Discursive Approach To Politics

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This article explores the discursive and affective approaches to politics exemplified by Ernesto Laclau's theory of populism and Brian Massumi's affect theory respectively. It presents an analysis of the role the notion of discourse plays in Laclau's conception of populism and argues that his language-based approach to politics precludes him from elaborating on the material side of politics, which includes street protests and the use of media technologies. This paper shows that despite Laclau's attempts to grasp this side of politics by using the notion of affect, he cannot abandon his strictly discursive position. In order to go beyond Laclau's framework, this article introduces Massumi's notion of affect as a power of one body to affect another…show more content…
According to this position, politics is mostly about various discursive practices (talks, arguments, debates over this or that political concept), whereas the material side of politics (corporeal experience, media technologies) is pushed to the margins. However, I think that the case of Podemos, which widely uses different media and has the Indignados experience as its background, prompts us to examine the discursive and material angles of politics and the relationship between them more closely. While Laclau's theory is necessary for accounting for the discursive angle, the material one should be considered as a site of the affective political experience. This paper employs Brian Massumi's notion of affect conceived as an immanent corporeal power to affect and to be affected by other bodies (as in the case of street manifestations) or objects (media objects, etc.). Furthermore, it is assumed that this discussion can shed light on the complex nexus between macropolitics and micropolitics (for instance, between party politics and activism), which is implicit both in Laclau's political philosophy and Massumi's affect…show more content…
First of all, his theory of populism can be seen as an anti-essentialist political ontology which is based on his discourse theory. "The people" is an ontological political figure without any pre-defined empirical content, one which is made manifest by discursive practices and around which any empirical (in Laclau's words, ontic) populism like that of Podemos is centered. Second, Laclau employs a very broad definition of discourse which, as he claims, is a particular material structure of discursive elements (for instance, of statements). In Laclau's framework, this is how the very social and political reality is constituted, which basically means that his discourse theory equals his general ontological standpoint. Third, for Laclau, any political practice is necessarily a discursive practice, broadly conceived as a specific way of signifying social and political phenomena. He claims that any signifier is not a priori fixed to a particular signified, to any essence, which allows for contingency in the processes of assigning political meanings and names. For example, in the Podemos case, such signifier as democracy acquires a completely different meaning than in the discourses of the establishment, namely, it refers to a more networked and direct political participation which was experienced during the Indignados protests on the Spanish

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