On hegemony

These pages bring together various authors. Some direct talk about "hegemony" quoting Gramsci (1932)--e.g. Apple or Giroux. Others (like Bourdieu or Foucault) do not necessarily do so but operate within the similar framework that takes most seriously Marx's famous "The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas" (1845).

How do ideas become "ruling ideas"? The simplest answer is one Lewis Carroll puts in the mouth of Humpty Dumpty when he is challenged by Alice:

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'
(Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 18??)

That, of course, is not quite all. As Rousseau insisted simple power cannot establish the grounds of social relationships. He proposed that these grounds are built on a (social) contract. But the idea of 'contract' has evolved in such a way as to also be problematic.

Hegemony has been proposed as a substitute for "contract" and their 20th century equivalent ("collective onsciousness," "shared culture," etc.)

I continue to find the simple use of "hegemony" problematic. Oone somewhat taken-for-granted aspect of the concept and that is that it indexes a postulated "internalization" of the power relations imposed on the participants. As Gramsci wrote once: "To the extent that ideologies are historically necessary they have a validity which is ‘psychological'; they ‘organize’ human masses, they form the terrain on which men move, acquire consciousness of their position, struggle, etc. " (1932). Note the quote marks around "psychological" but not around "acquire consciousness." Gramsci may not have meant what some who "use" him imply, but this will require further extensive restatement.

Most of those who have recently used the concept of hegemony seek to emphasize issues of power that were ignored earlier theories of historicity or culture. But, more or less wittingly they preserve and reconstruct one of the major weaknesses in the development of these theories: their often fully deliberate psychological foundations. Any theory of culture that attempts to escape these foundations must thus develop an alternate theory of hegemony--possibly bly under a different label ("authority"?). I am exploring the possibilities offered by an expanded theory of education.

January 12, 2005 [3/25/02]