What is it about?

Discourse theorists often defend their discursive stance on ‘reality’ and the material with reference to Laclau and Mouffe’s quote that, while an “earthquake or the falling of a brick…exist externally to thought,” they cannot “constitute themselves as objects outside any discursive conditions of emergence”. While fully endorsing this statement, we argue that it does not licence discourse theorists to consider discursive formations divorced from their material context, but obliges us to account for the constraints and affordances of the material conditions on the structuring of the discursive field itself. Drawing on previous work, we argue that material conditions may render discourse systems incommensurate, such that they cannot be articulated through chains of equivalence within a radically restructured field. We suggest as a way forward the concept of the nomadic politician continually traversing between equivalential systems in order to reconfigure and renegotiate key signifiers within the materially-constrained discursive fields of each.

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Why is it important?

It addresses the material -so far a structural weakness in discourse theory. It cross-fertalises with more linguistic oriented approaches such as CDA.


This article is a part of ongoing work that we are doing in making DT, SFL and CDA more applicable to study - and hopefully help resolve - so-called 'wicked problems'. These cannot be sorted with the logics that caused them. CDA and DT together help to prfoundly rethink issues and then also create new patterns and new ways of thinking.

Nicolina Montesano Montessori
Hogeschool Utrecht

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This page is a summary of: Towards webs of equivalence and the political nomad in agonistic debate, Journal of Language and Politics, December 2020, John Benjamins,
DOI: 10.1075/jlp.20046.bar.
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