex process, as we well know, but this complexity has always been
inherent to the construction of a democratic culture.
There remains an important issue that Chipkin raises in his intervention:
the question of fraternity. At first sight, it is difficult to clearly differentiate
equality from fraternity. Is it not the equivalential relation between a plurality
of demands  as a result of which a certain equality is established between
them, as well as between the subjects who are their bearers  the ground itself
of fraternity? Does the relation of fraternity add anything that the mere
principle of equality does not provide? I think it does, but to identify that extra
something we have to ask ourselves about the precise discursive status of the
triad liberty, equality, fraternity. Is it just the statement of a factual situation,
or is it an injunction? I think it is clearly the latter, for even in those cases in
which it is presented as the ground of a communitarian order  as in the
Declaration of the Rights of Man, for instance  it has a performative
dimension; it makes an implicit allusion to a task ahead. Seen in this way, it is
essentially linked to a discourse of emancipation. In this sense, each of the
components of the triad finds its precise meaning. In the community to be
constructed as a result of the injunction, liberty means liberty from
(oppression or its equivalents) and equality means the relation established

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between the human beings who are the bearers of freedom. So what about
fraternity? I think that it adds an essential component to the process of
construction of a collective subject: the identification with the principle of
equality. Without this identification there would not be the collective
solidarity needed for the emergence of a people. From this perspective,
Chipkin is absolutely right; without the identification on which fraternity is
based, there would be no possibility of populism. The mechanisms of this
identification have been explored at the psychoanalytic level by both Freud and
Lacan, and in my book I have extended this exploration to various dimensions
of the political field. I cannot address here this whole question; so I limit
myself to remind the reader that identification, as conceived in this context,
essentially involves the cathexis of equalitarian subject positions.

Lacanian and pseudo-Lacanian interventions


I have to precede the consideration of the three pieces dealing with my book
from a Lacanian perspective, with a preliminary remark, and it is that I am not a
Lacanian theorist, if by that it is understood one that tries to formalise its own
findings in terms of Lacanian categories. I have elaborated my own theoretical
perspective and if I have drawn on several authors to formulate it, I am not a
disciple of anybody. That is the reason why I find it irritating that some
commentators try to translate my categories into Lacanian ones, and find then
an easy ride in showing that I am using them inconsistently with the Lacanian
doxa: what happens is that the initial translation was totally unwarranted.
Let us start with the piece by Randall Bush, who claims that my approach
to lack, emptiness and so on has exclusively concentrated on symbolic
identification and entirely ignored the imaginary one. How does Bush reach
this conclusion? Only by ascribing the relevant categories of my analysis 
discourse, in the first place  to the register that Lacan calls the symbolic.
But this is an entirely spurious ascription. It is true that in Lacanian theory one
has to distinguish between the symbolic object, on the one hand, and, on the
other the stage of the mirror and the imaginary object  closely linked to the
Kleinian approach and the Freudian theory of narcissism  but the distinction
between the symbolic and the imaginary is not present in my theoretical
approach. It is not that I am against this distinction, and in Lacans work it
makes perfect sense  although its terms are rather hesitant, because Lacans
distinction between the three registers oscillated quite a bit throughout his
intellectual trajectory. The question is, rather, that in my theoretical approach
the relevant distinctions are different, so that no mechanical translation of
them into Lacanian categories is possible. My notion of discourse, for
instance, includes dimensions of the three Lacanian registers. And the same
applies to the whole field of rhetoricity.

