Institute of Para-Enactment Research
Softcore Historicism and Embodied Heritage


Cultural Hegemony

The term "cultural hegemoy" was coinned by italian anarchist Antonio Gramsci to define the dominance of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class through the control of culture —the beliefs and explanations, perceptions, values, and mores—so that the worldview of the ruling class becomes the accepted cultural norm. Cultural Hegemony is different from a broader sennse of political or military hegemony (the term hegemoy derives from ancient greek hegem), because it allows the ruling class to exercise authority through soft power, using the "peaceful" means of ideology and culture.

The following text by Dominic Mastroianni defines in more detail the relationship between cultural hegemony and the influence of ruling classes:

"For Gramsci, hegemony was a form of control exercised primarily through a society’s superstructure, as opposed to its base or social relations of production of a predominately economic character. In Marxism and Literature, Raymond Williams identifies three ways in which “superstructure” is used in the work of Karl Marx, including: (a) legal and political forms which express existing real relations of production; (b) forms of consciousness which express a particular class view of the world; (c) a process in which, over a whole range of activities, men [sic] become conscious of a fundamental economic conflict and fight it out.These three senses would direct our attention, respectively, to (a) institutions; (b) forms of consciousness; (c) political and cultural practices” (77). (See also Colonial Education, Cricket, Anglophilia.) For purposes of analysis, Gramsci splits superstructure into “two major . . . ‘levels’: the one that can be called ‘civil society,’ that is the ensemble of organisms commonly called ‘private,’ and that of ‘political society,’ or ‘the State.’” Civil society includes organizations such as churches, trade unions, and schools, which as Gramsci notes are typically thought of as private or non-political. A major piece of Gramsci’s project is to show that civil society’s ways of establishing and organizing human relationships and consciousness are deeply political, and should in fact be considered integral to class domination (and to the possibility of overcoming it), particularly in Western Europe. According to Gramsci, civil society corresponds to hegemony, while political society or “State” — in what Gramsci will call the “narrow sense” (SPN 264) — corresponds to “‘direct domination’ or command” (SPN 12) (see Gender and Nation). Gramsci further delineates these two relatively distinct forms of control, as follows: “Social hegemony” names the “‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group [i.e. the ruling class –- in Gramsci’s Western Europe, the bourgeoisie]; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production.” “Political government” names the “apparatus of state coercive power which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed” (SPN 12).Although they are useful for understanding different modes or aspects of social control, Gramsci does not retain “social hegemony” and “political government” as purely distinct categories, but rather brings them together under the “integral State.”

︎︎︎Mastroianni, Dominic , TERMS & ISSUES, https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/, 2002

︎︎︎ Berlin, 2022

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