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Influential theorist Ernesto Laclau dies at 78

Political theorist Ernesto Laclau seen in a February photo.

Argentine born, London-based professor was a strong ideological mentor of Kirchnerism

The political theorist Ernesto Laclau died yesterday at the age of 78 in Seville, Spain, where he had arrived to attend a conference.

According to Parliamentary Relations Secretary Oscar González, Laclau died “of natural causes” at a hotel in the Spanish city, where he was staying with his wife and long-term partner Chantal Mouffe to speak at a conference.

Sources close to the family said he died of a heart attack.

A Professor Emeritus at the University of Essex, where he had been director of the doctoral programme in Ideology and Discourse Analysis for many years, the Argentine theorist was considered a strong ideological mentor for Kirchnerism and had developed a close relationship with national government officials during the last decade.

“He was probably one of the most important Latin American intellectuals of the last century,” philosopher Ricardo Forster told state-run news agency Télam.

“His absence will be felt because he was one of the greatest emancipatory theorists.”

Former Victory Front (FpV) Senator Daniel Filmus praised the intellectual in his Twitter account.

“Goodbye Ernesto Laclau. A great guy, a great thinker and fighter for the national and popular cause,” the current Secretary of Malvinas Islands Affairs said.

Theory in action

Active in the new social movements of the late 1960s, Laclau and Mouffe developed a theory of radical democracy in their milestone book Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985).

Other books authored by him include Emancipation(s), Contingency, Hegemony, Universality (written with Judith Butler and Slavoj Zizek), and On Populist Reason — a 2005 work where he focuses on the construction of popular identities and how “the people” may emerge as a collective actor.

During the last few years, Laclau has carried out a strong defence of so-called “populist” Latin American governments which are able to face corporations.

“Kirchnerism represents the real left,” Laclau told Télam in a February 17 interview. “It is the only political force that is effectively able to confront corporate power.”

Laclau — who was also Distinguished Professor of Humanities and Rhetorical Studies at Northwestern University, Evanston — had been based in London since 1969, when he joined Oxford University following an invitation by late British historian Eric Hobsbawm.

Last night, his family said that efforts would be made to repatriate his remains in order for Laclau to “rest in his country.”

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