Cultural Hegemony

Cultural hegemony refers to the domination or rule achieved through ideological and cultural means. The term refers to the ability of a group of people who have power over social institutions and thus, to strongly influence the values, norms, ideas, expectations, worldview and behavior of the rest of society.

Cultural hegemony works by obtaining the consent of the masses to respect social norms and the norms of the law by framing the worldview of the ruling class, and the social and economic structures that go with it, as just, legitimate and designed for the  benefit of all, although they can really only benefit the ruling class.

It is different from the rule by force, as in a military dictatorship, since it allows to achieve rule with ideology and culture.

Cultural hegemony according to Antonio Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of cultural hegemony based on Marx’s theory that the dominant ideology of society reflects the beliefs and interests of the ruling class. He argued that consent to the ruling group rule is achieved by the diffusion of ruling ideologies – a collection of worldviews, beliefs, assumptions, and values, through social institutions such as education, the media, family, religion, politics and law, among  others. Because the institutions of socialization work not in the norms, values, and beliefs of the dominant social group, if a group controls the institutions that maintain the social order, then that group of rules of all others in society.

Cultural hegemony manifests itself most strongly when those ruled by the dominant group come to believe that the economic and social conditions of society are natural and inevitable, rather than created by people with a particular interest in social,  economic, and political order.

Gramsci developed the concept of cultural hegemony in an effort to explain why the worker-led revolution that Marx predicted in the previous century had not come to pass. Central to Marx’s theory of capitalism was the belief that the destruction of the economic system was built on the system itself since capitalism was based on the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class.

Marx thought that workers could only have so much economic exploitation before they rise up and overthrow the ruling class. However, this revolution did not happen in a massive way.

The Cultural Power of Ideology

Gramsci realized that there was more to the domination of capitalism than the class structure and the exploitation of workers. Marx recognized the important role that ideology plays in the reproduction of the economic system and the social structure that supported it, but Gramsci believes that Marx had not credited the power of ideology. In an essay titled “The Intellectuals” written between 1929 and 1935, Gramsci wrote about the power of ideology to reproduce the social structure through institutions such as religion and education. He argued that the intellectuals of society, often viewed as separate observers of social life, are actually incorporated into a privileged social class and enjoy prestige in society. As such, they function as the “deputies” of the ruling class, teaching and encouraging people to follow the norms and rules established by the ruling class.

Importantly, this includes the belief that the economic system, the political system, and a class-stratified society are legitimate, and therefore the rule of the ruling class is legitimate.

In a basic sense, this process can be understood as students in school teach how to follow rules, obey authority figures, and behave according to expected standards. Gramsci elaborated on the role that the educational system plays in the process of achieving government by consent, or cultural hegemony, in his essay, “in education.”

Common sense political power

In “the study of philosophy” Gramsci discussed the role of “common sense” – dominant ideas about society and about our place in it, in the production of cultural hegemony. For example, the idea of ​​”pulling yourself up by the boot straps,” that one can succeed financially if one only tries hard enough, is a form of common sense that has flourished under capitalism, and that serves to justify the system. For, if you believe that all you need to succeed is hard work and dedication, then it follows that the system of capitalism and the social structure that is organized around it is just and valid.

It also follows that those who have been economically successful have earned their wealth fairly and equitably, and that those who are struggling economically, in turn, have earned their impoverished status. This form of common sense fosters the belief that social mobility and success are strictly the responsibility of the person and thereby obscuring the true class, racial, and gender inequalities that are built in the capitalist system .

In sum, cultural hegemony, or our unspoken agreement with the way things are, is the result of the socialization process, our experiences with social institutions, exposure to cultural images and narratives, and how norms surround and inform our day. he lives by day  .

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