Deforming the Figure: Topology and the Social Imaginary

Lash, Scott. 2012. Deforming the Figure: Topology and the Social Imaginary. Theory, Culture & Society, 29(4/5), pp. 261-187. ISSN 0263-2764 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Topology is integral to a shift in socio-cultural theory from a linguistic to a mathematical paradigm. This has enabled in Badiou and Žižek a critique of the symbolic register, understood in terms of pure conceptual abstraction. Drawing on topology, this article understands it instead in terms of the figure. The break with the symbolic and language necessitates a break with form, but topologically still preserves a logic of the figure. This becomes a process of figuration, indeed a process of `deformation'. Badiou/Žižek will then presume a break with the symbolic for `the real'. But topology entails the centrality of not the real but the imaginary. With Castoriadis, this imaginary is understood as productive and social, and with Sloterdijk as spatial. In our times this is a self-organizing socio-technical imaginary. For Niklas Luhmann these socio-technical systems engage in coupling. They structurally couple with other social imaginaries. Their self-organization, going beyond pure functionality, operates through semantic excess: an excess that organizes the system and is their structure. Such structural coupling entails semantic exchange, consisting of not just information but also of images.

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Identification Number (DOI):


figure, form, social, imaginary, structural, coupling, symbolic, topology

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


July 2012Published

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Date Deposited:

29 Nov 2011 13:20

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2017 11:12

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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