In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ernesto Laclau

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Texts
  • Edited Texts
  • Selected Introductions, Forewords, and Afterwords
  • Interviews

Literary and Critical Theory Ernesto Laclau
Yannis Stavrakakis, Antonis Galanopoulos
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 July 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0127


Ernesto Laclau (1939–2014) has been praised for producing challenging and multilayered theoretical work focusing mainly on three fields: discourse, hegemony, and populism. Laclau was professor of political theory in the Department of Government at the University of Essex until 2008, when he became an emeritus professor. At Essex he established and directed for many years the doctoral program in ideology and discourse analysis. From 1990 to 1997 he also served as director of the Centre for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities and the Social Sciences. His academic and political trajectory started in Argentina, where, initially as a history student and activist, he became associated with a series of leftist political formations from 1958 to 1968. In 1969, he moved to the United Kingdom, where he completed his studies and eventually started his academic career at the University of Essex. He is considered one of the founding figures of so-called post-Marxism, and his theoretical insights formed a school of thought often discussed as the Essex School of Discourse Analysis. Ernesto Laclau introduced, throughout his career—either alone or in collaboration with Chantal Mouffe—a complex and robust conceptual apparatus (comprising concepts like “articulation,” the “nodal point,” “dislocation,” the “empty signifier,” etc.) as a result of the radicalization and re-elaboration of the Gramscian conceptualization of hegemony. The roots of his post-Marxism can be traced back to the Argentinean political landscape of the 1960s, as he felt the deep impact of Peronism—hence his lifelong interest in the illumination of populist politics. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, his most well-known work, coauthored with Chantal Mouffe, marks his outright passage to this terrain. The two authors radically opposed the reductionism and essentialism of orthodox Marxism, eventually turning their interest to the development of a comprehensive poststructuralist theory of discourse. The constitutive character of the discursive within a negative ontology of the limit forms the cornerstone of Laclau’s take on hegemony and the operation(s) of the political. Throughout his entire theoretical trajectory, he continued to develop and explore with great consistency this perspective through an ongoing dialogue with many traditions of thought: Marxism, semiology, deconstruction, post-analytical philosophy, the mystical tradition in theology, psychoanalysis (Freud and Lacan) and beyond.

General Overviews

There are not many comprehensive introductory books devoted to the thought of Ernesto Laclau as a whole, and therefore this section includes both general and critical introductions to his work. Smith 1998 was the first overview of Laclau’s and Mouffe’s work. In 2000 a collective volume was published, comprising empirical analyses drawing on the work of Laclau (and Mouffe); Howarth and Stavrakakis 2000 introduces the various chapters, also providing a brief overview of the ensuing conceptual apparatus. Critchley and Marchart 2004 is a reader comprising a series of critical essays, while Howarth 2015 presents and introduces a collection of Laclau’s essays. A series of short essays published in Devenney, et al. 2016 may function as an introduction to various central dimensions of Laclau’s oeuvre. Thomassen 2020 is the most recent collection of papers focusing exclusively on Laclau’s approach on populism, and as a result it covers only part of his contributions to political theory. Finally, Stavrakakis and Galanopoulos 2018 highlights the main pillars of Laclau’s theory and outlines his intellectual background.

  • Critchley, Simon, and Oliver Marchart, eds. Laclau: A Critical Reader. London: Routledge, 2004.

    This remains the most important critical introduction to Laclau’s trajectory. In the introduction, the editors dicuss the novelty of Laclau’s thinking and the intellectual shifts that the latter triggered in a number of fields. The fifteen contributions that make up the volume are equally distributed in three parts, respectively focusing on philosophy, democracy, and hegemony. Finally, Ernesto Laclau replies to every contribution in a long postscript, in which he further elaborates various points of his theory.

  • Devenney, Mark, David Howarth, and Aletta Norval, et al. “Ernesto Laclau.” Contemporary Political Theory 15.3 (2016): 304–335.

    DOI: 10.1057/cpt.2016.8

    Critical Exchange dossier published in the journal Contemporary Political Theory devoted to the legacy of Ernesto Laclau. All seven contributors studied or worked with Laclau. The five texts focus on the politics of radical democracy, Laclau’s engagement with psychoanalytic theory, his political ontology, and his analysis of populism.

  • Howarth, David, ed. Ernesto Laclau: Post-Marxism, Populism and Critique. London: Routledge, 2015.

    This selection of Laclau’s texts was published just a few months after the passing of Laclau. It includes a comprehensive introduction to his political theory, a selection of thirteen essays, and an interview of Ernesto Laclau given to David Howarth, the editor of the volume. The book is structured in three parts: post-Marxist political theory, analysing populism, and critical engagements.

  • Howarth, David, and Yannis Stavrakakis. “Introducing Discourse Theory and Political Analysis.” In Discourse Theory and Political Analysis. Edited by David Howarth, Aletta Norval, and Yannis Stavrakakis, 1–23. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2000.

    Introductory text outlining the basic contours and the key assumptions informing the research program initiated by Laclau (and Mouffe). The comparative advantages over other approaches in the social sciences are also highlighted.

  • Smith, Anna-Marie. Laclau and Mouffe: The Radical Democratic Imaginary. New York: Routledge, 1998.

    The first (book-length) overview of Laclau’s and Mouffe’s work focusing on the concept of radical democracy and their arguments regarding subjectivity. The author discusses the differences between their approach and the liberal, conservative, and socialist perspectives; the Gramsian roots of their theory; and their conceptualization of hegemony.

  • Stavrakakis, Yannis, and Antonis Galanopoulos. “Ernesto Laclau and Communication Studies.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication (June 2018).

    This entry offers a brief intellectual biography of Ernesto Laclau and a concise introduction to his oeuvre. It focuses on the conceptual vocabulary that he introduced, the discursive theory of hegemony, and the formal approach to populism that Laclau elaborated in detail.

  • Thomassen, Lasse, ed. “Symposium—New Reflections on Ernesto Laclau’s Theory of Populism.” Theory & Event 23.3 (2020): 734–833.

    DOI: 10.1353/tae.2020.0041

    The symposium comprises four articles (and an introduction) reconstructing and critically examining Laclau’s theory of populism. Against the background of discussions focusing on affect, the body, representation, political ontology, and leftist strategy, the authors highlight the impetus and the tensions marking Laclau’s conceptualization of populism on a variety of levels (relations between Laclau’s populism and Gramsci’s hegemony, leftist theory and practice, populist aesthetics etc.).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.