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So, in that case, what about the homologies that I have myself found
between Lacans approach and my own? They are certainly there and they are
relevant, but they have to be precisely located as far as their pertinence is
concerned. I have, for instance, asserted that the hegemonic logic and the one
associated to the investment making possible the emergence of the object a in
Lacan are identical and not only vaguely homologous, but this does not mean
that the construction of any possible object is, in my work  nor, indeed, in
that of Lacan  reducible to that homology.
There is, however, a last point to make. What I have just said does not
mean that I think a comparison between two theoretical approaches is
impossible. It only means that such a comparison has to operate avoiding easy
translations and respecting the autonomy of the two theoretical fields being
compared. The work of Paula Biglieri and Gloria Perello, to which I will refer
later on, from this viewpoint, is exemplary. They are both Lacanian theorists
and, also, seriously interested in the hegemonic approach to politics. They
have, as we will see later, made a distinction between the three registers
which, at the same time that it follows a rigorous Lacanian logic shows its
homologous points with the hegemonic logic.
*****
Considering now the piece by Christian Lundberg, I think that it presents
an insightful analysis of the way in which the notion of demand operates in the
work of Freud and Lacan. The only point in which I disagree with him is in his
assertion that my analysis does not integrate the idea of jouissance and remains
at a purely formal  indeed, quasi-structuralist  study of the logic of
signification. To this effect, he refers to a criticism raised in an essay by Jason
Glynos and Yannis Stavrakakis (in S. Critchley and O. Marchart, Laclau.A
Critical Reader) and which has been expanded by Stavrakakis in a recent book
(The Lacanian Left). I have already answered that criticism (in the same volume
edited by Critchley and Marchart), so I find it slightly strange that Lundberg
does not make any reference to my reply. To summarise my argument, I have
to say that, for me, there is no drastic separation between affect (jouissance)
and signification, because affect only consists in the differential (uneven)
investment of a signifying chain, while signification includes in its logical
determinations its being structured by such an affective investment. They are
not separate objects but two dimensions of the same process which are only
analytically distinguishable. While signification deals with the form of the
investment, affect deals with its force.
Lundberg writes:
Yet enjoyment provides one particularly difficult stumbling block for a
dedicated formal account. To start with, enjoyment is never quite as
achievable as the preceding quotation might suggest. Far from being

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the consummation of a logic of structure and investment, enjoyment is a


supplement to a failing in a structure: for example, Lacan frames
jouissance as a useless enjoyment of ones own subjectivity that
supplements the fundamental failings of a subject in either finding a
grounding or consummating an authoritative account of its coherence.
This uselessness defines the operation of jouissance.
Now I find this quotation surprising because, although the author referred to is
Lacan, it could also be an accurate description of my own approach. At no
point have I asserted that there is a structural closure of the social whole but
exactly the opposite: that such a structural closure is unachievable and that,
because of that, an uneven investment is required. Lundberg speaks of a logic
of structure and investment as if it was an homogeneous operation, but in
actual fact investment is necessary because the structure cannot achieve any
closure of its own. This investment is the supplement that Lundberg demands
but which, for the reasons that I have explained, can only exist as a distortion
of the process of signification. The key category here is that of empty
signifier, which is absolutely central to my approach but to which Lundberg
does not make the slightest allusion in his piece. If a structure could be closed
in a saturated logical space we would have a symbolic space without holes, and
no hegemonic operation would be required. From the notions of empty
signifier and hegemony we naturally pass to two other aspects which
are crucial for my approach. The first is the centrality of naming in the constitution of objectivity  which presupposes the breaking of the structuralist
isomorphism between signifier and signified; the second is the centrality of
rhetoric in the very structure of signification. Saussure himself realised that,
while the combinations proper of the syntagmatic axis of language can be
apprehended through strict syntactic rules, the associative or paradigmatic axis
cannot be so domesticated, because the associations can advance in all kinds of
directions. The consequence is that tropological mechanisms operate at the
very heart of signification. This is the point where psychoanalytic categories
become relevant and where problems concerning the site of excess, that
Lundberg raises, should be inscribed.
There is a last point in relation to Lundbergs piece that I would like to
briefly refer to. It is that concerning the nature of the addressees in a globalised
world. It is also a question that I have raised on several occasions. To refer to
an example which I have given elsewhere: if a group of students start a
mobilisation for the reduction of the price of the ticket in the university
restaurant, the enemy is perfectly clear and delimited  it is the university
administration. Let us suppose now that we have a popular mobilisation of very
heterogeneous social sectors: in this case, the enemy is not obvious and
requires a far more complex process of discursive construction. This is the
reason why the category of empty signifier, which presupposes a relatively
stable political frontier, is insufficient. To deal with these more complex

