Cultural Hegemony
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Cultural Hegemony
The Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) developed the notion of hegemony and advocated the establishment of a working-class intelligentsia.

In Marxist philosophy, cultural hegemony is the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class which manipulates the culture of that society--the beliefs and explanations, perceptions, values, and mores--so that the imposed, ruling-class worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm;[1][need quotation to verify][2] the universally valid dominant ideology, which justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural and inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for every social class, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class.[3] This Marxist analysis of how the ruling capitalist class (the bourgeoisie) establishes and maintains its control was originally developed by the Italian philosopher and politician Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).

In philosophy and in sociology, the term cultural hegemony has denotations and connotations derived from the Ancient Greek word hegemonia () indicating leadership and rule. In political science, hegemony implies geopolitical imperial dominance with a component of indirect influence, whereby the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states through the threat of intervention, an implied means of power, rather than merely through the threat of direct rule--military invasion, occupation, and annexation.[4][5]



In 1848, Karl Marx proposed that the economic recessions and practical contradictions of a capitalist economy would provoke the working class to proletarian revolution, depose capitalism, restructure social institutions (economic, political, social) per the rational models of socialism, and thus begin the transition to a communist society. Therefore, the dialectical changes to the functioning of the economy of a society determine its social superstructures (culture and politics).

To that end, Antonio Gramsci proposed a strategic distinction between a War of Position and a War of Manoeuvre. The war of position is an intellectual and cultural struggle wherein the anti-capitalist revolutionary creates a proletarian culture whose native value system counters the cultural hegemony of the bourgeoisie. The proletarian culture will increase class consciousness, teach revolutionary theory and historical analysis, and thus propagate further revolutionary organisation among the social classes. On winning the war of position, socialist leaders would then have the necessary political power and popular support to begin the political manoeuvre warfare of revolutionary socialism.

The initial, theoretical application of cultural domination was as a Marxist analysis of "economic class" (base and superstructure), which Antonio Gramsci developed to comprehend "social class"; hence, cultural hegemony proposes that the prevailing cultural norms of a society, which are imposed by the ruling class (bourgeois cultural hegemony), must not be perceived as natural and inevitable, but must be recognized as artificial social constructs (institutions, practices, beliefs, et cetera) that must be investigated to discover their philosophic roots as instruments of social-class domination. That such praxis of knowledge is indispensable for the intellectual and political liberation of the proletariat, so that workers and peasants, the people of town and country, can create their own working-class culture, which specifically addresses their social and economic needs as social classes.

In a society, cultural hegemony is neither monolithic intellectual praxis, nor a unified system of values, but a complex of stratified social structures, wherein each social and economic class has a social purpose and an internal class-logic that allows its members to behave in a way that is particular and different from the behaviours of the members of other social classes, whilst co-existing with them as constituents of the society.

As a result of their different social purposes, the classes will be able to coalesce into a society with a greater social mission. When a person perceives the social structures of bourgeois cultural hegemony, personal common sense performs a dual, structural role (private and public) whereby the individual person applies common sense to cope with daily life, which explains to them the small segment of the social order stratum that each experiences as the status quo of life in society; "the way things are". Publicly, the emergence of the perceptual limitations of personal common sense inhibit the individual person's perception of the greater nature of the systematic socio-economic exploitation made possible by cultural hegemony. Because of the discrepancy in perceiving the status quo--the socio-economic hierarchy of bourgeois culture--most people concern themselves with their immediate (private) personal concerns, rather than with distant (public) concerns, and so do not think about and question the fundamental sources of their socio-economic oppression, and its discontents, social, personal, and political.[6]

