Tuesday, 23 October 2012

gramsci and hegemony

According to Frank Rosengarten (2004) Antonio Gramsci was born on 22 January 1891 in the province of Cagliari in Sardinia. He was born into a family of seven and he was the fourth. He shared a passion of literature with his sister Teresinna. He was influenced into politics by his brother’s early embrace of socialism. After completing his elementary he went to work due to his father’s arrest but he continued to study privately and eventually returned to school were he was judged as one of superior intelligence. In 1911 his life changed dramatically when he got a scholarship to the university of Turin an award reserved for the needy students from province of the former kingdom of Sardinia. Although he enrolled in the faculty of Letters he took a variety of courses in social sciences and linguistics. He became a journalist and one of the most critical and most feared voices. He is decorated for developing military journalism. However the fascist regime led by Mussolini decided to arrest Gramsci and sentence him to prison. The presiding judge on the trial is said to have made the infamous statement that “We have to stop this mind from functioning.” As he was viewed a dangerous man. His mind though did not stop functioning but his prison years were so rich with intellectual achievement when he wrote his prison notes.
He sought to establish why the fascist regime was not collapsing and capitalism in general. Gramsci’s political and social writings occur in two periods, pre-prison (1910-1926) and in prison (1929-1935). His pre-prison writings tend to be politically specific while his prison writings tend to be more historical and theoretical. Gramsci was concerned about how to eradicate economic determinism from Marxism and to develop its explanatory power with respect to supernatural institutions. So he held that 1) class struggle must always involve ideas and ideologies that would miss the revolution and also that might prevent it 2) he stressed the role played by human agency in historical change, because economic crises by themselves would not subvert capitalism 3) Gramsci was more dialectical than deterministic. Strinatti (1995:166) “He tried to build a theory which recognized the autonomy, independence and importance of culture and ideology. It can be argued that Gramsci’s theory suggest that surbodinated groups accept the ideas, values of the ruling class not because they are physically induced or mentally induced but because they have a reason of their own.” From Gramsci’s view the supremacy of the bourgeoisie is based on two, equally important facts, first economic domination and secondly intellectual and moral leadership.
Strinatti argues that, “Antonio Gramsci defines hegemony as whereby the dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class maintain their dominance by securing the spontaneous consent of subordinate groups including the working class through the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups.” The ruling class succeeds in persuading the other class to accept its own moral, political and cultural values. The concept assumes a plain consent given by the majority of the population to a certain direction suggested by those in power. For example ZANU PF in Zimbabwe is famous for convincing the population into believing that they were out to protect the interests of the nation  from British and foreign intervention. However this consent is not always peaceful and may combine physical force or coercion with intellectual, moral and cultural inducement.
It can also be viewed as ‘common sense’, a cultural universe were the dominant ideology is practiced and spread leading to the spiral of silence were the minority do not speak out their ideas out and this is something which emerges out of social and class struggle and serves to shape and influence people’s minds. It is a set of ideas by which dominant groups strive to secure the consent of the subordinate class to their leadership. Lenny (2007) reiterates that it is, “The practices of a capitalist class or its representations to gain power to maintain it later. Gramsci stated that the only way to perform this labour class control is by taking over into account the interests of other groups of society and finding ways to combine them with their own views. If the working class is to advantage hegemony then it needs patiently to build up a network of alliances with social minorities. The working class must unite popular democratic struggles with its own conflict against the capital class so as to strengthen a national popular collective will.
According to Lenny (2007) Gramsci suggests two modes of social control. First there is coercive control which is manifested through direct force or its threat. It is usually needed when the state feels insecure or that leadership is fractured. For example in Zimbabwe coercive control is potrayed by the use of the military and the police when there are strikes like the one that happened at University of Zimbabwe when students were striking, the strike was thwarted down by the riot police. Then he identifies the other one as consensual control which arises when individuals voluntarily assimilate the world view of the dominant group. Gramsci argue that the media are the instruments to express the dominant ideology as an integral part of the cultural environment. He also suggests that if the working class wants to succeed in becoming hegemonic it must also create its own intellectuals to develop a new ideology. Intellectual work for example include instances like when the media are used to air out the ideas of the ruling class.
From a ‘Gramscian’ perspective, the mass media have to be interpreted as an instrument to spread and reinforce the dominant hegemony. For example we have the public media in Zimbabwe expressing and supporting the ideas of the former but powerful ruling party in the public media ZANU PF and in television there are even jingles like ‘Nyatsoteerera unzwe kutonga’ Hegemony operates culturally and ideological through the institutions of civil society which characterizes liberal democratic capitalist societies. These institutions include education, the family , the church the mass media. Different authors like Foucault, Althuser and feminists have taken Gramsci’s idea of a prominent discourse, reinterpreting and proposing it as a suitable explanation about culture, the construction of our beliefs, identities, opinions and relations.
Raymond Williams after reading Gramsci’s theory deduced that the forms of domination and correspond much more closely the normal process of social organization and control  in developed societies than the idea of a ruling class, which are much more usually based on earlier and simpler historical phases. These suggests that the relationship between the powerful and the ruled is important. Thussu (2006) argues that cultural hegemony is neither monolithic nor unified, but is a complex of layered social structures, and each has a “mission” and an internal logic, allowing its members to behave in a particular way that is different from that of the members of the other social classes, yet, as in an army, each social class acknowledges the existence of the other social classes, and, because of their different social missions, they will be able to coalesce into a greater whole, a society, with a greater social mission. According to Fiske, societal mission is different from the specific missions of the individual classes, because it assumes and includes them to itself, the whole. Like-wise, does cultural hegemony work; although each person in a society meaningfully lives life in his and her social class, society’s discrete classes might appear to have little in common with the life of an individual person; yet, perceived as a whole, each person’s life contributes to the greater society’s hegemony.
According to Gramsci's view there are on the one hand the dominant classes who seek to contain and incorporate all thought and behaviour within the terms and limits they set in accordance with their interests. On the other hand there are the dominated or subordinate classes who attempt to maintain and to further the validity and effectiveness of their own definitions of reality. There is therefore a continuing struggle for dominance between the definitions of reality which serve the interests of the ruling classes and those which are held by other groups in society. Culture, according to this view, is seen as the product of a much more vigorous struggle than is suggested in, for example, Althusser’s view of ideology. Cultural domination arises from a complex play of negotiations, alignments and realignments within society:
…the fact of hegemony presupposes that account be taken of the interests                          and the tendencies of the groups over which hegemony is to be exercised                                  and that a certain compromise equilibrium should be formed
Domination is not simply imposed from above, but has to be won through the subordinated groups' spontaneous consent to the cultural domination which they believe will serve their interests because it is 'common sense'. In this sense,
Culture for Gramsci is an amalgam of coercive and                                                   consensual mechanisms for reconciling human subjects to their                                 unwelcome fate as labouring animals in oppressive conditions
This is exemplified by politics. When a politician wants to win he proposes a campaigning strategy that will make the voters think that their concerns will be met. Thus there is negotiation with the lower class.
As argued earlier on hegemony is when the dominant group makes their ideas common sense. Fiske (1992: 291)   noted that, “Common sense is not something rigid and immobile, but is continually transforming itself”. As Fiske puts it, “Consent must be constantly won and rewon, for people's material social experience constantly reminds them of the disadvantages of subordination and thus poses a threat to the dominant class... Hegemony... posits a constant contradiction between ideology and the social experience of the subordinate that makes this interface into an inevitable site of ideological struggle”. In lay man’s terms the social position of the subordinate group always reminds them of their exploited position such that the balance of hegemony is threatened and hence need to be reinforced by re-winning it.