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situations is why other notions such as floating signifiers and social


heterogeneity have to be introduced into the analysis. The key question is,
however, the following: do we have, with these conceptual additions, the
intellectual tools to deal with the new situations arising in a globalised world? I
think that we have them. In the first place, frontier effects dividing society into
two camps have not disappeared. We have them, on the contrary, constantly
reproducing themselves in the contemporary scene. But, in the second place,
the vulgar postmodern image of a universe dominated by a plurality of
punctual conflicts not crossed by any equivalential logic does not even
remotely correspond to the way in which social antagonisms emerge and
develop in the world in which we live.
The essay by Biglieri and Perello constitutes an exemplary theoretical
intervention, as far as our present discussion is concerned, in at least three
aspects. Firstly, because it does not simply list a series of psychoanalytical
categories, but attempts to show their specific interconnections; secondly,
because it deals with both political and psychoanalytical concepts, respecting
their autonomy and without engaging in any mechanical reduction of one field
to the other; finally, because it opens the way to a certain universalisation of
those categories  that is, to their potential inscription into a general
ontological reflection.
Let us start with the first aspect. Biglieri and Perello assert:
The imaginary order has to do with the image; it has to do with the notion
of representation (that is to say, with something which is presented once
more instead of that which is an absence). It is an attempt to reach a
synthesis, to unify or to establish a closure of meaning. The Symbolic
order, in a broad sense, can be understood as culture passed on through
language. It is an organizer that gives shape to imaginary representations
through the laws of language. We can say that the Symbolic order  in the
Lacanian sense  is composed by Saussures linguistics, Levi-Strauss
anthropology and symbolic logic. The Symbolic order can be separated
neither from the Imaginary nor from the Real. Lacan defines the Real in
several different ways: as mere leftovers, because it is what belongs
neither to the Imaginary nor to the Symbolic order; as that which always
returns to the same place; as the impossible, that is to say, as that which is
impossible to represent  the logically impossible. However, none of
these definitions exhausts or cancels the others. All of them are valid. As
we have said, Imaginary order, Symbolic order and Real are inseparable
and during the last period of his teaching Lacan used topology to translate
the trilogy Imaginary, Symbolic and Real into a Borromean knot.
As we see, it is a matter of analytic distinction and factual inseparability. The
same applies to the basic categories of my approach  empty signifier,
hegemony, discourse, populism and so on. It is, in that sense, a useless

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exercise to try to determine if they belong to the Symbolic or to the Imaginary


registers, because they are located at the exact point of interaction between
both. And if I have insisted about this moment of actual interaction, it is
because of the particular way in which the political logic operates (more about
this in a moment).
Let us consider the category of heterogeneity which, as Biglieri and
Perello have pointed out, is central to my approach. What exactly does it mean
to be heterogeneous? As I have asserted, a plurality whose component elements
do not belong to the same space of representation. This not belonging,
however, is of a very peculiar kind. It cannot be a not belonging whose
elements would just be external to each other; it is one in which the elements,
in spite of being not representable within an objective continuum, would still
interact with each other. What, in that case, would be a representation which is
beyond the limits of an objective representation antagonistic relation?
To answer this question it is essential to bring to the fore the notion of
antagonism. The central thesis that I have presented throughout my work is
that social antagonisms are not objective relations but relations through which
the limits of all objectivity are shown. In what way, however, is such showing
still a relation? The answer is to be given in two steps. The first is to clarify the
preconditions for grasping the specificity of that kind of relation, by showing
what the requirements would be for a conceptual transition to full objective
representability. In a purely antagonistic relation (which in the actual world
would be difficult to find in such uncontaminated purity) the discourses of the
two antagonistic forces would be strictly incommensurable. This means, first,
that one cannot logically move from one to the other of the antagonistic poles
in terms of the discourse of either of them; and, second, that the moment of
clash between them becomes strictly irrepresentable as an objective instance.
What, in that case, would be required to reintroduce a dimension of objective
representability? Clearly, that there is a third agent  Absolute Spirit, or
whatever  that detects an objective meaning  a cunning of reason  which
escapes the consciousness of the antagonistic agents. If that third agent is
brought into the picture, it is clear that full objectivity is restored; but, with
implacable logic, the antagonistic dimension of the clash, by the same stroke,
evaporates. So the alternative is clear: Either antagonisms are subsumed under
a logic of history which reduces them to be the epiphenomenal expression of
something incommensurable with them; or there is no such underlying logic,
in which case we only have the discourses of contingent antagonistic agents
and, as a result, the moment of the clash becomes strictly irrepresentable.
But our answer is still incomplete, because the question remains: if the
antagonistic relation is not an objective one, what kind of relation are we
talking about? This brings us to the second step of our argument. The key
consideration is that, while in an objective relation the full identity of the two
opposed forces is entirely asserted and absorbed (as in the clash between two
stones, cut also in the case of a dialectical deduction) in an antagonistic relation

