Works by title

Henry Giroux

Ideology, culture and the process of schooling

Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. 1981.

On hegemony

Though there exists no fully developed theory of hegemony,6z the starting point for studying the concept has to begin with the work of Antonio Gramsci.63 Writing in the wake of economic upheavals, revolutionary struggles, and the rise of fascism in the early decades of the twentieth century in Italy, Gramsci attempted to redefine and redirect the central tenets of Marxist theory. Rejecting the orthodox Marxist faith in objective economic forces and scientific laws, Gramsci i turned his attention to the voluntarist side of Marxist theory. He strongly argued that the domination of capital could not be explained by simply pointing to the rule of force and coercion exercised by the capitalist state. Similarly, he argued that revolutionary struggle could not be relegated to a faith in the inevitable breakdown and self destruction of capitalism's inner logic and laws. For Gramsci the historical materialism of orthodox Marxism was blinded by its own wooden metaphors and paralyzed by its economistic straitjacket. Neither political force nor the logic of capitalist development provided the theoretical basis for fully understanding or changing the nature of capitalist society. Gramsci believed that a more suitable approach would have been to take the notion of consciousness more seriously. That is, the assumption that human beings become political actors as they move through and create the 'terrain on which men move, [and] acquire consciousness of their position, struggle'.64 It is this link between struggle, domination, and liberation, on the one side, and Gramsci's view of the power of consciousness and ideology on the other, that establishes the problematic for understanding his notion of hegemony.
Hegemony as it is used by Gramsci appears to have two meanings.65 First, it refers to a process within civil society whereby a fundamental class exercises control though its moral and intellectual leadership over allied classes. In this perspective an alliance is formed among ruling groups as a result of the power and 'ability of one class to articulate the interest of other social groups to its own'.66 Gramsci appears very clear in pointing out that the intellectual and moral leadership exercised by the dominant class does not consist of the imposition of its own ideology upon allied groups. Instead, it represents a pedagogic and politically transformative process whereby the dominant class articulates a hegemonic principle that brings together common elements drawn from the world views and interests of allied groups. The second use of the term takes on a much more dynamic character. Hegemony, as it is used in this case, points to the relationship between the dominant and dominated classes. In this case, hegemony refers to the successful attempt of a dominant class to utilize its control over the resources of state and civil society, particularly through the use of the mass media and the educational system,61 to establish its view of the world as all inclusive and universal. Through the dual use of force and consent, with consent prevailing, the dominant class uses its political, moral, and intellectual leadership to shape and incorporate the 'taken-for-granted' views, needs, and concerns of subordinate groups. In doing so, the dominant class not only attempts to influence the interests and needs of such groups, it also contains radical opportunities by placing limits on oppositional discourse and practice. As Douglas Kellner observes, 'hegemonic ideologies attempt to define the limits of discourse, by setting the political agenda, by defining the issues and terms of debate, and by excluding oppositional ideas'. 6$

One important feature of hegemonic rule is that it refers to more than the institutionalization and framing of specific modes of discourse; it also includes the messages inscribed in material practices. Put another way, hegemony is rooted in both the meanings and symbols that legitimate dominant interests as well as in the practices that structure daily experience. That hegemony functions, for example, through the significations embedded in school texts, films, and 'official' teacher discourse is clear enough. What is less obvious is that it also functions in those practical experiences that need no discourse, the message of which lingers beneath a stuctured silence. Pierre Bourdieu captures this issue with his comment:
. . . the most successful ideological effects are those which have no need of words, and ask no more than complicitous silence. It follows . . . that
any analysis of ideologies, in the narrow sense of 'legitimating j
discourses', which fails to include an analysis of the corresponding in- ',
stitutional mechanisms is liable to be no more than a contribution to the
efficacy of those ideologies.69

And in another observation worth quoting at length:

The whole trick of pedagogic reason lies precisely in the way it extorts the essential while seeming to demand the insignificant: in obtaining the respect for form and forms of respect which constitute the most visible (and at the same time best hidden because most 'natural') manifestation of submission to the established order . . . that is, all the eccentricities and deviations which are the small change of madness.1°

In schools, as in other institutions, the production of hegemonic ideologies 'hides' behind a number of legitimating forms. Some of the most obvious include: (1) the claim by dominant classes that their interests represent the entire interests of the community; (2) the claim that conflict only occurs outside of the sphere of the political, i.e., economic conflict is viewed as non-political; (3) the presentation of specific forms of consciousness, beliefs, attitudes, values and practices as natural, universal, or even eternal.