Critics of the theory argue that the theory has flaws. Strinatti argues that the main problem with Gramsci’s ideas is the same with the Frankfurt school in the Marxist background. A class based analysis is always reductionist and tends to simplify the relation the people and their own culture. The deterministic framework does not allow history to contradict the theory and the interpretation of reality becomes rather elementary. Raymond Williams understands that culture is not only a vehicle of domination, he finds preferable a definition of culture as a language of co-operative shaping of a common contribution. He also states that Gramsci proposed the concept of hegemony as a uniform static for abstract structure.
David Harns also mentioned that Gramsci’s ideas about the role of intellectuals in society are rather elitist and all the theory is too political and partisan to be credible. He adds later that another problem is the lack of empiricism or something directly related to with the people and their behavior. This is to say that people are not given what really suits them and their everyday encounter but are given something they wish for. This is true as suggested by television that represents reality that is more cushioning to the everyday troubles of life such that audiences tend to want the life they see on television which is being advanced by the ruling class and can only be gained after hard work.
In conclusion we can see that hegemony is a theory that still exists in our life as the elite of our societies use them to advocate for their views. Hegemony according to Gramsci was a way that the ruling class spread their ideas to the subordinate class such that their ideas carry the day and are the ones that make more sense and in line with ethical livelihood thereby binding the society to oneness. Thus hegemony is naturally the unseen force that binds society together.

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