Research centre Desire

DESIRE, the Centre for the study of Democracy, Signification and Resistance, performs critical academic research into the political-democratic nature of societal processes and their discursive-significatory dimensions. DESIRE brings together an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), Univerza v Ljubljani (Slovenia), Uppsala Universitet (Sweden), University of Essex, and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, as well as affiliate members from other institutions, to support their joint research activities.

Crucial within DESIRE’s remit is the study of the logics of power. How are power strategies developed and resisted? And how does signification intervene in these power logics? This focus is grounded in the idea that processes of signification are highly political because they define our realities in always particular ways. Processes of signification sometimes result in hegemonic orders, sometimes in highly instable struggles of contestation and resistance. DESIRE’s focus on the discursive-significatory is always grounded in contextualising reflections on the material, the structural, affect and agency.

DESIRE’s focus is on the political, broadly defined as the ontological dimension of struggle and conflict in society, and therefore not restricted to specific institutionalised forms of politics. DESIRE studies the many societal fields where meaning is produced and circulated, including the media sphere, the sphere of cultural institutions and heritage sites, and the sphere of politics.

DESIRE has four particular and partly overlapping areas of interest.

A first area of interest is production and use in communication. DESIRE performs critical culturalist analyses of media and communication production and labour, journalistic identities and practices, alternative and community media, media audiences, and media participation.

A second focal point is the politics of life. This brings together discursive analyses of the logics of power and resistance in domains such as birth, parenting and childhood, suffering and dying, disease and health care, relationships and sexuality, and work.

Thirdly, DESIRE concentrates on the role of ideologies in the sphere of politics as well as in other societal spheres. This includes the theorization of ideologies as well as empirical research that connects detailed analyses of discursive strategies and power dynamics in particular contexts to established structures of meaning and power relations.

A fourth area of particular interest is empowerment and activism. DESIRE critically investigates different kinds of citizen participation in processes of decision-making and media production as well as diverse forms of political activism and civic engagement. It evaluates their democratic potential and analyses the complex power dynamics of empowerment, resistance, containment, and neutralization involved in the relation between individual citizens, civil society, the state, the economy and the media.

Across these areas of interest, DESIRE aims to strengthen critical research. DESIRE values the crucial role of theory in undertaking such critical research, and aims to contribute to the theorization of discourse and of the discursive-significatory dimension of power relations in different societal spheres.

A variety of methods are used and combined to study the discursive-significatory dimension of power logics in its many locations (texts, sounds, images, architectures, urban spaces, institutions, …). These methods include critical discourse analysis, visual analysis, rhetorical analysis, discourse-theoretical analysis, narrative analysis, qualitative audience research, and different forms of ethnographic research.