In This Article Chantal Mouffe

  • Introduction
  • Citizenship and Radical Democracy
  • An Antirationalist and Conflictual Approach to Politics
  • Pluralism and the Rise of the Far Right
  • Agonism
  • Applying Agonism or Agonistic Interventions
  • Populism
  • Secondary Literature on Mouffe’s Work
  • Interviews

Literary and Critical Theory Chantal Mouffe
by
Paulina Tambakaki
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0067

Introduction

Chantal Mouffe (b. 1943) is a leading political theorist best known for her post-Marxist inasmuch as her post-structuralist rendition of politics. Deeply worried about the ways that modern democracies undermine the plural sites and struggles for politics, she has centered much of her work on addressing the closures and antagonisms that permeate sociopolitical life. Agonistic democracy constitutes Mouffe’s distinctive contribution to contemporary political theory. On the back of the assumption that contestatory practices—an agonistic confrontation between adversaries rather than enemies—fruitfully channel the passions and antagonisms that threaten to unravel institutional democracies, Mouffe has stamped on a realism that many of her contemporaries have found disturbing. This realism, compressed into the repeated refusal, throughout her work, to downplay the struggles of new social movements for the sake of class struggle, has attracted many critiques from her Marxist colleagues. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, the widely influential book Mouffe coauthored with Ernesto Laclau, has been the target of many such critiques. One of the central theses of the book that Mouffe has returned to in all her writings is the idea that there can be “no beyond hegemony.” This idea has served to anchor her more-recent political interventions that aim to explore the prospects of constructing a counter-hegemonic politics through the redrawing of political frontiers and a strategy of left populism. The emphasis that Mouffe has placed on the need to construct a counter-hegemonic politics and reassert political divisions that subvert the politics of consensus—predominant in the turn to the 21st century—has given her explorations a resonance beyond the disciplinary confines of political theory. With a variety of writings dealing with themes as diverse as artistic practices, the media, the European Union, and the rise of Podemos in Spain, Mouffe has cashed in on this resonance to emerge as one of the most politically active theorists of modern times. There is a strong underlying continuity in her approach to politics that the sections in this article seek to bring forward.

Post-Marxism

Mouffe’s approach to politics is often referred to as post-Marxist. This is because she refutes in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, alongside Ernesto Laclau, the economism and class essentialism that characterize classical Marxism. Instead, Mouffe and Laclau assert the multiplicity of social logics and the structuring effects these have on society. They also assert the multiplicity of subjects and struggles. This recasting of Marxism does away with the privileging of the class struggle while retaining the emphasis on the struggle—the antagonistic conflicts that Mouffe’s work is known to defend.

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