Narrative, desire, ontological security, transgression: fantasy as a factor in international politics

  • Jakub EberleEmail author


This article makes the case for taking fantasy seriously in IR. It argues for a Lacanian conception of fantasy as a type of desire-infused narrative through which subjects construct their social realities. The fantasy approach brings added value to the burgeoning IR literature on narratives and ontological security and develops it in multiple respects. First, it spells out the crucial, yet thus far rather implicit and unspecified role of desire in the functioning of narratives and in ontological security. Second, by introducing the notions of the ‘object’ of desire and transgression, the fantasy framework allows us to trace the channelling of desire into discourse. This leads us to basic methodological tools that can capture the ways how exactly ontological security is sought through narratives, which have thus far been developed only sporadically. Third, by viewing the subject as always incomplete and ontological security as ultimately unattainable, the fantasy approach provides a critical, explicitly politicised corrective to the existing scholarship. Rather than promoting ontological security as an ideal, it calls for challenging the closure it imposes on our social reality. These arguments are developed theoretically and illustrated with the case of Germany’s opposition to the Iraq war.


desire fantasy German foreign policy Lacan narrative ontological security 



I have benefitted from generous comments and stimulating conversations with a number of colleagues. In particular, I am grateful to Chris Browning, Stuart Croft, Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt, Jason Glynos, Simon Koschut, Václav Kopecký, Yannis Stavrakakis, the three reviewers, and audiences at the University of Warwick and the Free University, Berlin.


  1. Anderson, Terry H. 2011. Bush’s Wars. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. AP (2002) Untitled image, Süddeutsche Zeitung (21 December): 1.Google Scholar
  3. Arfi, Badredine. 2010. Fantasy in the Discourse of “Social Theory of International Politics”. Cooperation and Conflict 45(4):428–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barnett, Michael. 1999. Culture, Strategy and Foreign Policy Change: Israel’s Road to Oslo. European Journal of International Relations 5(1): 5–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benedek, Gabor (2003) ‘Nordatlantische Route’ [North Atlantic Route], Süddeutsche Zeitung (11 February): 4.Google Scholar
  6. Berenskoetter, Felix, and Bastian Giegerich. 2010. From NATO to ESDP: a Social Constructivist Analysis of German Strategic Adjustment after the End of the Cold War. Security Studies 19(3): 407–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beste, Ralf, Ulrich Deupmann, Hans Hoyng, Siegesmund von Ilsemann, Jürgen Leinemann, Gerhard Spörl and Alexander Szandar (2002a) ‘Die Herren der Welt’ [Masters of the World], Der Spiegel 8/2002 (18 February): 154–67.Google Scholar
  8. Beste, Ralf, Walter Mayr and Alexander Szandar (2002b) ‘Feuer in den Kulissen’ [Fire in the Wings], Der Spiegel 48/2002 (25 November): 138–41.Google Scholar
  9. BILD (2003) ‘Ist der Krieg gegen Saddam richtig? Das sagen wichtige Deutsche’ [Is the War against Saddam Right? This Is What Prominent Germans Say], BILD (19 March): 2.Google Scholar
  10. Bleiker, Roland (2015) ‘Pluralist Methods for Visual Global Politics’, MillenniumJournal of International Studies 43(3): 872–90.Google Scholar
  11. Browning, Christopher S., and Pertti Joenniemi. 2016. ‘Ontological Security. Self-Articulation and the Securitization of Identity’, Cooperation and Conflict.. doi: 10.1177/0010836716653161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bulley, Dan. 2009. Ethics as Foreign Policy: Britain, the EU and the Other. Abigdon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bush, George W. (2001) ‘Transcript of President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress on Thursday night’, 20 September,, (accessed on 8 December, 2015).