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each force interrupts the identity of the other. The presence of the other
prevents me from fully being what I am. While in an objective development
there is an exact overlapping between the ontic and the ontological, here the
ontic presence of the other is the source of an ontological dimension  the
other becomes the representation of the impossibility of fully being what I am
 that such ontic presence cannot master or reduce. This is the point, as
Biglieri and Perello have clearly perceived, where my approach to antagonisms
and the Lacanian Real find clear homologies. The Lacanian Real disrupts the
Symbolic, interrupting its mastery. This is the reason why in my analysis I have
privileged the relation between the Symbolic and the Real. Not, as Randall
Bush thinks, because I am ignoring the Imaginary register, but because, as my
theme was the interruption of social objectivity by the irrepresentability
brought about by antagonism, I had to give pride of place to the interactions
between the Real and the Symbolic. Lacans priorities were different, because
he was not primarily interested in the question of conceptualising social
antagonisms. But several of his theoretical concepts  object a, extimity, plus
de jouir  are susceptible, as Biglieri and Perello have indicated, to at least a
comparative study with those proceeding from my intellectual arsenal.
I have just mentioned extimacy, and it is to the question of its theoretical
status, also raised by our two authors, to which I want now to turn. As they
argue, while in my previous work I had emphasised antagonism, in my more
recent work I have pointed to dislocation as a more primary ontological
terrain, and it would be that terrain the one or, in our terminology, the
constitutive character of which would make full sense of the notion of
heterogeneity. Antagonism would already involve a certain discursive
inscription. I would agree with that way of presenting the argument, but I
would like to say something more about the kind of inscription that we are
talking about. Biglieri and Perello assert that:
(t)he heterogeneous is not placed within or without, inside or outside, but
at the point of extimacy. Through this neologism, extimacy, Lacan
understands the most intimate dimension to be found at the external
dimension, and announces its presence as a foreign body, a parasite, which
recognizes a constitutional rupture of intimacy.
This already shows that the kind of inscription through which an antagonistic
relation is constituted cannot be fully symbolic, that is, a new difference in the
Saussurean sense of the term. To inscribe, in our new sense, means endowing a
certain content with a dimension exceeding its ontic determination. To put it in
more precise terms: the ontic content expresses or represents something
different from itself. The ontic content is there, but just to show the chasm
between the ontic and the ontological, the Abgrund or, in our terminology, the
constitutive character of dislocation. This, in Lacanian terms, would be the point
of extimacy. In not identical, but at least comparable terms, it would be what, in

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Derridean language would be a hinge, such as hymen or pharmakon. To give one


more example, taken from medieval mystical theology: in expressions such as
super-Goodness or super-Wisdom to refer to the essence of God, we are
apparently following the via affirmative, for we are attributing a positive content
to the divinity, but in fact we are embarking on the via negative for, as the prefix
super- refers to something which is beyond language and understanding, those
expressions are ways of saying that God is beyond qualifications such as wisdom
or goodness. That is what makes the figural ontologically primary. In terms of
our political analysis, it is what gives its centrality to the notion of empty
signifier. Absence of meaning can only be shown through distortions of
meaning. So although it is true that ultimate dislocation does not necessarily
manifest itself through an antagonistic inscription, it is also true that, however, its
manifestation will always require some kind of inscription.

