‘Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left’ by Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau & Slavoj Žižek

Published by Verso in 2000. Download link updated on 8. July 2021.

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What is the contemporary legacy of Gramsci’s notion of Hegemony? How can universality be reformulated now that its spurious versions have been so thoroughly criticized?

In this unusual, but ground-breaking project, Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Žižek engaged in a dialogue on central questions of contemporary philosophy and politics. Their essays, organized as separate contributions that respond to one another, range over the Hegelian legacy in contemporary critical theory, the theoretical dilemmas of multiculturalism, the universalism-versus-particularism debate, the strategies of the Left in a globalized economy, and the relative merits of post-structuralism and Lacanian psychoanalysis for a critical social theory.

While the rigor and intelligence with which these writers approach their work is formidable, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality benefits additionally from their clear sense of energy and enjoyment in a revealing and often unpredictable exchange.


Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist and feminist philosopher who has contributed to the fields of feminism, political philosophy and ethics. She is currently a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley. Butler received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Yale University in 1984, for a dissertation subsequently published as Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France. In the late-1980s she held several teaching and research appointments, and was involved in “post-structuralist” efforts within Western feminist theory to question the “presuppositional terms” of feminism. Her research ranges from literary theory, modern philosophical fiction, feminist and sexuality studies, to 19th- and 20th-century European literature and philosophy, Kafka and loss, and mourning and war. Her most recent work focuses on Jewish philosophy and exploring pre- and post-Zionist criticisms of state violence.

Ernesto Laclau was an Argentine political theorist often described as post-Marxist. He was a professor at the University of Essex where he held a chair in Political Theory and was for many years director of the doctoral Programme in Ideology and Discourse Analysis. He has lectured extensively in many universities in North America, South America, Western Europe, Australia, and South Africa.

Slavoj Žižek is a Philosopher and Psychoanalytic social theorist. He is Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana; Professor at the School of Law and Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London; Distinguished Scholar at the Kyung Hee University, Seoul; and Visiting Professor at the German Department, New York University. His field of work comprises Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, dialectical-materialist metaphysical interpretations of German Idealism and Marxian critique of ideology. His more than sixty books in English have been widely translated. His latest publications include Pandemic! & Pandemic! 2, Hegel in a Wired Brain, Sex and the Failed Absolute, Like A Thief In Broad DaylightReading MarxIncontinence of the Void, and The Day After the Revolution.

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