  14. Campbell, David. 1993. Politics without Principle: Sovereignty, Ethics, and the Narratives of the Gulf War. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  15. Campbell, David. 1998. National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity, and Justice in Bosnia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  16. Collins, Harry, Robert Evans, and Mike Gorman. 2007. Trading zones and interactional expertise. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 38: 657–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Croft, Stuart. 2006. Crisis, Culture, and America’s War on Terror. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Croft, Stuart. 2012. Securitizing Islam: Identity and the Search for Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Demir, Ipek. 2011. Lost in Translation? Try Second Language Learning: understanding Movements of Ideas and Practices across Time and Space. Journal of Historical Sociology 24(1): 9–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dettke, Dieter. 2009. Germany Says ‘No’: The Iraq War and the Future of German Foreign and Security Policy. Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press.Google Scholar
  21. Deutscher Bundestag (2002) Plenarprotokoll 14/219, 22 February.Google Scholar
  22. Doerry, Martin, Ulrich Schwarz and Peter Wensierski (2003) ‘Rechtswidrig und unmoralisch’ [Illegal and Immoral] (Interview with Hans Küng), Der Spiegel 12/03 (17 March): 66–67.Google Scholar
  23. dpa (2002) Untitled image, Süddeutsche Zeitung (14 September): 7.Google Scholar
  24. Edkins, Jenny. 2003. Trauma and the Memory of Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Edkins, Jenny. 2000. Whose Hunger? Concepts of Famine, Practices of Aid. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  26. Edkins, Jenny. 1999. Poststructuralism & International Relations: Bringing the Political Back In. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  27. Edkins, Jenny, and Véronique Pin-Fat. 1999. The Subject of the Political. In Sovereignty and Subjectivity, ed. Jenny Edkins, Naomi Persram, and Veronique Pin-Fat, 1–18. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  28. Emcke, Carolin, Erich Follath and Bernhard Zand (2003) ‘Der Treibstoff des Krieges’ [The Fuel of War], Der Spiegel 3/2003 (13 January): 94–109.Google Scholar
  29. Emcke, Carolin and Gerhard Spörl (2003) ‘Sei patriotisch und denk nicht!’ [Be Patriotic and Don’t Think!] (Interview with Susan Sontag), Der Spiegel 10/2003 (1 March): 121–22.Google Scholar
  30. Epstein, Charlotte. 2011. Who Speaks? Discourse, the Subject and the Study of Identity in International Politics. European Journal of International Relations 17(2): 327–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Epstein, Charlotte. 2013. Theorizing Agency in Hobbes’s Wake: the Rational Actor, the Self, or the Speaking Subject? International Organization 67(2): 287–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Fischer, Joschka (2002a) ‘Interview von Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Joschka Fischer, mit dem “Flensburger Tagesblatt” am 28. August 2002 zur Situation im Nahen und Mittleren Osten (Auszug)’ [Interview of the Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer with the ‘Flensburger Tagesblatt’ about the Situation in the Near and Middle East, 28 August 2002, Excerpt], Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik 7–8/2002: 11–12.Google Scholar
  33. Fischer, Joschka (2002b) ‘Interview von Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Joschka Fischer, mit dem “Deutschlandfunk” am 28. August 2002 zu einer Intervention im Irak’ [Interview of the Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer with ‘Deutschlandfunk’ about the Intervention in Iraq, 28 August 2002], Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik 7–8/2002: 9–11.Google Scholar
  34. Fichtner, Ullrich, Olaf Ihlau, Alexander Osang and Alexander Smoltczyk(2003) ‘Das Grollen des Krieges’ [The Rumble of War], Der Spiegel 11/2003 (10 March): 130–48.Google Scholar
  35. Fischer, Joschka (2003a) ‘Rede von Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Joschka Fischer, im Rahmen der öffentlichen Sitzung des Sicherheitsrats der Vereinten Nationen in New York über die Situation im Irak am 5. Februar 2003,’ [Speech of the Federal Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at the Public Session of the United Nations Security Council in New York on the Situation in Iraq, 5 February 2003] Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik 2/2003: 2–4.Google Scholar
  36. Fischer, Joschka (2003b) ‘Rede von Bundesminister des Auswärtigen, Joschka Fischer, vor dem Deutschen Bundestag im Rahmen der Debatte über die aktuelle internationale Lage am 13. Februar 2003 (Auszug)’ [Speech of the Federal Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in the German Bundestag during the Debate on the Current International Situation, 13 February 2003, Excerpt], Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik 2/2003: 13–17.Google Scholar
  37. Fischer, Joschka (2003c) ‘Wir haben den Mars überlebt’ [We Have Outlived Mars] (Interviewed by Frank Schirrmacher and Christian Schwägerl), Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (17 March): 35.Google Scholar
  38. Glynos, Jason (2000) ‘Thinking the Ethics of the Political in the Context of a Postfoundational World: From an Ethics of Desire to an Ethics of the Drive’, Theory & Event 4(4), (accessed on 27 April, 2017).
