Lacan, Laclau, and the Impossibility of Free Trade


  • Thomas Owen Auckland University of Technology



This paper applies Lacan’s ‘negative ontology’ to mediated representations of ‘free trade’, and, in particular, the intellectual property aspects of free trade agreements. More specifically, the paper adopts Lacan’s conception of the ‘Real’ as radically inaccessible, and Laclau’s conception of discourses as contingent and always-already dislocated, to examine how the mediated objects of ‘free trade’ and intellectual property are unfixed, paradoxical, and perpetually haunted by their negative outsides. Free trade agreements and intellectual property protections are key nodal points in contemporary political economy.  However, the historic elaboration of ‘free trade’ reveals the internal incoherence of an object experiencing continued rupture, suture, and contingent impossibility.  This paper deploys a historico-contextual analysis of patent protection and free trade agreements to illustrate such contingency.  It then compares Lacanian negative ontology to the positive realism of mainstream journalism, argues such realism is ill-equipped to accurately capture contingency, and, finally, suggests alternative ways journalism may engage with negatively constituted social phenomena.

Author Biography

Thomas Owen, Auckland University of Technology

Lecturer in Communication Studies