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Antonio Gramsci, 1891–1937

Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another, i.e. the ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm; they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only really benefiting the ruling class.


Cultural Hegemony: Gramsci’s theory

For Karl Marx, a capitalist society’s economic recessions and practical contradictions would provoke the working class to revolution in deposing capitalism — and then to restructuring the existing institutions (economic, political, social) per rational, socialist models; thus, beginning the transition to a communist society. In Marxist terms, the society’s dialectically-changing economy determines its cultural and political superstructures, i.e. its social and economic classes. Despite Marx and Friedrich Engels having predicted said eschatological scenario in 1848, decades later, the workers — the economic core of an industrialised society — had yet to effect it.

To understand this, Gramsci posits a strategic distinction, between a War of Position and a War of Manoeuvre. The war of position is intellectual, a culture war in which the anti-capitalist politicians (communist leaders sponsors, socialist scholars, and ideological subversives) seek to have the dominant voice in the mass media, other mass organisations, and the schools (and actively conduct ideological subversion). Once achieved, this position will be used to increase class consciousness, teach revolutionary theory and analysis, and to inspire revolutionary organisation (demoralization). On winning the intellectual war of position, communist leaders would then have the necessary political power and popular support to begin the war of manoeuvre — the armed insurrection against capitalism.

Although cultural domination was first analysed in economic class terms, it is broadly applicable to social class. Gramsci suggested that prevailing cultural norms must not be perceived as either “natural” and “inevitable”, but, that said cultural norms (institutions, practices, beliefs) must be investigated for their roots in societal domination and their implications for societal liberation.

Cultural hegemony is neither monolithic nor unified, rather it is a complex of layered social structures (classes). Each has a “mission” (purpose) 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, while also coexisting with these other classes. Because of their different social missions, the classes will be able to coalesce into a greater whole, a society, with a greater social mission. This greater, societal mission is different from the specific missions of the individual classes, because it assumes and includes them to itself, the whole.

Likewise, does cultural hegemony work; although each person in a society meaningfully lives life in his or her social class, society’s discrete classes might appear to have little in common with the life of an individual person. However, perceived as a whole, each person’s life contributes to the greater society’s hegemony. Diversity, variation, and freedom will apparently exist, since most people “see” many different life circumstances; but they are incapable of perceiving the greater hegemonic pattern created when the lives they themselves witness coalesce into a “society”. Through the existence of minor, different circumstances, a greater, layered hegemony is maintained, not fully recognized by most of the people living in it.[1]

In a layered cultural hegemony, personal "common sense" maintains a dual structural role. Each individual utilizes this "common sense" to cope with their daily life and explain to themselves the small segment of the social order they come to witness in the course of this life. However, because it is by nature limited in focus, common sense also inhibits the ability to perceive the greater, systemic nature of socio-economic exploitation that cultural hegemony makes possible. People concentrate their attention upon their immediate concerns and problems in their personal lives, rather than upon the fundamental sources of their social and economic oppression. [2]

Gramsci’s intellectual influence

Although the concept of Cultural Hegemony has primarily been used by leftists, organized conservative social organizations (movements) also have used it in their politics. An example, in the US of the 1990s, were the efforts of evangelical Christian organizations to win election onto local school boards in order to have the power to dictate curricula aligned with their religious interpretation of what constitutes a proper public education. To wit, in 1992, at the Republican Convention, the rightist politician Patrick Buchanan addressed the conventioneers using the term Culture War in describing his perception of US politics, as being the socio-political struggle between conservatism and liberalism.

As a theory, Cultural Hegemony has deeply influenced Eurocommunism, the social sciences, and activist politics. In the social sciences, its theoretic application in examining major discourses (e.g. those posited by Michel Foucault) is an important aspect of anthropology, political science, sociology, and cultural studies; moreover, in education the concepts of cultural hegemony led to the development of critical pedagogy and the technique of communist ideological subversion of Western democracies.

Contemporary political analysis: cultural hegemony’s influence

In political analysis, cultural hegemony is a much-applied analytic model. For example, an analysis of US political power from 1932 to 2006 addresses the dynamics of class struggle and cultural hegemony, documenting that the 1930s increase in trade union membership helped create the Democratic Party’s wide, popular base of political support. This situation was maintained until 1980, when the Republican Party successfully learned to appeal to the working class by means of the Southern Strategy, first articulated in the late 1960s during the electoral campaigns of Richard M. Nixon.

See also


  1. ^ Gramsci, Antonio (1992). Joseph A. Buttigieg. ed. Prison notebooks. New York City: Columbia University Press. pp. 233–238. ISBN 0-231-10592-4. OCLC 24009547.  
  2. ^ Hall, Stuart (1986). "The Problem of Ideology – Marxism without Guarantees". Journal of Communication Inquiry 10 (2): 28–44. doi:10.1177/019685998601000203.  

External links


  • Flank, Lenny (2007). Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony: Marxism, Capitalism, and Their Relation to Sexism, Racism, Nationalism, and Authoritarianism. St. Petersburg, Florida: Red and Black Publishers. ISBN 978-0-9791813-7-5. OCLC 191763227.  
  • Beech, Dave; Andy Hewitt and Mel Jordan (2007). The Freee Art Collective Manifesto for a Counter-Hegemonic Art. England: Freee Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9554748-0-4. OCLC 269432294.  


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