On populism and spectacle


In her excellent piece, Meghan Sutherland makes a quite meaningful
comparison between my theoretical approach and the one contained in the
well-known book by Guy Debord The Society of Spectacle. There are three
aspects of Sutherlands argument that I would particularly want to underline.
1. There is, in the first place, Sutherlands perceptive assertion that, in spite
of terminological differences which, at some points seem to suggest
diametrical oppositions, there is a whole terrain of analogies to be
detected. Thus she asserts that
Debords cryptic statements about the ontological status of spectacle 
like his proposal that spectacle is not a decorative element but rather,
the very heart of societys real unreality also begin to evoke Laclaus
characterization of populist rhetorical excess more than the metaphysical denunciation of representation that serves as their chronological, if
not philosophical, premise.
This point is crucial. For me, there is only representation because an original
presentation  in the Platonic sense of the term  never takes place. To assert
the constitutive ontological role of a discursive mediation involves that neither
a referent, nor a phenomenon, nor a sign (as the isomorphic attachment of a
signifier to a signified) can reach the status of a full presence (i.e. they cannot
give access to the things themselves, as Husserl wanted). It remains,
however, that, differently from Debord, I have a less negative view of this
centrality of representation in contemporary societies, as the language games
that the theory of hegemony make possible show.

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2. Sutherlands penetrating analysis of the black face minstrelsy show is an


excellent illustration of the main theoretico-political categories underlying
my analysis. I will not repeat here the whole of Sutherlands argument,
which can be found in her essay. Let me just enumerate some of its key
points that I find particularly valuable: her several remarks concerning the
aesthetic of the spectacle; the latters connection with the notion of empty
signifier (see especially her assertion that one has to recognise spectacle as
a signifier of the empty signifier); the links between the double
presentation of an articulated spectacle, on the one hand, and the
spectacle of the reciprocally articulated audience for this spectacle, on the
other; the way in which race and ethnicity become both mixed and
constructed through the whole game of the performance; the way in which
Lotts analysis is brought into the picture and so on. One can say that
Sutherlands intervention reflects one theoretical language into several
others and, in this way, performs a highly useful comparatist exercise.
3. Finally, I want to point out what is perhaps the main theoretical assertion
of the essay. Sutherland says:
the ontological production of the people that takes place in the realm
of popular entertainment cannot constitute a populist political movement on its own. But if it can be said to either compete with,
contribute to, or foreclose the productions of social objectivity on which
such movements depend for their own representational success, it is
only because it competes for visibility on the same ontological ground that
more properly political rhetorical productions of the people do. To
which she adds: the aesthetic relations of popular spectacle reproduce
this rhetoric on their own terms all the time, and in the context of new
media culture, we must necessarily imagine the ontological production
of populist rhetoric that Laclau draws out in detail as a figuration of the
social that must either harmonize with a million other such figurations,
or else, successfully compete with them on yet another register of
hegemonic status.
Although Sutherland does not mention the fact, this conclusion is profoundly
Gramscian, as it presents the hegemonic operation not as taking place in a
narrowly defined public sphere, but as permeating all strata and levels of
society. That is the reason of the centrality attributed by Gramsci to national
culture, and its expansion of the notion of organic intellectual to types of
social interventions which would have not been considered as intellectual in
the conventional sense of the term. In my work I have attempted to show
how there is, in Gramsci, a cutting across the spheres of the State and civil
society (or of politics and culture). While for Hegel the sphere of
universality is the State  against the particularism of civil society; and

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while in Marx civil society had to generate out of itself a universal class
destined to bring about the end of politics; for Gramsci there is a double
movement consisting in the politicisation of civil society and a socialisation of
politics. This double movement is at the root of any hegemonic operation.
The latter always feeds itself out of the molecular changes taking place in a
national culture. As Sutherland shows, public entertainment is one of the
areas in which those changes operate. The main theoretical consequence of
this approach is that the categories of the theory of hegemony should not
remain circumscribed to the narrow field of politics in the conventional
sense but should be expanded through their connection to a whole area of
cultural and social phenomena which traditionally had been thought as
escaping their scope.

