The “Hidden Kings”, or Hegemonic Imaginaries: Analytical Perspectives of Post-foundational Sociological Thought

Heike Delitz, Stefan Maneval


This article focusses on parallels to Simmel’s concept of the Hidden King (heimlicher König) of a cultural era in the social theory of Durkheim, Bergson, and Castoriadis. All these authors share the view that societies and other forms of collective identities are imaginaries founded on an empty signifier, or Hidden King, which provides what we call the foundational outside of collective existence. Based on Castoriadis’s idea that: a) societies are imaginary institutions, and b) each society is informed by a central imaginary signification, the present article argues that the complexity of ideologically, politically and religiously diverse societies cannot be reduced to only one central imaginary, or a single Hidden King. We suggest expanding Castoriadis’s concept of the imaginary institution of society, first, with Staten’s notion of a constitutive outside and second, with Mouffe and Laclau’s concept of hegemonic antagonism (both of which are informed by Derrida). The final section of the article discusses methodological perspectives for research, drawing on the suggested conceptualization of the Hidden King as an imaginary foundation of collective identity and unity.


social imaginaries; collective identity; post-foundationalism; Castoriadis; Bergson| agonistic pluralism

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