Sociology Index


Signifier is a term from semiology - the study of signs. For example the expression 'a pig is coming' is the signifier, while the content of this expression is the signified.

The signifier and the signified always exist in some relationship and the hearer is always decoding this relationship. For example in one instance the hearer may hear the signifier pig and assume that an animal pig is in the area suitable for hunting. Another time the hearer may hear that a policeman is in the area, while at another time the hearer may hear that the speaker's supervisor is arriving.

Security! What Do You Mean? - From Concept to Thick Signifier - Jef Huysmans, Univ of Kent, European Journal of International Relations, Vol. 4, No. 2, 226-255 (1998) - Abstract: This article wants to draw attention to the question of the meaning of security. First, it differentiates three ways of dealing with the meaning of the noun, a definition, a conceptual analysis and a thick signifier approach, which focuses on the wider order of meaning which `security' articulates.

Two things are claimed, (a) an increasing degree of sophistication if one moves from the first to the third approach; and (b) a qualitative change in the security studies agenda if one uses a thick signifier approach. The second part of the article illustrates how this thick signifier approach contributes to a better and also different understanding of security. Here, the main argument is that security mediates the relation between life and death and that this articulates a double security problematic, a daily security and an ontological security problematic.

Denaturalizing the family: History at the level of the signifier - Catherine Belsey.
Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, Cardiff University, UK.
European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3, 289-303 (2001)
Abstract: The sources of this history are cultural documents of all kinds, including fiction. In order to read them attentively as a basis for interpreting the past, we need to define a relationship between the interpreting subject, the object of knowledge, and language in its broadest sense. Cultural history is history at the level of the signifier.

Culture and Cognition and Jean Laplanche’s Enigmatic Signifier - Allyson Stack 
Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 22, No. 3, 63-80 (2005)
Abstract: Empathy is widely touted as a springboard for social change. Within the academy, ‘identification’ is often used to promote the social value of literary and cultural studies. But to what degree have scholars, in seeking to defend the value of literary and cultural studies, conceived the act of reading in problematic ways? ‘An Ethics of Reading argues that adopting a Lacanian paradigm of self (reader) and text (other) to discuss the act of textual interpretation reduces a complex event involving multiple actors to a simple dualism, while ineluctably consigning any act of interpretation to simple projection. Turning instead to psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche's concept of the enigmatic signifier, this article rethinks the relation between reader and cultural text, reconceiving the act of interpretation by situating it within a dynamic of transference, as opposed to projection.

The Signifier and the Group - Susan Long.
Abstract: This paper is concerned with the idea of the group as a signifying chain. Group elements, e.g., roles, subgroups, group episodes, and social acts, are viewed as signifiers open to particular significations each of which may be represented within the imaginary history of the group, i.e., in particular people and events. These differential identifications seem to be the imaginary effects of the signifying chain (group structure) that is anchored by the central signifier of the group, i.e., the symbolic father/leader.

Gothic's Enigmatic Signifier: The Case of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's `Carmilla', Michael Davis
Journal: Gothic Studies, ISSN: 1362-7937 Volume 6 Issue 2, November 2004, pp 223-235
Abstract: This article proposes a reading of Le Fanu's `Carmilla' in relation to the ideas of the French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche, particularly Laplanche's notion of the enigmatic signifier. Unable to fully metabolise these enigmatic signifiers, the infant is prone to trauma, as the un-translated residues of the adult's address sink into the unconscious to form powerful unconscious fantasies that continue to trouble the subject.

Rhetoric, Projection, and the Authority of the Signifier, Alcorn, Marshall W., Jr.
Abstract: Clarifies some common misconceptions about the nature of narcissism and projection and employs recent developments in post-Freudian psychoanalytic theory to explain how projective activities are filtered and altered by a certain notion of textual objectivity: objectivity as defined by the text's material signifiers.