Misrepresentations
Finally, I have to refer to two essays that do not present punctual critiques to
my argument but launch themselves into a head-on confrontation with the
whole of my theoretical approach. I refer, of course, to the essays by Michael
Kaplan and Elizabeth Povinelli. I find it a bit difficult to deal with their
arguments because it is always complicated to reply to discourses so wild and
erratic that even the basic meaning of ones own assertions is lost. But,
anyway, as noblesse oblige, I will try to say something about them.
Let us start with Kaplan, who, although utterly misrepresenting my
argument, has the comparative advantage over Povinelli of at least raising
issues which are theoretically meaningful. A first cluster of problems, in his
view, concerns the status of the economy. Now here he mixes issues that
should have been kept analytically separated. Firstly, he illegitimately
assimilates Jean-Joseph Gouxs transformation of the basic categories of
economic analysis into a general ontological logic, to Derridas approach. Let
us just quote the way he refers to Derridas use of the notion of economy:
economy of perception and experience in Husserl, an economy of violence in
Levinas, an economy of the sign in Saussure, an economy of structure in LeviStrauss, and economy of psychic drives in Freud, and so on. Now, this
assimilation of the use of the economic in Goux and in Derrida is utterly
illegitimate. While in Gouxs work, the economic retains a literal meaning
that he wants to see operating in quite different areas from those in which
those categories were originally thought as pertinent, the economic is, in
Derridas work, used in a merely metaphoric way. By economy Derrida
simply means what, in my work, I have called logic  that is, a rarefied space
in which some objects are representable while other are excluded. So the
assimilation of Goux to Derrida is entirely spurious.

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From there, however, Kaplan moves to my controversy with Zizek


concerning the economic, and there he grounds his argument, in a second
and equally wild assimilation: he, first, thinks that what Derrida and Goux
had in mind as the economic  which by no means, as we said, is the
same  is exactly what we are discussing with Zizek as far as the economic
space is concerned. This is absurd. The discussion I had with Zizek is
about an entirely different matter than that referred to by either Derrida or
Goux: namely, the question of whether the economy can be considered as a
self-generated sphere providing, out of itself, everything needed to explain
what is going on in society, or if, alternatively, the economy is a terrain
submitted to conditions of possibility which cannot be derived from the
internal analysis of commodity. If the second alternative is accepted, we
obviously have to move to a conception of social totality not derived from
an elementary form  commodity or its equivalents  and to conceive the
ontological priority of a complex articulated whole (such as hegemonic
formation).
This leads us to a final point concerning economic matters. Kaplan has
objections to my notion of globalised capitalism. What exactly do I
understand by that  as far as it is considered a terrain of contemporary
social struggles? In the 1930s Marxist theoreticians Trotsky, prominently
 spoke about combined and uneven development, meaning by that a new
social reality in which the automatism of straightforward economic
antagonisms was decreasing and in which the political mediation  what
we could call the intimate imbrication between economic processes and
their conditions of existence  became more intimate. Globalisation
represents a new and fundamental turn in this logic of articulation, and
one which is showing the way to a new emancipatory social ontology  one
of which Kaplan, of course, is entirely unaware. Let us come back for a
moment to this question of social totality. In traditional Marxism, social
totality was structured around a self-defining core, which was the mode of
production. The more the analysis  and the historical experience 
advanced, the less it was possible to maintain the logic of the mode of
production as a self-defined core or mechanism, and the more the
incorporation of the conditions of possibility of that core to its internal
workings was required, so that in the end, the ontological logics
establishing the links between the components of the social whole had to
be radically reconsidered. Our critic is not prepared to engage in the least
in this process of reconsideration and, not surprisingly, he rejects Lacanian
theory as a whole. But I do not think that he shows a proper understanding
of the Derridean approach either.
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Peirce or Saussure?
I do not have much to say about the piece by Elizabeth Povinelli because, in
spite of being formally presented as a critique of my approach, it amounts to
little more than a formulation of her own alternative views about the issues at
stake, without any attempt at explaining why those issues can not be addressed
within my own theorisation. As is well known, contemporary semiotics has
followed two different routes in its process of self-constitution: the Saussurean
route, grounded in a dichotomic linguistic model, and a trichotomic one, based
in the Peircean tradition. I chose the first, while Povinelli opts for the second.
It is, of course, her right to do so, but what is less legitimate is that she
criticises me for not following the Peircean model, without explaining what
theoretical, social or cultural dimensions are blocked in a Saussurean or postSaussurean analysis. So Povinelli does not engage in a critique but in just a
dogmatic assertion of her alternative view.
This absence of a proper critique exempts me from the obligation of
defending my choice. I will only comment that, in my view, in the trichotomic
Peircean model, the three components are not in pari materia, and so that the
degree of formalisation which is achievable is less than in the Saussurean
perspective. There is always the implicit danger of a sociologistic descriptivism
which in the essay by Povinelli becomes quite explicit and exacerbated.
There are, in the first place, those points in which Povinelli simply
misrepresents my position. I cannot fully enumerate those points, but I will
give a few examples. She asks herself: What conceptual advantage do we gain
by considering the people to be a rhetorical figure rather than a prerhetorical social referent? Let us pass this naive appeal to a pre-discursive
(which Povinelli calls pre-rhetorical social referent). The important point is
that, in my approach, that question does not make any sense, because for
me the discursive (conceived in a way very close to Wittgensteins language
games  i.e. not merely as speech and writing, but as any signifying structure)
is co-terminus with the social. And, in that case, the really relevant question is
whether signification can constitute itself without the operation of figural
mechanisms. My answer to this question is negative. As Povinelli does not
discuss my grounds for that answer  quite explicitly formulated at several
points of my work  I consider myself dispensed from the obligation of
repeating again my whole argument.
A typical example of Povinellis argumentative strategy can be found in the
following passage:
But, not only do I disagree with how Laclau theoretically anchors his
model of rhetoric, I want to suggest a kind of social analysis that might be
possible if we were to make a decisive break with the logic of the
Saussurean sign (not merely structuralism, but the language of the signifier
and the signified) and its continuing hold on the humanistic social sciences.

