Understanding Hegemony Essay

Hegemony is perhaps one of the most widely used terms in different debates and discussions. More often than not, hegemony makes its presence felt in each and every argument and contentions that center on the use of power, authority, control and manipulation. Whenever a topic focuses on power struggles and ideological inequality, hegemony is never taken out of the picture. However, it cannot be denied that hegemony’s popularity does not necessarily mean that its underlying themes and concepts are flavored with a high degree of complexity.

Hegemony, although, it is popularly used does not equate to understanding the whole matter in one sitting. It connotes different meanings and interpretations, depending on the context when it is used. The matter becomes even more complex and difficult to comprehend as certain theorists such as Antonio Gramsci, for example would offer a different approach on how to interpret the messages and ideas conveyed by the said term. In relation to this, this paper aims to discuss how hegemony as presented by Gramsci operates. Based from this, the researcher aspires to come up with his own explanations of how hegemony is practiced and utilized.

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Different examples shall be provided to make matters clear. It is the paper’s intention to demonstrate how hegemony operates in different situations and scenarios. Hegemony: A Brief History Hegemony, long before Gramsi has ever explored the connotations and denotations of the said term, has been already used for a long time. The truth of the matter is, hegemony is not something that simply popped out of Gramsci’s inquisitive mind. It is not something new, except that different theorists have tried to give various kinds of explanations of how hegemony really works and affects different individuals.

This argument is even supported by Casey et. al (2002) who shared and elucidated that hegemony has been existing even before the television has been invented and made available to the public (p. 84). Basically, the reason behind Casey et. al’s (2002, p. 84) contention stems from the fact that hegemony has been often related and connected to media cultural studies and discourses. This is most especially true if hegemony is being understood as a powerful force constantly used by the dominant class to influence and control the views and opinions of those who are under the cultural hierarchy.

But one may ask, what is the origin or etymology of hegemony? How was it formerly used and understood? What are the changes and political conditions that it has to go through that enabled Gramsci to utilize hegemony in a different manner? Clark (2005) in his discussion of the relationship between the dollar’s future and Iraq’s oil lifted his definition of hegemony from the dictionary which states that hegemony purports “preponderant influence or authority especially of one nation over others (p. 1). ” If one has to take a closer look, preponderant means acquiring “supreme power, control and influence. Obviously, the concept of hierarchy—of having something that can be called as a “superior” and “subordinate” is already manifested. There is already the struggle and the intention to rule and dominate.

This is tantamount to saying that there is inequality involved because of certain aspects. Basically, to rule and dominate is rather expected whenever hegemony is mentioned and elaborated. Once and for all, hegemony’s etymology came from a Greek terms “hegemonia (Casey et. al 2002, p. 84) and hegeitshai (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). Hegomonia literally means a “leader (Casey et. al 2002, p. 4) and hegeitshai translates to having the capacity “to lead (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). ” Giving this situation at hand, Knutsen (1999) explained that in order for an individual or situation to be called hegemonic, there should be the intention or the desire to acquire the so-called “authority of command (p. 60). ” The “authority of command” is an important ingredient for one to practice hegemony. Once and for all, each and every individual or state is given equal opportunity to lead. However, it cannot be denied that there are also instances wherein leadership transforms into a rhetoric term.

Leadership exists only in papers. It becomes merely titular and does not really materialize. However, it becomes totally different when leadership is coupled with the command of authority. In this context, the leader is assured that he or she can readily expect obedience or even passivity—to a certain extent. As Knutsen (1999) explained, when leadership is reinforced by the command of authority, it becomes “legitimate (p. 60). Knutsen (1999) further mentioned that this notion regarding hegemony was evident in the ancient times (p. 60).

This leads us to the conclusion that hegemony, through the years, continues to evolve. It is dynamic and not static. In the meantime, in as far as the hegemony as a term is used, Knutsen (1999) discuss that there was a certain point in time wherein hegemony pertained to the dominant force that would guide one’s soul (p. 60). Here, hegemony came to be understood from a spiritual perspective. But then again, although this notion was spiritually-inclined, the fact that the concept of dominance is still very much evident. Perhaps, the only difference is that, dominance in here is exercised to one’s self and not to others.

