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subject


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1. What is denoted, depicted, or referred to, or the topic of a discourse or a study: see also content; denotation; referentiality; representation.

2. In loose usage, an individual person, a human being, or social actor.

3. (Cartesian subject) (modern philosophy) The knower or self as distinct from the known or object: see also Cartesian dualism; referent.

4. (grammatical subject) Typically, in a clause or sentence, the performer of an action (the agent), in the form of a noun phrase (compare theme), as distinct from the predicate (which makes some assertion or denial about the subject).

5. (cultural theory) The active, dominant, or initiating agent as opposed to the passive, subordinated, or receptive object of the agent's actions or desires: see also male gaze.

6. In structuralist psychoanalytic theory and Althusserian Marxist theory, an identity or sense of selfhood socially constructed by dominant sociocultural and ideological processes (e.g. in terms of categories such as class, age, gender, and ethnicity). The notion of the (discursive) positioning of the subject refers to the constitution (construction) of the subject through discourse (a form of linguistic determinism). For the linguist Benveniste the subject has no existence outside specific discursive moments, being constantly reconstructed through discourse. For Althusser, the subject is an effect of ideology (see also interpellation); for Foucault, the subject is an effect of power relations. Poststructuralist theorists critique the concept of the unified subject: people have multiple and shifting identities (see decentred self). This represents a strong contrast to the liberal humanist Enlightenment concept of the individual as a rational, self-determining agent with an enduring identity, as in the notion of authorship. See also agency; essentialism; subject-position.

7. (research subject) (psychology) A participant in a research study, especially in an experiment.

8. (political theory) The citizen: a subject of the state.

Subjects: Media Studies — Social Sciences.


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