(Re-) imagining the ‘Self’ of Ontological Security: The Case of Brazil’s Ambivalent Postcolonial Subjectivity

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In this article, I critically engage with and develop an alternative approach to ontological security informed by Jacques Lacan’s theory of the subject. I argue that ontological security relates to a lack; that is, the always-frustrated desire to provide meaningful discursive interpretations to one’s self. This lack is generative of anxiety which functions as the subject’s affective and necessary drive to a continuous, albeit elusive, pursuit of self-coherence. I theorise subjectivity in Lacanian terms as fantasised discursive articulations of the Self in relation to an idealised mirror-image other. The focus on postcolonial states’ subjectivity allows for the examination of the anxiety-driven lack generated by the ever-present desire to emulate but also resist the ‘ego-ideal’ represented by the Western other. I propose, therefore, to explore the theoretical assertion that postcolonial ontological security refers to the institutionalisation and discursive articulation of enduring and anxiety-driven affective traces related to these states’ colonial pasts that are still active and influence current foreign policy practices. I illustrate the force of this interpretation of ontological security by focusing on Brazil as an example of a postcolonial state coping with the lack caused by its ambivalent/hybrid self-identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-164
Number of pages23
JournalMillennium - Journal of International Studies
Issue number2
Early online date27 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • ontological security
  • postcolonialism
  • subjectivity
  • foreign policy
  • Brazil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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