Discourse theory and the study of ideological (trans-)formations: Analysing social democratic revisionism

Patrick De Vos

Abstract

The discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe, it is argued, is a model of discursive conflict: Political conflicts are understood as struggles between conflicting discourses that strive to impose their own system of meaning. This article starts by outlining this model as a theoretical framework as well as a set of instruments for political analysis. First the main theoretical concepts are spelled out and clarified. The article then turns to the issue of the rearticulation of the social democratic ideology during the 1990s. The so-called ‘crisis of social democracy’, a crisis that necessitated a transformation of this political project, is outlined together with some of the articulatory practices through which the renewal of social democracy took shape and the discursive background against which it has been articulated. To illustrate the contingency of the articulatory process, the article concludes with a summary of some contested assumptions of the new social democratic model. The overall aim of the article is to illustrate the feasibility and the added value of discourse theory for political research.

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