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Focal Points, Preferences and the Generation of Meaning

  • Liam Aspin

    (Economics Research Centre)

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    In this paper we introduce a unique and influential psychoanalytical theory based upon a theory of linguistics developed by Jaques Lacan. Although Lacan is primarily concerned with psychoanalytical issues, his work has already entered other theoretical realms such as sociology, philosophy and literary criticism. We argue that an application of Lacan's ideas to the concept of focal points leads us to emphasise the integration of the conceptualisation of focal points and preferences . We argue that it is insufficient to view salience as an extra or special consideration that must be in some way made commensurate with our notions of rational choice. Rather, the significance of focal points should be interpreted in terms of preferences. We argue that when an individual makes a choice, what they reveal is a psycho- social structure, or what we call a 'structure of salience.' This is to emphasise that we wish to challenge the current understanding of the term 'salient' and to draw it closer to preference analysis in general. The terminology applied by some ascribes the term salience only when it is easy to recognise that the direct connection between desire and the achievement of satisfaction through rational choice is prevented by incomplete preference. That is, at the aggregate level where focal points are exhibited by the dominance of symbols in language. We argue that the connection between desire and rational choice is always mediated by language and that language itself is a structure of salience based on psycho- social linguistic relations. It is argued that this paper provides an important comment on the nature and significance of focal points and their relationship to preferences in general.

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    Paper provided by School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK. in its series University of East Anglia Discussion Papers in Economics with number _001.

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    Date of creation: Jun 1997
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    Handle: RePEc:uea:papers:_001
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    1. Durlauf, S.N., 1993. "Neighborhood Feedbacks, Endogenous Stratification, and Income Inequality," Working papers 9328, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    2. Benabou, Roland, 1994. "Human capital, inequality, and growth: A local perspective," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(3-4), pages 817-826, April.
    3. Sugden, Robert, 1991. "Rational Choice: A Survey of Contributions from Economics and Philosophy," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 101(407), pages 751-85, July.
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