Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
The symbolic is a category in Lacanian psychoanalysis. It is used to designate one of three basic registers of human experience (alongside the imaginary and the real). In the second half of last century, the symbolic was brought to political theory by authors such as Louis Althusser, Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and Slavoj Zizek. This entry introduces the history and content of the symbolic in Lacanian theory. It then examines how the symbolic has been applied in political theory, principally in Slavoj Zizek's work. Lacan's notion of the symbolic (or the symbolic order) is indebted as much to twentieth-century French sociology as to Sigmund Freud. The symbolic order of a society represents the collective representations it uses to understand itself and the world. Each new generation learns these representations, along with their mother tongue, in the first years of life. Lacan emphasizes how the symbolic order is always rule bound ...