Discursive-Material Struggles over Legitimate Heroism


floating signifier
discursive-material memorial assemblage
Nazi Germany


How to Cite

Carpentier, Nico, Ruth-Helene Melioranski, Pille Runnel, and Inês Moreira. 2022. “Discursive-Material Struggles over Legitimate Heroism: A Visual Essay on Floating Signifiers and Their Materiality in the Estonian Second World War Memorialscape”. Membrana – Journal of Photography, Theory and Visual Culture 7 (1-2):1–36. https://doi.org/10.47659/mj-v7n1-2id123.


Through a combination of historical research and a series of research visits, this visual essay reflects on how Estonian memorials, related to the Second World War; are discursive-material assemblages, that function as floating signifiers. Grounded in a post-structuralist theorization of contingency, overdetermination and discursive struggle – particularly inspired by Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985) work – the notion of floating signifiers captures the significatory diversity of key concepts which have become integrated in different (and competing) discourses. By extending this framework to recent theoretical expansions that aim to validate both the discursive and the material (Carpentier, 2017), also the floating of discursive-material memorial assemblages can be incorporated into this analysis.

This article, in particular, focusses on the discursive-material struggles over the articulation of the Estonian Second World War hero in the Estonian memorialscape, at a time when the Estonian government has been removing a considerable number of Soviet memorials from the Estonian public space (and plans to remove more). Beginning with the argument that not every Estonian Second World War memorial has been subjected to this discursive-material struggle, we then analyse the discursive-material struggle over the Soviet hero and the Waffen-SS hero, together with the remarkable absence of memorializations of the independent Estonian (nationalist) hero. In a case study, we zoom in on how a prestigious military decoration, the Cross of Liberty, becomes a significant illustration of the workings of the floating signifier, playing a role in both mainstream and radical-right-wing discourses about the Estonian hero during the Second World War. In our conclusion, we reflect about the absence of closure on what is the past, present and future of Estonia, and the ethical concerns that this absence raises.



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