The effects of cultural hegemony are perceptible at the personal level; although each person in a society lives a meaningful life in their social class, to them the discrete social classes might appear to have little in common with the private life of individual people. Yet, when perceived as a whole society, the life of each person does contribute to the greater social hegemony. Although social diversity, economic variety, and political freedom appear to exist--because most people see different life-circumstances--they are incapable of perceiving the greater hegemonic pattern created when the lives they witness coalesce as a society. The cultural hegemony is manifested in and maintained by an existence of minor, different circumstances that are not always fully perceived by the people living the culture.[7]


In perceiving and combating cultural hegemony, the working class and the peasantry depend upon the intellectuals produced by their society, to which ends Antonio Gramsci distinguished between bourgeois-class intellectuals and working-class intellectuals, the proponents and the opponents of the imposed, normative culture, and thus of the social status quo:

Since these various categories of traditional intellectuals [administrators, scholars and scientists, theorists, non-ecclesiastical philosophers, etc.] experience through an esprit de corps their uninterrupted historical continuity, and their special qualifications, they thus put themselves forward as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group. This self-assessment is not without consequences in the ideological and political fields, consequences of wide-ranging import. The whole of idealist philosophy can easily be connected with this position, assumed by the social complex of intellectuals, and can be defined as the expression of that social utopia by which the intellectuals think of themselves as "independent" [and] autonomous, [and] endowed with a character of their own, etc.

-- Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (1971), pp. 7-8.[8]

The traditional and vulgarized type of the intellectual is given by the Man of Letters, the philosopher, and the artist. Therefore, journalists, who claim to be men of letters, philosophers, artists, also regard themselves as the "true" intellectuals. In the modern world, technical education, closely bound to industrial labor, even at the most primitive and unqualified level, must form the basis of the new type of intellectual. ... The mode of being of the new intellectual can no longer consist of eloquence, which is an exterior and momentary mover of feelings and passions, but in active participation in practical life, as constructor [and] organizer, as "permanent persuader", not just simple orator.

-- Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (1971), pp. 9-10.[9]

Gramsci's influence

In 1968, Rudi Dutschke, a leader of the German student movement, the "68er-Bewegung", said that changing the bourgeois society of West Germany required a long march through the society's institutions, in order to identify and combat cultural hegemony.[10]

Cultural hegemony has philosophically influenced Eurocommunism, the social sciences, and the activist politics of socially liberal and progressive politicians. The analytic discourse of cultural hegemony is important to research and synthesis in anthropology, political science, sociology, and cultural studies; in education, cultural hegemony developed critical pedagogy, by which the root causes of political and social discontent can be identified, and so resolved.

In 1967, the German student movement leader Rudi Dutschke reformulated Antonio Gramsci's philosophy of hegemony with the phrase the long march through the institutions (German: Marsch durch die Institutionen) to identify the political war of position, an allusion to the Long March (1934-35) of the Communist Chinese People's Liberation Army, by means of which the working class would produce their own organic intellectuals and culture (dominant ideology) to replace those imposed by the bourgeoisie.[11][10][12][13][14]

Critique of Gramsci

The ideological apparatuses of the State

As conceptual criticism of cultural hegemony, the structuralist philosopher Louis Althusser presented the theory of the ideological state apparatus to describe the structure of complex relationships among the different organs of the State, by which ideology is transmitted and disseminated to the populations of a society.[15] Althusser draws from the concepts of hegemony present in cultural hegemony, yet rejects the absolute historicism proposed by Gramsci. He argues that the ideological state apparatuses (ISA) are the sites of ideological conflict among the social classes of a society. That, in contrast to the repressive state apparatuses (RSA), such as the military and the police forces, the ISA exist as a plurality. While the ruling class in power can readily control the repressive state apparatuses, the ISA are both the sites and the stakes (the objects) of class struggle. Moreover, the ISA are not monolithic social entities, and are distributed throughout the society, as public and as private sites of continual class struggle.

