Contested Visions: Digital Discourses as Empty Signifiers from the ‘Network’ to ‘Big Data’

Barassi, Veronica. 2016. Contested Visions: Digital Discourses as Empty Signifiers from the ‘Network’ to ‘Big Data’. Communication and the Public, 1(4), pp. 423-435. ISSN 2057-0473 [Article]

Contested Vision Author Proofs.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (226kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

This paper engages with two key concepts that define our digital cultures: the ‘network’ and ‘big data’. It critically considers how these concepts are often framed by techno-utopian or techno-dystopian political understandings of historical transformation. In the last years, the relationship between technological discourses and political visions, has lead to the emergence of critical research in the field (Mosco, 2004; Hindeman, 2010; Morozov, 2011, 2013). This research has shown that we cannot fully understand digital discourses without considering the very Western belief that technological innovation necessarily leads to new political possibilities. By drawing on the findings of a cross-cultural ethnographic research amongst three different political groups in Europe, this paper argues that current research in the field has focused too long on how digital discourse is shaped by Western meta-narratives of technological progress. This is to detriment to a careful consideration of the fact that different political actors discorsively construct digital technologies with reference to different political visions. Understanding these contested visions, the paper will show, is of central importance as it could enable us to appreciate that digital discourses have become today ‘empty signifiers’ (Laclau, 1996), which define the basis of contemporary hegemonic struggles.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Activism, big data, digital discourse, ethnography, network

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


1 December 2016Published
24 November 2016Published Online
14 October 2016Accepted
1 September 2016Submitted

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Dec 2016 16:34

Last Modified:

24 Mar 2021 10:47

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)