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Hegemonic discourse and change

Open Panel

Abstract

This paper engages in post-structuralist discourse theory to understand policy change. Following Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe , it is argued that social phenomena and practices are never total and that meaning is never entirely fixed . Thus, discourse is constructed in and through hegemonic struggles in which discourses of various political actors are competing to reach the dominant interpretation through the articulation of identity and meaning. In this process of hegemonic discourse, the concept of dislocation plays a significant role. Once a discourse is confronted with new events, a crisis, something that it cannot longer explain or represent, it gets dislocated . This ‘decentring’ of the structure generates an identity crisis for the subject that leads social actors to reconstruct identity, which means that they have to take decisions, identify with political projects and the articulated discourses therein. Thus, this process grasps the way in which social actors act and is captured by the concept of political subjectivity . As an exemplary form of political practice, hegemonic practices connect different identities and political actors into a collective project and the establishment of new forms of order. In this process the discourse of a new order often gets accepted because it presents an order that seems to be an admissible alternative to the present dislocation . Once a discourse dominates alone, the hegemonic intervention has succeeded and in doing so naturalizes a specific articulation . Subsequently, the discourse generates new modes of political action. The hegemonic discourse becomes institutionalized and constitutes a framework through which identifications become possible, at the same time ruling out alternative frameworks for identification . The paper will explain the process of hegemonic discourse in detail, thereby focussing on the social actors’ lack that derives from a dislocated discourse and the possibility of acceptance of a specific discourse.