Students Staff

14 April 2014

Professor Ernesto Laclau 1936-2014


Professor Ernesto Laclau

A charismatic teacher and writer, Ernesto Laclau inspired generations of students at the University of Essex, where he taught and conducted research from 1973-2008. From 1990 to 1997 he was Director of the Centre for Theoretical Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and also established the Ideology and Discourse Analysis Research Programme, which attracted MA and PhD students from around the world.

  • If you would like to leave a tribute to Professor Laclau you can use the comment section on our Essex Daily blog

Over a period of more than four decades he delivered seminars in the UK, North America, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia, South Africa, and his native Latin America. Many of his students have gone on to successful academic careers across the globe, securing posts in prestigious universities and research institutes in the UK, the USA, Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Turkey, Taiwan, Finland, South Africa, Germany, Japan, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Sweden, Iran, Chile, and many other countries.

  • Professor Robin Blackburn from the Department of Sociology has written a tribute to Professor Laclau on the Verso Books website

Ernesto blazed a unique trail in political theory and philosophy from the early 1970s. His writings, including Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (with Chantal Mouffe), New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time; Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (with Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek); Emancipation(s) and On Populist Reason, articulated a number of philosophical and theoretical currents within a coherent alternative to mainstream models of conducting research.

His revitalization of Marxist theories of politics and ideology in the 1970s gave way to the elaboration of a distinctively post-Marxist theory of discursive practice in the 1980s and 1990s. Drawing on themes and insights from deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis he founded and continued to develop the Essex School of Discourse Analysis’. Stretching back to his critiques of Louis Althusser, Nicos Poulantzas, Ralph Miliband and Immanuel Wallerstein, Ernesto also elaborated his innovative theoretical approach in a series of critical engagements with the leading social and political theorists of the time. Such engagement included debates with leading thinkers: Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler, Joan Copjec, William Connolly, Simon Critchley, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Rancière, Richard Rorty, Linda Zerilli, and Slavoj Žižek.

Ernesto was first and foremost an engaged intellectual, who consistently sought to theorize contemporary events and reality, and to debate with the leading intellectual figures of the day, with respect to questions of political principle and strategy.

Until his untimely death on Sunday, he continued to elaborate his approach by challenging and articulating related approaches, and by situating his work in connection to the democratic and pluralist Left.

Tributes to him have poured in from across the globe. His wisdom and wit, acute insight and willingness to think through the complexities of the political issues we face will be deeply missed by students and colleagues alike.

Professor Aletta Norval and Dr David Howarth, Department of Government, University of Essex

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