Sexual identity, identification and difference: A psychoanalytic contribution to discourse theory

Philosophy and Social Criticism 26 (6):85-108 (2000)
Abstract
This essay focuses on an issue arising from within an anti-essentialist perspective on sexual identity: how is it possible to explain the political impetus inhering in a category such as 'woman' without having recourse to a set of positive properties that would somehow fix her identity in advance? I examine how a particular theoretical outlook, social postmodernism, attempts to address this issue, and argue that, ultimately, social postmodernism generates its own impasse which I call social foundationalism - an impasse which is structurally similar to biological foundationalism. I invoke discourse-theoretic concepts to introduce the psychoanalytic categories of master signifier and symbolic identification. This is done in order to suggest how Lacanian psychoanalysis permits us to theorize sexual difference in a way that avoids both biological foundationalism and social foundationalism. Key Words: discourse theory • identification • identity • Lacan • poststructuralism • psychoanalysis • sexual difference • social postmodernism.
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