To suggest that hegemony is entered into by both the dominated and the dominant classes raises significant questions about the role that the dominated play in contributing to their own oppression and about the nature of hegemony itself. But in order to unravel such questions, the contradictory nature of ideological hegemony must be laid bare. That is, it is important to demonstrate that hegemony in any of its forms or processes does not represent a cohesive force. Instead, it is riddled with contradictions and tensions that open up the possibility for counter-hegemonic struggle as well as reinforce the distinction between hegemony and ideology.

The very structure of the ruling class, for instance, makes it almost impossible for a unified hegemonic ideology to prevail over a given society, particularly in the advanced industrial countries of the West. Althusser's Ideological State Apparatus is not dominated by simply one group, as previously mentioned, it is ruled by an alliance of powerful groups who are constantly shifting and changing the form and content of their legitimating interests as historical circumstances change and new forms of resistance emerge." Moreover, as Aronowitz points out, ruling classes do not produce and disseminate ideologies directly; instead, they appropriate the services of intellectuals and other cultural workers who have the creativity and skills to organize and run cultural apparatuses such as schools and the organs of mass media.7z On the one hand, this limits the control that the dominant classes have over such cultural sectors. On the other hand, it also provides such institutions with the relative autonomy that makes possible the gaps, tensions, and modes of resistance that contain a critique of the hegemonic order.73 This position takes on added meaning in Gouldner's comment:

It is precisely because the hegemonic elite is separated from the means of culture, including the production of ideologies, that ideologies developed in capitalist society may often be discomforting to the hegemonic elite, so that they prefer other methods of dominance and integration more fully and routinely accessible to them.74

Similarly, in addition to hegemony not being a cohesive force, it is a mode of control that has to be fought for constantly in order to be maintained. In other words, it is not something 'that simply consists of the projection of the ideas of the dominant class into the heads of the subordinate classes'.7s The terrain on which hegemony moves and functions has constantly to shift ground in order to accommodate the changing nature of historical circumstances and the demands and reflexive actions of human beings. This issue is highlighted in Gramsci's notion of 'contradictory consciousness'. Gramsci meant by the latter that human beings view the world from a perspective that contains both hegemonic forms of thinking and modes of critical insight. In other words, 'contradictory consciousness' represented a form of common sense that was rooted in folklore, but at the same time enriched 'with scientific ideas and philosophical opinions which have entered ordinary life'.76 In Gramsci's view the consciousness of ordinary people could not be equated with passivity and one-dimensionality. Instead, it had to be seen as a complex combination of thought and practice 'unable to break with the given world and transform it'.77 Far from being simply the reflex of defeat and passivity, such a consciousness is fragmented and ambivalent. Or to put it another way:
. . . on an abstract level, the masses manifest a great deal of agreement with the dominant ideology, but this consensus is superficial and coexists with latent instincts of rebellion, which are often expressd in deviant behavior and which compromises, in embryonic form, an alternative Weltanschauung. 78
This perception of hegemony redefines class rule, and also reveals a relationship between ideology and power, which is viewed not simply as one of imposition but, as Foucault points out, 'a network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity, rather than a privilege one might possess . . . power is exercised rather than possessed'.79 Power as used here is a form of production, which rather than constrain the subject, becomes its constituting feature. Ideology as an element of hegemony points then to one's limited perception of the world and to social practices that mold and shape the structure of dispositions and needs as well. Thus, power represents both a negative and positive moment. As a negative moment, it strips ideology of its critical possibilities and institutionalizes it as a form of hegemony. As a positive moment, it refers to latent as well as manifest modes of critical discourse and practice which constitute the core of ideology.

The duality of power and control represents a crucial concept for viewing sites such as schools as instances of both hegemonic and counter- hegemonic struggles. Gramsci's notion that hegemony represents a pedagogical relationship through which the legitimacy of meaning and practice is struggled over makes it imperative that a theory of radical pedagogy take as its central task an analysis of how both hegemony functions in schools and how various forms of resistance and opposition either challenge or help to sustain it.

Hegemony and ideology represent important concepts in educational theory and practice because they expose the political nature of schooling and point to possibilities for developing alternative modes of pedagogy. However, helpful as these concepts are in the end, they are incomplete because they do not provide the theoretical framework for developing a notion of totality that reveals how a society reproduces and mediates the wide range of conflicting social formations, ideologies, and structures that either give it a specific historical location or expose its underlying determinations. For this we have to turn to the concept of culture.

Friday, February 22, 2002