Marx, Semiotics and Political Praxis

Edificio de Madrid dispuesto a empoderarse transversalmente para lograr la centralidad ciudadanista, June 28, 2015 | © Courtesy of Antonio Marín Segovia.
Edificio de Madrid dispuesto a empoderarse transversalmente para lograr la centralidad ciudadanista, June 28, 2015 | © Courtesy of Antonio Marín Segovia.


Prof. Paulina Aroch Fugellie, UAM-C, Mexico City


As the first Frankfurt School theorists observed, the possibility of meaning-making has been in crisis at least since the interwar period. Yet the oversaturation of information that characterizes the “digital age” makes discernment today even more difficult than before. It is not only a question of large numbers of competing discourses blurring meaning itself out, but also of a fundamental disassociation between words and their use, between the constative and the performative dimensions of language.

Jean Baudrillard has exemplarily analyzed how the mutability of signs in our society has rendered meaning meaningless, through an infinite game of simulacra and simulation that forecloses our understanding of reality rather than making it legible. Meanwhile, authors such as Peter Sloterdijk and Slavoj Žižek have approached the same problematic from a different angle, analyzing how actions perform an ideological foreclosure that cannot be observed when analyzing signs alone. In sum, what discourses say and what they actually do today is often contradictory and this contradiction fulfills an ideological function. This is especially troubling when discourses declare themselves to be counter-hegemonic yet actively participate in the reproduction of the status quo.

Frederic Jameson paradigmatically described this postmodern condition as schizophrenic, with the signifier breaking loose from the signified and spinning around itself in an endless spiral. Similarly, Giorgio Agamben writes that in late capitalism signs are separated from the sphere of use, signs circulate not to transmit a message (which would imply use value), but as pure medium, exposing their mediality as they exhibit their own act of exhibition. In sum, the contemporary commodification of the semiotic field and the emptying out of signs as spectacles has severed the political, ethical, ideological, intellectual and even existential scope of (academic) writing as a political project.

In this context, it is pertinent to return to the work of Karl Marx to reflect on and engage with his coherent articulation of words and their use, of words and actions, and of the intellectual and the political. The coherence of his discourse and praxis offers tools to think through, if not seek to transform, the alienated semiotic landscape of our times. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, in this special issue of Open Cultural Studies we want to honour his 11th Thesis on Feuerbach: “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”. Thinking in this way of theory as an intervention in the world, we welcome papers that seek to impact the following areas of investigation:

  1. the commodification of the semiotic field; the semiotic field and specifically neoliberal modes of alienation
  2. the potential and limits of theory today as a transformative praxis; uses, misuses and possibilities of Marx in the context of cognitive capitalism; intellectual praxis and intellectual property; the contemporary chasm between the intellectual and the political
  3. the relation between words and actions in Marx’s oeuvre and praxis; Marxism today beyond the letter, the performative commitments of contemporary Marxism 
  4. within and beyond the “young/old Marx” division: the co-constitution of the subject and political economy 
  5. work as a place of realization of human potential, a place for producing meaning and producing ourselves as meaningful, a place of construction of subjectivity – and the implications of this understanding of work under current conditions of precarious labour and disembodied labour 
  6. the work of networks, the work of language, collective intelligence and Marx’s “Fragment on Machines” in the Grundrisse
  7. Marx on and as homo faber; the intellectual as homo faber; homo faber in the age of structural mass unemployment; homo faber in the age of social networks
  8. Foreclosure of the social totality, of the work as unity; fragmentation of experience, of the self and of language; alienation from the products of labor and alienation from subjectivity as a product
  9. The work that late-capitalist schizophrenia does; ideological homes of the present, the desire that binds us in ideology, the pain of letting our ideologies go

We welcome articles related to any of the above or similar topics that seek to reconfigure Marx’s key concepts (alienation, value, labour, fetishism, commodity, class, crisis, revolution, praxis etc.) in the light of the semiotic, technological and ideological constellations of the present. We are particularly interested in texts that, in analyzing semiotic and technological configurations of the present, explore the relationship of the erotic, corporeal, emotional, affective, psychological and existential binds of ideology with its more general political, economic, sociological and philosophical functions.


Please let us know if you are interested in participating by Jan. 15, 2018, by sending a short outline (approximately 500 words) and the title of your proposed contribution to The deadline for full papers is April 2, 2018.

Featured Image Credits: Edificio de Madrid dispuesto a empoderarse transversalmente para lograr la centralidad ciudadanista, June 28, 2015 | © Courtesy of Antonio Marín Segovia.

Cite this blog post
Pablo Markin (2017, November 8). Marx, Semiotics and Political Praxis. Open Culture. Retrieved June 25, 2024, from

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