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Populism and hegemony in Ernesto Laclau. Theory and strategy in the Italian Communist Party and the Ecuadorian Citizens' Revolution

Mazzolini, Samuele (2018) Populism and hegemony in Ernesto Laclau. Theory and strategy in the Italian Communist Party and the Ecuadorian Citizens' Revolution. PhD thesis, University of Essex.


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This thesis explores critically two central notions in the work of Ernesto Laclau: populism and hegemony. From analytical and strategic points of view, some incongruities stand out. For example, the conceptual proximity between the two often hinders their respective explanatory and political purchase. Moreover, Laclau's arguments in support of left-wing populism appear not to examine in sufficient depth some important issues, such as the non-necessary but also potentially problematic relationship between populism and democracy and the question of the leader. In this thesis I examine Laclau's work and interpretations of his work before offering a fresh interpretation that will both retain and enhance the distinctiveness and relevance of populism and hegemony for contemporary debates in socialist thought, and emancipatory theory more generally. My argument is grounded on both empirical and theoretical sources, relying on a combination of concept- and case-based interpretive methods. The empirical aspect of the thesis, which consists of an in-depth study of the trajectory of the Italian Communist Party and the Ecuadorian Citizens' Revolution, is used to problematise the conceptualisation of populism and hegemony. From a theoretical point of view, I first conduct a geneaological analysis of the emergence of the two notions in Laclau. I argue that this prompts a kind of ‘return to Antonio Gramsci’, involving the mobilisation of some insights that were overlooked or progressively neglected in the reading that Laclau made of the Italian thinker. The strategic upshot of this is that, while it is paramount to think in both populist and hegemonic terms, the former does not necessarily imply or reduce to the latter, and vice versa. Finally, I put forward the case for an agonistic, radical-democratic and ethical left-wing populism, drawing from the contributions of Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Derrida, William Connolly and Jacques Lacan.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DG Italy
F History United States, Canada, Latin America > F1201 Latin America (General)
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Government, Department of
Depositing User: Samuele Mazzolini
Date Deposited: 08 Aug 2018 09:50
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2018 09:50

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