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One would have expected that a programmatic statement like this, which
proclaims a decisive break with a theoretical paradigm, would explain what is
wrong with such a paradigm. But of such explanation we are still waiting the
Advent.
Let me give a third example. Povinelli asserts:

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The purpose of this section is to tease out how, in spite of his intentions
and the potential power of his approach, Laclau collapses political
processes into a specific linguistic theory that continually deflects analysis
away from the body politic and its institutional sedimentation.
I have made a specific reference to sedimentation in my work, but with a
meaning which is largely opposite to that in which Povinelli uses the term. I
used it in the context of the Husserlian distinction between sedimentation
and reactivation. What I asserted is that sedimentation refers to the
institutionalised forms of the social (broadly speaking, to what Ranciere calls
police) and are the point at which the countable and the uncountable
exclude each other. The moment of the political is, on the contrary, the
moment of reactivation, the moment in which the institutional order is
threatened and new social forces emerge. The specific form that this threat
assumes in my analysis is the construction of equivalential chains which
dislocate institutional sedimentation. To speak about sedimentation as internal
to the political, as Povinelli seems to do  she even explicitly asserts that the
aim and end of a political theory is social sediment  sounds as little more
than a sanction of the status quo.
Finally, I want to quickly refer to the two doorframes  a mens bathroom
in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago and the front
door of an indigenous familys house in the Northern territory of Australia 
that Povinelli analyses in the last part of her essay. The Australian doorframe,
first. Povinelli sees the situation through the Peircean category of interpretant
and concludes that the different actors participating in that situation
interpreted it in different ways. She says:
The problem was with competing truths both within any social structure
and their social world and between social subjects and their social
worlds . . . All of these material grounds of interpreting social life and of
interpreting various grounds of interpretation . . . occur within social
institutions that amplify, impede, or deflect one possible reading or the
other.
I do not disagree with this analysis as far as it goes. My difficulty is that I do not
see why the situation that Povinelli describes would be unapproachable within
my theoretical perspective. Finally, I have systematically insisted that the
discursive construction of social antagonisms presupposes a plurality of

