Word Of The Month: Hegemony

The ruling ideas of any age are the ideas of the ruling class.
Karl Marx

imageHegemony comes from the Greek word hegemonía meaning leadership and rule. The term “Hegemony” came from the writings of Karl Marx and was conceptualised by Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) a Marxist social philosopher. He theorised that one social class can manipulate the system of values and practices of a society, in order to create and establish a ruling-class worldview that justifies the status quo of their domination of the other social classes of the society. Simply put, a hegemony is a system where one ruling social group or state rearranges a system to suit its position.

We see it in action everyday! When General Colin Powell was asked about the number of Iraqi people who were slaughtered by Americans in the 1991 “Desert Storm” terror campaign, he said, “It’s really not a number I’m terribly interested in.”- General Colin Powell [The answer if you are curious was 200,000 people!)] Unfortunately we participate in this kind of hegemony without recognising it.

image Scholars recognize five dimensions of hegemony: Military , Economic , Political, Institutional , Ideological. When certain ways of functioning are set up as gold standard and all others are judged by it. Sexuality (heterosexual and married good, homosexual not good), motherhood (stay at home good, crèche bad. Abortion very bad), religion (state religion follower good, others not good, atheists not even recognised as an option in many countries). Participation in economic structures good, unorganised, non-economic work not worth any benefits (domestic labour, household farming etc.

Culturally, hegemony also is established by means of the language of the hegemon which then is the official source of information for the people of the society of the sub-ordinate state. In contemporary society, the exemplar hegemonic organisations are churches and the mass communications media that continually transmit data and information to the public.

“It’s being made out that the whole point of the war was to topple the Taliban regime and liberate Afghan women from their burqas, we are being asked to believe that the U.S. marines are actually on a feminist mission.”

Arundhati Roy, Come September

It is important to recognize that hegemony can contain both coercion and consent. It combines both the “hard” power of military and economic empire with the “soft” power of democratic ideas and global institutions.

Countering the hegemony:

Counter-hegemonic groups encourage people to share their view against hegemony through the use of persuasion and/or propaganda whilst raising awareness. One view describes the possibility that once the Counter-Hegemonic group has gained enough support and consensus against the current powers, they would then attempt to overthrow them, whether through violence or democracy.

imageBecause the hegemon is the power that benefits most from the existing world system, the hegemon has the greatest stake in keeping that system functioning. The military power of the hegemon keeps the peace, the economy of the hegemon is the engine that drives international economic growth and development.  In order to preserve its network of alliances, the hegemon is the political broker who moderates disputes between other powers. The hegemon is often the source and usually a propagator of ideas about world order and security.  For example, current concepts of “globalization” are shaped largely by American intellectuals.

Seen from the perspective of the ‘other’, the hegemon uses its military power to impose its will around the world, raising the level of violence and the economy of the hegemon exploits the less developed economies.

imageMedia Hegemony can be defined as the creation of false consciousness which makes people unaware of existing domination and the presence of consent which makes people allow this dominating structure to empower them as long as they get something in return. But media can be used to critique such hegemony too. Here’s a blog with some good media criticism. In Uganda, Twitter and Facebook are challenging the hegemony of the Western media.

As this blogger says “ Over time, we become what we do. The longer we accommodate injustice, the better we become at accommodation. This allows those closest to the hegemon to dictate the terms of our resistance in relations contained within concentric circles spreading away from the center of power.”

But this month join us in identifying hegemons, smashing stereotypes and questioning everything around us!

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About Suchitra Dalvie

Suchitra Dalvie is the Coordinator for the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership and a Steering Committee Member for CommonHealth. She is a strong believer in women's rights to safe abortion and has worked in promoting the cause for over 10 years. She is also a practicing Gynecologist.
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