On Populist Reason

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Verso, 2005 - 276 pages
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In this new and highly original work Ernesto Laclau continues the philosophical and political exploration initiated in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Times and Emancipation(s). His topic here is the construction of popular identities, conceived in a wide sense covering the ensemble of strategies making possible the emergence of the 'people' as a collective actor. The book skillfully combines theoretical analysis with a myriad of empirical references from numerous historical and geographical contexts.

The first part presents a critical reading of the existing literature on populism, demonstrating its dependency on the basic categories elaborated by the theorists of 'mass psychology', from Taine and Le Bon to Tarde, McDougall and Freud. The second part forms the main theoretical core of the work, where the question of the emergence of the 'people' as a political and social force is treated. Several categories already present in Laclau's work – such as empty and floating signifiers, hegemony and heterogeneity – are devloped here in new and innovative directions. In particular, the relation of populism to democracy and to the logic of representation is given special emphasis. The third part is devoted to particular case studies of both the conditions leading to the emergence of the 'people' and the obstacles preventing its formation. Finally, in a concluding chapter, Laclau locates the question of popular identities within the context of a globalized world and differentiates his approach from those of other theoreticians such as Zizek, Hardt and Negri and Ranciere. This book is essential reading for all those interested in the question of political identities in present-day societies.
 

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Contents

Populism Ambiguities and Paradoxes
3
Le Bon Suggestion and Distorted Representations
21
Suggestion Imitation Identification
31
CONSTRUCTING THE PEOPLE
65
The People and the Discursive Production of Emptiness
67
Floating Signifiers and Social Heterogeneity
129
Populism Representation and Democracy
157
POPULIST VARIATIONS
173
The Saga of Populism
175
Obstacles and Limits to the Construction of the People
200
Concluding Remarks
223
Notes
251
Index
269
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About the author (2005)

Ernesto Laclau is Emeritus Professor at the University of Essex, Great Britain, and in the past has been Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Rhetorical Studies at Northwestern University and also Distinguished Professor at the Department of Comparative Literature, State University of New York (Buffalo). He is author of numerous books on Political Theory and Philosophy. He has extensively lectured in many universities in North America, Latin America, Europe, Australia and South Africa..

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