Ernesto Laclau

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Ernesto Laclau
Presentación del Documental CATASTROIKA y Presentación de la Revista Debates y Combates (7215329954).jpg
Born 6 October 1935
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died 13 April 2014(2014-04-13) (aged 78)
Seville, Spain
Era 20th / 21st-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Post-Marxism
Main interests
Hegemony · Identity politics

Ernesto Laclau (Spanish: [laˈklau]; 6 October 1935 – 13 April 2014) was an Argentine political theorist often described as post-Marxist.

He studied History in Buenos Aires, graduating from the Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires in 1964, and received a PhD from the University of Essex in 1977.

Since 1986 he served as Professor of Political Theory at the University of Essex, where he founded and directed for many years the graduate programme in Ideology and Discourse Analysis, as well as the Centre for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities and the Social Sciences. Under his directorship, the Ideology and Discourse Analysis programme has provided the suitable research framework for the development of a distinct type of discourse analysis that draws on post-structuralist theory (especially the work of Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, and Barthes) in order to articulate innovative analyses of concrete political phenomena (identities, discourses and hegemonies). This theoretical and analytical orientation is today known as the 'Essex School of discourse analysis'.[1]

Over the years, Laclau lectured extensively in many universities in North America, South America, Western Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Most recently he has held positions at SUNY Buffalo and Northwestern University, both in the US.

His long-term partner was Chantal Mouffe. Laclau died of a heart attack in Seville in 2014.[2][3]


Laclau studied History at the University of Buenos Aires[4] and was a member of the PSIN (Socialist Party of the National Left) until 1969, when the British historian Eric Hobsbawm supported his entrance to Oxford.[5] He had close links with Jorge Abelardo Ramos, the founder of the PSIN, although he declared in 2005 that the latter then evolved in a direction he did not appreciate.[5] In the same interview, he stated that he came from a Yrigoyenista family, and that the peronist politician Arturo Jauretche, a strong opponent of Justo's dictatorship during the Infamous Decade of the 1930s, was a close friend of his father.[5]

In his later years, he had close ties with the Argentine Socialist Confederation (Spanish: Confederación Socialista Argentina),[6] while in Argentina he is associated with Peronism.[7]


Laclau's early work was influenced by Althusserian Marxism and focused on issues debated within Neo-Marxist circles in the 1970s, including the role of the state, the dynamics of capitalism beyond reductionist models, the importance of Gramsci's theory of hegemony, etc. Laclau's most important book is arguably Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, which he co-authored with Chantal Mouffe. Their thought is usually described as post-Marxist as they were both politically active in the social and student movements of the 1960s and thus tried to link new emerging political identities with a democratic socialist imaginary. They rejected Marxist economic determinism and the notion of class struggle being the only determining antagonism in society. Instead, on the basis of recognising the plurality of antagonisms operating in society, they put forward a project of "radical and plural democracy". In his more recent work and under the increasing influence of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, Laclau has returned to a topic preoccupying him from his early years, that of populism. His latest views were well reflected in an interview given to Intellectum journal in 2008.[8]

In "On Populist Reason", Laclau talks about the nature of populism in political discourse and the creation of popular political identities such as "the people" or "proletariat" and their role in serving collective political actors and ideologies. Laclau identifies the basis of populism in the creation of "empty signifiers": words and ideas that constitute and express an "equivalential chain". This "equivalential chain" is made possible only when a list of unfulfilled political demands create a 'logic of equivalence" between them. The notions of populism are essential, according to Laclau, to the discussion of issues of representation and democracy.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Jules Townshend, 'Discourse theory and political analysis: a new paradigm from the Essex School?’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Vol. 5, No. 1, February 2003, pp. 129–142.
  2. ^ "ÚLTIMO MOMENTO: Falleció en Sevilla, el téorico y politólogo argentino, Ernesto Laclau | Radio Rivadavia". Retrieved 2014-04-13. 
  3. ^ Blackburn, Robin. "Ernesto Laclau, 1935-2014". Retrieved 2014-04-14. 
  4. ^ Cuáles eran las principales ideas de la obra de Ernesto Laclau - La Nacion, 13 April, 2014
  5. ^ a b c Las manos en la masa - Ernesto Laclau contra Negri, Hardt y Zizek, Pagina/12, June 5, 2005 (Spanish)
  6. ^ Una apuesta por la transformación - La Vanguardia
  7. ^ Ernesto Laclau, el ideólogo de la Argentina dividida - Perfil, 14 April, 2014
  8. ^ Athena Avgitidou and Eleni Koukou, The Defender of Contigency: An Interview with Ernesto Laclau, (05) 2008 Intellectum, pp. 85‐95.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anna Marie Smith, Laclau and Mouffe: The Radical Democratic Imaginary, London: Routledge, 1998.
  • David Howarth, Discourse, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 2000.
  • Louise Philips and Marianne Jorgensen, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method, London: Sage, 2002.
  • David Howarth, Aletta Norval and Yannis Stavrakakis (eds), Discourse Theory and Political Analysis, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
  • Simon Critchley and Oliver Marchart (eds), Laclau: A Critical Reader, London: Routledge, 2004.
  • Warren Breckman, Adventures of the Symbolic: Postmarxism and Radical Democracy, New York: Columbia University Press, 2013
  • David Howarth and Jacob Torfing (eds) Discourse Theory in European Politics, Houndmills: Palgrave, 2005.

External links[edit]