In On the Reproduction of Capitalism (1968), Louis Althusser said that the ideological apparatuses of the State are over-determined zones of society that comprise complex elements of the ideologies of previous modes of production, thus, are sites of continual political activity in a society, which are:[16]

  • the religious ISA (the system of Churches)
  • the educational ISA (the systems of public and private schools)
  • the family ISA
  • the legal ISA
  • the political ISA (the political system, e.g. political parties)
  • the trade union ISA
  • the communications ISA (press, radio, television, etc.)
  • the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sport, etc.)

Althusser said that the parliamentary structures of the State, by which the "will of the people" is represented by elected delegates, are an ideological apparatus of the State. That the political system, itself, is an ideological apparatus, because it involves the "fiction, corresponding to a 'certain' reality, that the component parts of the [political] system, as well as the principle of its functioning, are based on the ideology of the 'freedom' and 'equality' of the individual voters and the 'free choice' of the people's representatives, by the individuals that 'make up' the people".[17]

See also


  1. ^ Bullock, Alan; Trombley, Stephen, Editors (1999), The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought Third Edition, pp. 387-88.
  2. ^ Compare: Comaroff, Jean; Comaroff, John L. (1991). Of Revelation and Revolution. ATLA Special Series. 1: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (published 2008). p. 25. ISBN 9780226114477. Retrieved 2020. Typically [...] the making of hegemony involves the assertion of control over various modes of symbolic production: over such things as educational and ritual processses, patterns of socialization, political and legal procedures, canons of style and self-representation, public communication, health and bodily discipline, and so on.
  3. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Fifth Edition. (1994), p. 1215.
  4. ^ Compare: Hassig, Ross (1994). "Mesoamerica and the Aztecs". Mexico and the Spanish Conquest (2 ed.). Norman: University of Oklahoma Press (published 2014). p. 28. ISBN 9780806182087. Retrieved 2020. The more a hegemonic empire relies on power (the perception that one can enforce one's desired goals) rather than force (direct physical action to compel one's goals, the more efficient it is, because the subordinates police themselves.
  5. ^ Ross Hassig, Mexico and the Spanish Conquest (1994), pp. 23-24.
  6. ^ Hall, Stuart (1986). "The Problem of Ideology -- Marxism without Guarantees" (PDF). Journal of Communication Inquiry. 10 (2): 28-44. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/019685998601000203. S2CID 144448154.
  7. ^ Gramsci, Antonio (1992). Buttigieg, Joseph A (ed.). Prison Notebooks. New York City: Columbia University Press. pp. 233-38. ISBN 978-0-231-10592-7. OCLC 24009547.
  8. ^ Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (1971), Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds., pp. 7-8.
  9. ^ Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (1971), Quentin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, eds., pp. 9-10.
  10. ^ a b Buttigieg, J. A. (2005). "The Contemporary Discourse on Civil Society: A Gramscian Critique" (PDF). Boundary 2. 32 (1): 33-52. doi:10.1215/01903659-32-1-33.
  11. ^ Gramsci, Buttigieg, Joseph A (ed.), Prison Notebooks (English critical ed.), p 50 footnote 21, archived from the original on 2010-06-16, Long March Through the Institutions21
  12. ^ Davidson, Carl (6 April 2006), Strategy, Hegemony & 'The Long March': Gramsci's Lessons for the Antiwar Movement (web log).
  13. ^ Marsch durch die Institutionen at German Wikipedia.[circular reference]
  14. ^ Antonio Gramsci: Misattributed at English Wikiquote for the origin of "The Long March Through the Institutions" quotation.
  15. ^ Althusser, Louis (2014). On The Reproduction of Capitalism. London/ New York: Verso. pp. 74-75, 103-47, 177, 180, 198-206, 218-31, 242-6. ISBN 9781781681640.
  16. ^ Althusser, Louis (2014). On the Reproduction of Capitalism. London/ New York: Verso. p. 243. ISBN 9781781681640.
  17. ^ Althusser, Louis (2014). On the Reproduction of Capitalism. London/New York: Verso. pp. 222-223.

Further reading

External links

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