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Related: culture war - domination - power - Antonio Gramsci - culture

Cultural hegemony

Cultural hegemony is the concept that a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by one group or class, that everyday practices and shared beliefs provide the foundation for complex systems of domination.

The analysis of hegemony (or "rule") was formulated by Antonio Gramsci to explain why predicted communist revolutions had not occurred where they were most expected, in industrialized Europe. Marx and his followers had advanced the theory that the rise of industrial capitalism would create a huge working class and cyclical economic recessions. These recessions and other contradictions of capitalism would lead the overwhelming masses of people, the workers, to develop organizations for self-defense, including labor unions and political parties. Further recessions and contradictions would then spark the working class to overthrow capitalism in a revolution, restructure the economic, political, and social institutions on rational socialist models, and begin the transition towards an eventual communist society. In Marxian terms, the dialectically changing economic base of society would determine the cultural and political superstructure. Although Marx and Engels had famously predicted this eschatological scenario in 1848, many decades later the workers of the industrialized core still had not carried out the mission.

Gramsci argued that the failure of the workers to make anti-capitalist revolution was due to the successful capture of the workers' ideology, self-understanding, and organizations by the hegemonic (ruling) culture. In other words, the perspective of the ruling class had been absorbed by the masses of workers. In "advanced" industrial societies hegemonic cultural innovations such as compulsory schooling, mass media, and popular culture had indoctrinated workers to a false consciousness. Instead of working towards a revolution that would truly serve their collective needs (according to Marxists), workers in "advanced" societies were listening to the rhetoric of nationalist leaders, seeking consumer opportunities and middle-class status, embracing an individualist ethos of success through competition, and/or accepting the guidance of bourgeois religious leaders.

Gramsci therefore argued for a strategic distinction between a "war of position" and a "war of movement". The war of position is a culture war in which anti-capitalist elements seek to gain a dominant voice in mass media, mass organizations, and educational institutions to heighten class consciousness, teach revolutionary analysis and theory, and inspire revolutionary organization. This is the attempt, in the words of Bob Marley, to "Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds." Following the success of the war of position, communist leaders would be empowered to begin the war of movement, the actual insurrection against capitalism, with mass support.

Although the analysis of cultural domination was first advanced in terms of economic classes, it can be applied more broadly. Gramsci's analysis suggested that prevailing cultural norms should not be viewed as "natural" or "inevitable". Rather, cultural norms - including institutions, practices, beliefs - should be investigated for their roots in domination and their implications for liberation.

For instance, one could note the support offered by scientists, educators, politicians, and journalists to the project of eliminating and/or assimilating Native Americans in the United States, to continuing the subjugation of all women, or maintaining the super-exploitation and subordinate status of African-Americans.

Although leftists may have been the primary users of this conceptual tool, the activities of organized conservative movements also draw upon the concept. This was seen, for instance, in evangelical Christian efforts to capture local school boards in the U.S. during the 1990s, and thus be able to dictate curriculum. Patrick Buchanan, in a widely discussed speech to the 1992 Republican Convention, used the term "culture war" to describe political and social struggle in the United States.

Theory about hegemonic culture has profoundly influenced Eurocommunism, the social sciences, and activist strategies. In social science the application of the concept of hegemony in the examination of major discourses (as by Michel Foucault) has become an important aspect of sociology, political science, anthropology, and other cultural studies. In education the concept has led to the development of critical pedagogy. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_hegemony [Mar 2006]

Social control

Social control refers to social mechanisms that regulate individual and group behaviour, in terms of greater sanctions and rewards. It may also designate the processes of informal social control such as custom and formal social control such as law of deviant behavior which falls beyond the bounds set by social norms. Social control is present in all societies, if only in the control mechanisms used to prevent its establishment in anarchic situations.

Formal social control is expressed through law as statutes, rules, and regulation. It is conducted by government and organizations using law enforcement mechanisms and other formal sanctions such as fines and imprisonment. Informal social control is exercised by a society without explicitly stating these rules and is expressed through custom, norms, and mores using informal sanctions such as criticism, disapproval, guilt and shaming. This implied social control usually has more control over individual minds because they become ingrained in their personality.

Traditional society uses mostly informal social control embedded in its customary culture relying on socialization of its members to establish social order. As society becomes more complex more and more reliance must be placed on formal mechanisms.

In democratic societies the goals and mechanisms of social control are determined through legislation by elected representatives and thus enjoy a measure of support from the population and voluntary compliance.

According to the Propaganda model, the leaders of modern corporate dominated societies employ indoctrination as a means of social control. The marketing, advertising, and "public relations" industries utilize mass communications to aid the interests of the business elite. Powerful economic and religious leaders use the school system and centralised electronic communications to carefully craft public opinion. Democracy is restricted since the majority is not given the information necessary to make rational decisions about ethical, social, or economic issues. Given a more diverse or accurate representation of the world, members of society would hold vastly different and probably more personally beneficial opinions. The main example of a propaganda society is the United States. However, many communities in America appear largely free from the influence of propaganda, and members of other modern states are often more thoroughly entrenched in the ideology given by dominent interests.

Authoritarian organizations and governments in order to maintain control and regulate their subjects promulate rules and issue decrees but because of lack of popular support for enforcement must rely more on force and other severe sanctions such as censorship, expulsion and other limits on freedom. In extreme cases totalitarian governments such as those of the late Soviet Union or currently North Korea rely on the mechanisms of the police state.

Sociologists consider informal means of social control vital in maintaining public order, but recognize the necessity of formal means as societies become more complex and for responding to emergencies. The study of social control falls within the academic disciplines of anthropology, economics, history, law, political science, psychology, sociology, and theology. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_control [Apr 2005]

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