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 developed 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 _i_ek, Hardt and Negri and Ranciere. This book is essential reading for all those interested in the question of political identities in present-day societies.