Ernesto Laclau (1935-2014); Biography and famous works

Ernesto Laclau (1935-2014) was a UK-based, Argentine sociologist, philosopher and political theorist known for his extensive work on the concepts of popular struggle and hegemony. He was born in Buenos Aires. Then he was educated at the University of Buenos Aires and at Oxford. From 1973, he taught in the department of government at the University of Essex. He received a PhD from the University of Essex in 1977.

He is best known for the work he co-authored with Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (1985). Adopting a post-structuralist stance, the authors reject Marxism for being both essentialist and determinist and argue instead that political thinking needs to grapple with the real uncertainty and undecidability of contemporary existence. In this, and subsequent works, Laclau rejected the notion that class by itself brings about the necessary level of group cohesion to effect political change; similarly, he rejected the notion that group cohesion can only take place along prescribed lines of identification. This is simultaneously both more hopeful than traditional Marxism inasmuch as it is open to the possibility of multiple constituted solidarities and much more pessimistic in that it does not accept that awareness of a common plight will be sufficient to galvanize people into action. In 2000 Laclau contributed to a book co-written with Judith Butler and Slavoj Žižek called Contingency, Hegemony and Universality, ostensibly with a view to demonstrating their different approaches to a common problematic. Despite the friendly spirit with which that project appeared to have been undertaken, it seems to have had the opposite effect, at least insofar as relations between Laclau and Žižek were concerned. For the next few years, in the pages of Critical Inquiry, and in their own books, the two carried out a running battle, each accusing the other of misunderstanding Marx, politics, and pretty much everything.

His other works include New Reflections on the Revolution of our Time (1990), Emancipation(s) (1996), On Populist Reason (2005), and The Rhetorical Foundations of Society (2014)

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