Gramsci and hegemony (new/neo-Marxists)

Gramsci is a humanist Marxist. Humourless Marxists relate more to action theories as they believe the study of society should focus on the effect capitalism has on individuals. For example, how alienation is caused on the proletariat due to mindless production.

Gramsci focuses on how society is centred around ideas and the ability to control these ideas. He argues that the ruling class maintain dominance in society in two ways. The first is through coercion. This is stuff like the army, police or cruel justice system. A good example would be how China has made it illegal for the media to promote ante socialist ideas and how they are forcefully prohibiting religion. Fortunately, the number of laws to protect the rights of the media and people’s right to express religion makes this difficult to implement in the West. Therefore, Gramsci argues that the ruling class have to use consent or hegemony to control the product area. Now, hegemony is a set of ideas and values that are used to persuade the subordinate classes that the ruling class dominance is legitimate. The ruling class are able to spread this hegemony because they control institutions such as the media, education and religion. For example, some Marxists argue that the structure of the education system creates a submissive workforce. Teachers are dominant and have the right to control their students’ fashion, language and time. This conditions children for the world of work where bosses control their behaviour.

However, Gramsci’s optimistic that there is still hope for a revolution because the ruling class hegemony is incomplete for two reasons.

  1. The ruling class are minority. In order for the hegemony to be successful the ruling class need to gain support from the other classes – the middle-class. However in order to get their support, the ruling class are going to have to compromise on the hegemony.
  2. The proletariat have what Gramsci calls a dual consciousness. The proletariat are not only influenced by ruling class ideas, they have their own. The proletariat see things that the ruling class don’t, like poverty and unemployment and exploitation. This means they are not blinded by the ruling class who attempt to present their ideas as the best way to run society for everyone.

This means that there is always the possibility of the ruling class hegemony being undermined, particularly in an economic crisis whether negative effects of capitalism are more prevalent. However, Gramsci does argue that the only way for revolution to take place is for the proletariat to produce organic intellectuals – people that have seen beyond the hegemony – to bring the masses out of their false class consciousness by creating a counter hegemonic bloc (an opposing set of ideas that benefit everyone).


  • Structural Marxists it is Gramsci of placing too much emphasis on ideas rather than state coercion and economic factors
  • Other Marxists such have adopted Gramsci’s approach and stress the role of ideas and consciousness as the basis for resisting domination and changing society. Willis found that working class boys were beginning to see through the ruling class hegemony in education by recognising meritocracy is a myth

Theories of Late Modernity

Late modernists completely disagree with postmodernists. They don’t believe society has entered a postmodern era but argue that the rapid changes in society are evidence of the features of modernity becoming intensified. We are still in modernity but have entered its late phase. Therefore, modernist theories are still useful for understanding society. Late Modernists also take the belief of the Enlightenment Project and argue objective knowledge can be discovered to improve society.

Giddens: disembedding & reflexivity

A defining characteristic of late modernity is rapid social change and Giddens argues this is the result of two factors – disembedding and reflexivity.

Disembedding refers to our ability to interact with one another without having to make face-to-face contact. This is thanks to the  beauty of  the internet. With Facebook & Skype we can break down geographical barriers and connect with people all around  the world.

Giddens also believes we are in a time where our behaviour  is no longer defined by tradition values. Think of the common date. Back in the good ol’ days, a man would open the door for a lady, pull out her chair at the dinner table, always pay the full bill at a restuarant and never go for a kiss on the first date. Now, we are no longer defined  by tradition which means we have to be reflexive. Does she look like the type that wants doors opened for her? If I insist on paying the bill, will she assume that I think she can’t afford it? She was touching my hand a lot at dinner, should I go for the kiss? We are constantly re-evaluating our ideas and actions as new information is provided – nothing is permanent.

The combination of the two has contributed to globalisation.

Modernity and risk

Giddens also argues that in society we face a number of high consequence risks – major threats. Like the threat of nuclear war, economic crashes or environmental risks like global warming. However, he believes – unlike postmodernists – that we can make rational plans to reduce these risks and achieve a better society.

Beck: risk society

Like Giddens, Beck believes that late modern society has become a “risk society” where we are threatened by manufactured risks. He also extends reflexivity and argues that we constantly take into account the risks attached to our actions – reflexive modernisation – and do our best to minimalise them – risk consciousness. Unfortunately, most knowledge of risks is given by the media which often give a distorted view of risks.

Risk, politics & progress

Beck argues that we do have the ability to better society  because we can rationally evaluate risks and take political action to reduce them. E.g environmentalists that challenge industrial development.

Evaluation of theories of late modernity

  • Reflexivity suggests we can all re-shape our lives, but a poor person living in a heavily polluted area may not be able to afford to move elsewhere.
  • Rustin critiques Beck and argues that capitalism with its love of profits that is the greatest risk.
  • Hirst argues political movements like environmentalism cannot bring about significant change as they are too fragmented to challenge capitalism.

Evaluation of labelling

  • Emphasis on negative effects of labelling gives criminals a victim status. Realists see this is ignoring the real victims of crime
  • Ignores that individuals may actively choose deviance
  • Why do people commit crimes prior to labels?
  • It implies no labels = no deviance. The people who commit crimes but are not labelled on deviant? People are unaware they are deviant until labelled?
  • It fails to examine links between labelling and capitalism, so focuses on middle range officials such as police who apply labels rather than the capitalist class that make the rules.