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readings of a certain situation of conflict between social actors, and that these
readings are not reducible to an aprioristic infrastructural social logic.
Consequently, in this war of interpretations, the discourses of what in
Peirces terminology would be interpretations would necessarily confront
each other. If I think that my analytical instrumental is more powerful than that
of Povinelli, it is because through categories such as equivalential and
differential logics, empty signifiers or hegemony, I can better describe the
micropolitics through which interpretants constitute, articulate and change
their identities. Povinellis analysis is, instead, based on categories more
macro-sociological, and, as a result, has to rely more on an institutional
approach based on categories such as sedimentation, used in a sense that I find
rather problematic.
As for the first doorframe, the one of the mens toilet, it is little more than
a joke, so my only commentary is that Povinellis assertion that our protagonist
will initially seem to be standing in isolation, experiencing the centring effects
of the empty signifier is a nonsense, because in that situation there is no empty
signifier whatsoever. To have an empty signifier it is necessary to have an
equivalential chain between a plurality of demands, while in Povinellis
example all the impulses of that woman conflict with each other. So we can
forget about that womans conflict between the demands of her bladder and
the social conveniences.

Conclusion
I would like to add a few reflections as a conclusion. A recurrent trend in my
argument has been to invert the relations of priority that social and ideological
levels have traditionally had in the consideration of the social whole. Populism
had been usually conceived as a side-effect or epiphenomenon of social forces
which were considered as constituted by logics quite different from their
ideological effects. That is the reason why populism was supposed to show its
inner nature when led back to particular social forces which expressed
themselves through populistic discourses. The result was a persistent and
misguided question: Which social forces express themselves through populist
forms, and why? Our approach has been exactly the opposite: we see in
populist discourses  i.e. in equivalential logics  not the external
manifestation of an ultimate social core different from that expression, but
the very articulatory practice which constitutes that core. This means that
populism is not something different in its inner, ultimate nature, from
its external, surface expression: it is rather that expression what constitutes
its inner core.
This inversion of social priorities requires, in turn, two other ontological
inversions. First is to see the discursive, articulatory moment as constitutive (in

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the transcendental sense of the term). The logics of equivalence and difference
 in the sense we have defined them  are the ultimate ontological bedrock of
objectivity. This duality of logics expresses itself  depending on which of
them prevails  in the pre-dominion of either a populist or an institutionalist
structuration of society.
But  here comes the second inversion  the two logics do not merge into
one another in a harmonious way, but subverting the rules of their mutual
operations. The result is an essential unevenness of the social: as no social
element finds in itself the source of its own, monadic identity, and as the social
whole can not be achieved either as a self-contained, closed totality, whatever
closure can be reached will do so through the over investment of one element
which endows all the others with a certain, precarious fixation. These overinvested elements are what we call hegemonic or empty signifiers (see my
essay Why do Empty Signifiers Matter to Politics? in Emancipation(s), London,
Verso, 1996). The conclusion of this analysis is that displacements of sense 
that is, tropological movements  are constitutive of discursivity. The
rhetorical moment is, in that sense, constitutive of discourse and, as a result, of
objectivity tout court.
Finally this leads us to re-think the relations of priority traditionally
ascribed to the social and the political. While the nineteenth century ascribed
an absolute priority to the social  while the political was conceived as a
subsystem or superstructure  we tend today to see the political as the
instituting moment of the social, while the latter is conceived as the
sedimented form of the former. This distinction  sedimentation and
reactivation  comes, of course, from Husserl; but while he linked institution
to the founding act of a transcendental subject, for us that act involves radical
contingency, and as a result, a purely political intervention.

Acknowledgements
I want to thank you the various authors for their replies to my work and for the
very thoughtful comments they have provided. The above is a very provisional
and tentative answer.

Notes on contributor
Ernesto Laclau was, for many years, Director of the Program in Ideology
and Discourse Analysis at the University of Essex. He has taught at many other
universities as well, and currently is University Professor of the Humanities
and Rhetorical Studies at Northwestern University. His publications include
Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (NLB, 1977), Hegemony and Socialist

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Strategy (with Chantal Mouffe, Verso, 1985), New Reflections on the Revolution of
our Time (Verso, 1990), The Making of Political Identities (editor, Verso, 1994).
Emancipation(s) (Verso, 1996), Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (with Judith
Butler and Slavoj Zizek, Verso, 2000), On Populist Reason (Verso, 2005) and
Elusive Universality (Routledge, forthcoming). His work has been translated into
a number of European languages.

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