Cultural hegemony

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Antonio Gramsci, 1891–1937

Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, denoting that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled (dominated), by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another, i.e. the ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm, the universal ideologies that benifit everyone whilst only really benifiting the capitalist class.


[edit] Cultural Hegemony: Gramsci’s theory

Per Marx, a capitalist society’s economic recessions and practical contradictions would provoke the working class to revolution in deposing capitalism — and then to restructuring the existing institutions (economic, political, social) per rational, socialist models; thus, beginning the transition to a communist society. In Marxian terms, the society’s dialectically-changing economy determines its cultural and political superstructures, i.e. its social and economic classes. Despite Marx and Engels having predicted said eschatological scenario in 1848, decades later, the workers — the economic core of an industrialised society — had yet to effect it.

To achieve it, Gramsci posits a strategic distinction, between a War of Position and a War of Manœuvre; the war of position is intellectual, a culture war in which the anti-capitalist politicians (communist leaders) seek to have the dominant voice in the mass media, the mass organisations, and the schools, in order to increase class consciousness, teach revolutionary theory and analysis, and to inspire revolutionary organisation. On winning the intellectual war of position, communist leaders then would have, the political power, supported by the mass populace, to begin the war of manœuvre — the armed insurrection against capitalism.

Although cultural domination first was analysed in economic class terms, it is broadly applicable to social class; Gramsci suggested that prevailing cultural norms must not be perceived as either “natural” and “inevitable”, but, that said cultural norms (institutions, practices, beliefs) must be investigated for their roots in societal domination and their implications for societal liberation.

Cultural hegemony is neither monolithic nor unified, but is a complex of layered social structures (classes), and each has a “mission” (purpose) and an internal logic, allowing its members to behave in a particular way that is different from that of the members of the other social classes, yet, as in an army, each social class acknowledges the existence of the other social classes, and, because of their different social missions, they will be able to coalesce into a greater whole, a society, with a greater social mission. Said greater, societal mission is different from the specific missions of the individual classes, because it assumes and includes them to itself, the whole.

Like-wise, does cultural hegemony work; although each person in a society meaningfully lives life in his and her social class, society’s discrete classes might appear to have little in common with the life of an individual person; yet, perceived as a whole, each person’s life contributes to the greater society’s hegemony. Diversity, variation, and freedom will apparently exist — since most people “see” many different life circumstances, but, they miss the greater hegemonic pattern created when the perceived lives coalesce into a “society”. Through the existence of minor, different circumstances, a greater, layered hegemony is maintained, yet, not fully recognized, by most of the people living in it. [1]

In a layered cultural hegemony, personal common sense, which is fragmented, helps the individual person cope with the minor activities of daily life; yet, common sense also inhibits the ability to perceive the greater, systemic nature of socio-economic exploitation that cultural hegemony makes possible. People concentrate their attention upon their immediate concerns and problems, i.e. their lives, rather than upon the fundamental sources of (their) social and economic oppression. [2]

[edit] Gramsci’s intellectual influence

Although the concept of Cultural Hegemony has primarily been used by leftists, organised conservative social organisations (movements) also have used it in their politics. An example, in the US of the 1990s, were the efforts of evangelical Christian organisations to win election onto local school boards in order to have the power to dictate curricula aligned with their religious interpretation of what constitutes a proper public education. To wit, in 1992, at the Republican Convention, the rightist politician Patrick Buchanan addressed the conventioneers using the term Culture War in describing his perception of US politics, as being the socio-political struggle between conservatism and liberalism.

As a theory, Cultural Hegemony has deeply influenced Eurocommunism, the social sciences, and activist politics. In the social sciences, its theoretic application in examining major discourses (e.g. those posited by Michel Foucault) is an important aspect of sociology, political science, anthropology, and cultural studies; moreover, in education the concepts of cultural hegemony led to the development of critical pedagogy.

[edit] Contemporary political analysis: cultural hegemony’s influence

In political analysis, cultural hegemony is a much-applied analytic model; for example, an analysis of US political power, from 1932 ’til 2006, addresses the dynamics of class struggle and cultural hegemony, documenting that, in the 1930s, the increase in trade union membership helped create the Democratic Party’s wide, popular political-base, that did not decline until 1980, when the Republican Party successfully learned to appeal to the working class, by means of the Southern Strategy, first articulated, and successfully effected, in the electoral campaigns of Richard M. Nixon, in the late 1960s.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (1992), New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 233–38
  2. ^ Stuart Hall, “The problem of Ideology: Marxism without Guarantees”, Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies (1996), David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, eds., London: Routledge; Dennis Hart, From Tradition to Consumption: Construction of a Capitalist Culture in South Korea (2003), Jimoondang Press.

[edit] External links

[edit] Books

  • Lenny Flank, Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Marxism, Capitalism, and Their Relation to Sexism, Racism, Nationalism, and Authoritarianism (2007), St Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers. ISBN 978-1-9791813-7-5.
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