Knutsen (1999) mentioned that it was only during the beginning of the 19th century that hegemony has been closely associated to social and political tenets (p. 60). Knutsen (1999) explained that the moment hegemony re-entered the political scene, it has been constantly used by “left-wing” advocates to describe and discuss the aim of world superpowers to control and take-over another nation or states (p. 60). Knutsen (1999) specifically mentioned that this attempt is basically geared towards a more extensive and intricate discussion of imperialism (p. 0). Gramsci’s Hegemony Antonio Gramsci is yet one of the many critically acclaimed Marxist theorists (Slattery 2003, p. 121). Gramsci was imprisoned during the Mussolini rule and his writings while he was in jail saw the birth of hegemony’s reconstruction (Slattery 2003, p. 121). But while it is true that Gramsci is yet one of Marx’s supporters, Gramsci tended to deviate from the economist perspective that many Marxists think as perpetuators of social class and divide (Bocock 1986, p. 33).

Slattery (2003) explained that Gramsci’s main aim was then to develop a different way wherein the masses can finally achieve liberation and therefore experience equality (p. 121). The difference of Gramsci’s approach stems from the fact that it is more “humanistic, as elucidated by Slattery (2003 p. 121). Slattery’s (2003, p. 121) explanation was also supported by Bocock (1986, p. 33). Bocock (1986) discussed that there are several Marxist elements that are present in contextualizing the term hegemony. These are the economy, state and civil society (p. 3). Basically, the importance given by Gramsci to these three elements distinguishes Gramsci’s arguments from other theorists (Bocock 1986, p. 33). Gramsci firmly believed that a social revolution does not come in an instant (Slattery 2003, p. 121). He further argued that such outcome would not come into place if economic and historical determinism alone shall be depended upon (Slattery 2003, p. 121). For it to be able to succeed, it readily needs two things: popular participation and ideological leadership (Slattery 2003, p. 121).

Casey et. l (2002) explained that Gramsci was basically disappointed why for so many years, the revolution of the masses has not yet materialized (p. 85). This situation best explained why Gramsci would not really settle on the idea that economic and historical determinism would ensure that a revolution would enter into the whole picture. Casey et. al (2002, p. 85) mentioned that Gramsci has readily observed that despite of the glaring and blatant conditions experienced by the masses, they have become passive and has continued to “accept” their current conditions (Casey et. l 2002, p. 85). Gramsci readily explained that the masses, instead of asserting their claims and arguments seem to pursue the “capitalistic interests” even more (Casey et. al 2002, p. 85). However, in this case, Casey et. al (2002) shared that Gramsci refused to believe in the concepts of “false consciousness (p. 85). Basically, the reason behind this is that there is overall “consensus” and that the use of force or violence to articulate the needs of the dominant class are not readily shown (Casey et. al, 2002, p. 85).

Rather, there is a seemingly connivance between the dominate and subordinate classes to support the goals and aims of the former. Given this situation at hand, Gramsci then believed that hegemony is the fusion of both the ideological and military rule (Slattery 2003, p. 121). There is the apparent control of ideas, views and opinions (Slattery 2003, p. 121). Gramsci insinuates that capitalism extends beyond economic borders (Slattery 2003, p. 121). This means that power and authority are not simply manifested and practiced in controlling the means and relations of productions.

This can be also exemplified in the ideological state or level. Knutsen (1999) shared that Gramsci’s hegemony was basically influenced by the Marxist and Machiavellian schools of thought (p. 60). Gramsci’s hegemony is flavored with Marxism, in the sense that it supports the notion and thinking of having a “collective political consciousness (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). ” On the other hand, Gramsci is Machiavellian in the sense that hegemonic conditions will be achieved if and only if there is “consensus (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). This is in stark contrast with the belief that hegemonic conditions emanate via the use or utilization of coercive power (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). Hegemony is one of the three collective wills that Gramsci identified (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). The first type is the so-called “corporate consciousness (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). ” This kind of orientation is shown by individuals or organizations who have the same set of material interests (Knutsen 1999, p. 60).

On the other hand, the other type of political will is the “class consciousness (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). Class consciousness is developed among individuals which share not only the same material interests, but they also belong in the same social positions, in relation to their respective connections with the production connections or relationships. The last, yet the most powerful one is nothing else but hegemony (Knutsen 1999, p. 60). Hegemony, being the highest of all collective wills, ensures that the dominant classes tend to push their interests via garnering the support of other classes. Hegemonic consciousness tend to show that it is articulating the interests of each and every class that is involved (Knutsen 1999, p. 0). But then again, the truth of the matter is that, such was simply a strategy for the dominant class to ensure that they are working for both interests. When this happens, this is the time wherein social consensus tends to prevail over the use of violence and coercion (Knutsen 1999, p. 60).