  39. Glynos, Jason. 2001. The Grip of Ideology: a Lacanian Approach to the Theory of Ideology. Journal of Political Ideologies 6(2): 191–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Glynos, Jason. 2008. Ideological Fantasy at Work. Journal of Political Ideologies 13(3): 275–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Glynos, Jason. 2014. ‘Hating Government and Voting Against One’s Interests: self-Transgression. Enjoyment, Critique’, Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 19: 179–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Glynos, Jason, and David Howarth. 2007. Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hansen, Lene. 2006. Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  44. Hansen, Lene. 2011. Theorizing the Image for Security Studies: visual Securitization and the Muhammad Cartoon Crisis. European Journal of International Relations 17(1): 51–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Harnisch, Sebastian. 2004. German Non-proliferation Policy and the Iraq Conflict. German Politics 13(1): 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hawkins, Benjamin. 2015. Fantasies of Subjugation: a Discourse Theoretical Account of British Policy on the European Union. Critical Policy Studies 9(2): 139–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Holland, Jack, and Ty Solomon. 2014. Affect is What States Make of It: articulating Everyday Experiences of 9/11. Critical Studies on Security 2(3): 262–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Hoyng, Hans and Gerhard Spörl (2003) ‘Krieg aus Nächstenliebe,’ [War as Charity] Der Spiegel 8/2003 (17 February): 90–99.Google Scholar
  49. International New York Times Editorial Board (2015) ‘The Fantasy Mr. Putin Is Selling’, International New York Times, 22 June, (accessed on 25 April, 2016).
  50. Joetze, Günther. 2010. Der Irak als deutsches Problem [Iraq as a German Problem]. Baden-Baden: Nomos.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Kinnvall, Catarina (2004) ‘Globalization and Religious Nationalism: Self, Identity, and the Search for Ontological Security’, Political Psychology 25(5): 741–67.Google Scholar
  52. Koydl, Wolfgang (2002) ‘Wut auf die Weichlinge in Europa,’ [Anger with the European Weaklings] Süddeutsche Zeitung (19 February): 2.Google Scholar
  53. Lacan, Jacques. 1977. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
  54. Leithner, Anika. 2009. Shaping German Foreign Policy: History, Memory, and National Interest. Boulder and London: First Forum Press.Google Scholar
  55. Maull, Hanns W. 2000. Germany and the Use of Force: still a “Civilan Power”? Survival 42 (2): 56–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Maull, Hanns W. 2003. ‘Editorial: Deutschland auf Abwegen?’ [Editorial: Germany Going Astray?]. In Deutschland im Abseits? Rot-grüne Außenpolitik 1998–2003 [Germany in Off-Side? Red-Green Foreign Policy 1998–2003], ed. Hanns W. Maull, Sebastian Harnisch, and Constantin Grund, 7–18. Baden-Baden: Nomos.Google Scholar
  57. Maull, Hanns W. 1990. Germany and Japan: the New Civilian Powers. Foreign Affairs 69 (5): 91–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Memorandum von Deutschland, Frankreich und der Russischen Föderation zur Lage im Irak am 25. Februar 2003 [Memorandum of Germany, France and the Russian Federation on the Situation in Iraq from 25 February 2003] (2003), Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik 2/2003: 25–26.Google Scholar
  59. Miskimmon, Alister, Ben O’Loughlin, and Laura Roselle. 2013. Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Mitzen, Jennifer. 2006. Ontological Security in World Politics: state Identity and the Security Dilemma. European Journal of International Relations 12(3): 341–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mohr, Burkhard (2003) Untitled caricature, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (14 January): 2.Google Scholar
  62. Mouffe, Chantal. 2000. The Democratic Paradox. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  63. Müller, Martin. 2013. Lack and Jouissance in Hegemonic Discourse of Identification with the State. Organization 20(2): 279–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Nelson, Fraser (2015) ‘David Cameron Is in Danger of Succumbing to a Fantasy: That Britain Can Save the EU’, Telegraph, 10 December, (accessed on 25 April, 2016).
