Ernesto Laclau and Critical Media Studies: Marxism, Capitalism, and Critique

  • Jannick Schou IT University of Copenhagen
Keywords: Ernesto Laclau, Post-Marxism, Slavoj Zizek, Critique, Discourse theory, Capitalism, Marxism, Critical Media Studies


Ernesto Laclau’s post-Marxist discourse theory is increasingly utilised within media studies in order to investigate discourses circulating about, within, and through media. Discourse theory has proved itself to be a productive theoretical asset that can yield important empirical insights into the solidification and neutralization of particular discursive regimes. Yet, the critical potentials of Laclau’s theoretical work have often been downplayed or neglected. Instead of offering a fully formed critical theory, Laclau has been relegated to offering a descriptive toolbox in which the underlying critical implications have often either been overlooked or forgotten altogether. This paper seeks to reflect on the potentials and obstacles within Laclau’s work for critical media studies by engaging with the role of Marxism, capitalism and critique. First, the paper addresses the relation between Marxism and post-Marxism by arguing that rather than abandoning Marxism, Laclau actively situates his own work as a dialogue with and against this tradition. Second, the paper addresses the relation between Laclau’s analysis of so-called globalised capitalism and political struggle, which leads to a discussion of class relations and political economy. Third, the paper examines Laclau’s notion of ideology critique and argues that it must be seen as a simultaneously explanatory, normative and practical perspective. Based on these discussions, it is this paper’s contention that it is insufficient to simply appropriate discourse theory as a descriptive research format, but that it must rather be seen as underlined by a radical critique of existing structures of domination and capitalist subordination. The paper furthermore argues that there are parts of Laclau’s work that are problematic for this purpose and needs to receive further attention by future research. By providing an extended discussion of Laclau’s own work, this paper seeks to contribute to the critical application of discourse theory within the field of media studies and contribute to the on-going dialogue between Marxism, post-Marxism, and critical media studies.