However, to say that the dominant class alone tends to promote and practice hegemonic consciousness is an understatement. Even the proletariat is also aspiring for hegemonic control (Slattery 2003, p. 121). Gramsci never believed in the concept of “total indoctrination (Slattery 2003, p. 21). ” Ideological struggle will always come into place (Slattery 2003, p. 121). However, for dominance to be attained, consensus must be readily achieved (Slattery 2003, p. 121). In as far as Gramsci’s hegemony is concerned, achieving consensus is the most important ingredient (Slattery 2003, p. 121). Hegemony and Language Language plays an important role in Gramsci’s hegemony. Hegemony entails intricate processes that are central to developing different ideas and perspectives regarding how reality should be perceived and understand (Haugaard & Lentner 2006, p. 2). For each and every community, the presence of a “political actor (Haugaard & Lentner 2006, p. 42)” is always felt.

Therefore, if hegemony tends to reconstruct and modify bodies of knowledge to cater to a specific class, then the political actor must be able to achieve the authority of command in the language that he or she uses. The language alone can assure that dominance and control can be readily attained. Haugaard and Lentner (2006) mentioned that language and knowledge share a symbiotic relationship.

Both of them are needed in modifying different views and beliefs. The two are one of the main reasons behind society’s continuous growth and development. But then again, one cannot deny the fact that for every society, there are forces that are constantly battling against each other. Thus, whoever has the capacity to attain language’s hegemonic side elicits a great potential of acquiring consensus (p. 42). Crowley (1995), to illustrate how hegemony is manifested through language, used the spread of the English language in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century (p. 42).

Crowley (1995) explained that during those times, English was then seen as the language of the so-called “refined (p. 42). ” English was then commonly used in business and commerce—in intellectual conversations and in scenarios wherein formality and status quo are readily observed and taken into consideration (Crowley 1995, p. 42). However, the Irish language, on the other hand, experiences the exact opposite. It was then seen as the language of “shame and backwardness (Crowley 1995, p. 42). ” It can be seen in here that the spread of the English language is something that is not readily imposed.

There are no rules, policies or regulations concerned that would readily impose that English should be perceived as the language of honor and prestige. Rather, the individuals who have adapted such thinking has readily shown consensus that enabled the belittlement of the Irish language. Those that believed that English should be given high regard have managed to get the consent of the many and therefore, hegemony in language has finally materialized. The power and authority is therefore legitimized through consensus (Allan 1998, p. 107).

The result of attaining this kind of hegemony is highly related to achieving cultural hegemony (Crowley 1995, p. 42). Hegemony in Mass Media Gramsci argues that mass media is one of the most important tools which readily allow hegemony to proliferate (Dines & Humez 2003, p. 62). Basically mass media channels are able to show images or representations that are directly supporting the interests of the ruling or dominant class (Dines & Humez 2003, p. 62). Through the use of various mass media channels the dominant classes are able to make certain behaviors, views and perceptions popular and socially-accepted.

It is important to note that mass media has the power to greatly influence and affect their respective viewers and audience. It is basically the reason behind the notion that mass media is the so-called “fourth estate (Schultz 1998, p. 115). ” Basically mass media has the power to affect and impact different governmental policies and procedures. Media institutions are able to accomplish this, not only because such institutions have strong influence. This also stems from the fact that mass media have a wide reach. Because of mass media’s wide scope and coverage, popularizing certain themes and concepts are not that difficult.

According to the agenda-setting theory, different media organizations have the capacity to make the public think of what events or scenarios should be considered as something that is of extreme importance. Media groups are able to accomplish this via exposing the public to a single issue or events alone. As a result, mass media is able to dictate to the public what to think and how to think regarding a certain event or circumstances. If one has to take a closer look, it can be seen that hegemony in mass media is highly related to Louis Althusser’s notion of ideological state apparatuses or ISA (Zizek 1994, p. 15). Mass media is categorized as one of the ideological state apparatuses. The state does not really use coercion and power in this case, but rather the attack is more on the ideological side of it. This basically explains mass media’s hegemonic control (Zizek 1994, p. 115). Conclusion Hegemony is the process wherein control and dominance is achieved via consensus. Consensus makes the hegemonic powers legitimate therefore relying on violence and force is no longer needed.


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