  65. Nonhoff, Martin and Frank A. Stengel (2014) ‘Poststrukturalistische Diskurstheorie und Aussenpolitikanalyse. Wie lässt sich Deutschlands wankelmütige Aussenpolitik zwischen Afghanistan und Irak verstehen?’ [Poststructuralist Discourse Theory and Foreign Policy Analysis: How to Understand Germany’s Inconsistent Foreign Policy between Iraq and Afghanistan?], in Eva Herschinger and Judith Renner, eds, Diskursforschung in den Internationalen Beziehungen [Discourse Research in International Relations], 39–74, Baden-Baden: Nomos.Google Scholar
  66. O’Loughlin, Ben. 2011. Images as Weapons of War: representation, Mediation and Interpretation. Review of International Studies 37(1): 71–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Reuters (2002) Untitled image, Der Spiegel 38/2002 (16 September): 142–43.Google Scholar
  68. Ringmar, Erik. 2006. Inter-Textual Relations. The Quarrel over the Iraq War as a Conflict between Narrative Types. Cooperation and Conflict 41(4): 403–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Risse, Thomas (2007) ‘Deutsche Identität und Außenpolitik’ [German Identity and Foreign Policy], in Siegmar Schmidt, Gunther Hellmann and Reinhard Wolf, eds, Handbuch zur deutschen Außenpolitik [Handbook of German Foreign Policy], 49–61, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.Google Scholar
  70. Risse, Thomas. 2004. ‘Kontinuität durch Wandel: Eine “neue” deutsche Außenpolitik?’ [Continuity through Change: A ‘New’ German Foreign Policy?]. Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 11: 24–31.Google Scholar
  71. Rossdale, Chris. 2015. Enclosing Critique: the Limits of Ontological Security. International Political Sociology 9(4): 369–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Schröder, Gerhard (2002a) ‘Rede von Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder zum Wahlkampfauftakt am Montag, 5. August 2002, in Hannover (Opernplatz)’ [Speech of the Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder at the Election Rally on Monday, 5 August 2002, in Hannover (Opera Square)], 5 August, (accessed on 8 December, 2015).
  73. Schröder, Gerhard (2002b) ‘Excerpts: Interview with Gerhard Schröder’, New York Times, 5 September, (accessed on 14 December, 2015).
  74. Schröder, Gerhard (2001) ‘Regierungserklärung des Bundeskanzlers Gerhard Schröder zu den Anschlägen in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika vom 19. September 2001’ [Government Statement of the Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on the Attacks in the United States of America, 19 September 2001],, 12 September, (accessed on 28 April, 2016).
  75. Solomon, Ty. 2015. The Politics of Subjectivity in American Foreign Policy Discourses. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Solomon, Ty. 2014. The Affective Underpinnings of Soft Power. European Journal of International Relations 20(3): 720–741.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Solomon, Ty. 2012. “I Wasn’t Angry, Because I Couldn’t Believe It was Happening”: affect and Discourse in Responses to 9/11. Review of International Studies 38(4): 907–928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Stanley, Liam, and Richard Jackson. 2016. Introduction: everyday narratives in world politics. Politics 36(3): 223–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Stavrakakis, Yannis. 2008. Subjectivity and the Organized Other: between Symbolic Authority and Fantasmatic Enjoyment. Organization Studies 29(7): 1037–1059.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Stavrakakis, Yannis. 2007. The Lacanian Left: Psychoanalysis, Theory, Politics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Stavrakakis, Yannis. 1999. Lacan and the Political. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  82. Steele, Brent J. 2008. Ontological Security in International Relations: Self-Identity and the IR State. Abingdon: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Steele, Brent J. 2005. Ontological Security and the Power of Self-Identity: british Neutrality and the American Civil War. Review of International Studies 31 (3): 519–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Struck, Peter (2002) ‘Deutsche Friedenspolitik und die neue Bundeswehr: Rede des Bundesministers der Verteidigung, Dr. Peter Struck, an der Führungsakademie der Bundeswehr am 27. August 2002 in Hamburg’ [German Peace Policy and the New Bundeswehr: Speech of the Federal Defence Minister Dr Peter Struck at the German Armed Forces Staff College, 27 August 2002 in Hamburg], Stichworte zur Sicherheitspolitik 7–8/03: 18–33.Google Scholar
  85. Szabo, Stephen. 2004. Parting Ways: The Crisis in German-American Relations. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  86. Washington Post Editorial Board (2014) ‘President Obama’s Foreign Policy Is Based on Fantasy’, Washington Post, 2 March, on 25 April, 2016).
  87. Weldes, Jutta (ed.). 2003. To Seek Out New Worlds: Exploring Links between Science Fiction and World Politics. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  88. Zehfuss, Maja. 2007. Wounds of Memory: The Politics of War in Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Zehfuss, Maja. 2002. Constructivism in International Relations: The Politics of Reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Žižek, Slavoj. 1989. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London and New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  91. Žižek, Slavoj. 1991. Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture. Cambridge and London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  92. Žižek, Slavoj. 1994. The Metastases of Enjoyment. Six Essays on Women and Causality. London and New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  93. Žižek, Slavoj. 1997. The Plague of Fantasies. London and New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  94. Žižek, Slavoj. 2004. Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle. London and New York: Verso.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of International RelationsPragueCzech Republic

Personalised recommendations