What is Hegemony?

The dictionary definition is: leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.

Antonio Gramsci came up with the theory of hegemony in media. He was one of the most important and influential Marxists of the 20th century and was imprisoned for his opposition to fascism in 1926. He died in prison in 1937.

Hegemony is a political concept about the nature and distribution of power between groups. The term comes from ancient Greece. Gramsci expanded it to cover class relations. These notes are about how Gramsci saw hegemony.

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There are two ways hegemony can be attained: Coercive Control and Consensual or Ideological Control. 

  1. Coercive Control: using repressive state apparatus such as the army, police and courts. Controlling people by crushing opposition to the system. This is costly and inefficient and likely to generate further resistance.
  2. Consensual or Ideological Control: involves securing consent of subordinate groups by convincing them their subordinate status is natural and inevitable. The way people think is shaped so that common sense and their understanding of the world is considered ‘normal’. No one challenges or questions things. This is achieved through educational institutions, the church, family and the media as they all promote ideas that legitimate the interests of the ruling class. Everything is part of the capitalist system.

Gramsci believed that hegemony exists when a fundamental class or group exerts moral and political leadership over allied and subordinate classes. Simply it means when its own interests are accepted as being in the interests of society as a whole.

Hegemonic Crises occur when consent breaks down because ruling classes lose the confidence of the masses. This can be seen in our current political context considering Donald Trump as American President and ‘Brexit’. The masses begin to challenge the core interests of the ruling classes.

Gramsci’s theory of Hegemony and why it is different to the other approaches (such as C&CT and the Frankfurt School: see previous blog posts). 

  • the media and popular culture are no longer viewed negatively.
  • they are not given uncritical support.
  • plays a more subtle role in enabling classes/powerful groups to maintain their power.
  • contributes to the building of consent.

Weaknesses

  • Do subordinate groups genuinely ‘consent’?
  • Are they too busy just trying to make a living?
  • There is no alternative given.
  • False concessions made means that there are no real changes.
  • Why hasn’t the internet changed anything?
These notes are from my year two semester two lectures. The image is from: https://www.reddit.com/r/QuotesPorn/comments/3ck9mx/if_youre_not_careful_the_newspapers_will_have_you/
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