Cultural Hegemony Revisited & Transferred

Seminararbeit, 2013

12 Seiten


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Cultural Hegemony: Revisited
2.1 The theory of Cultural Hegemony according to Gramsci
2.2 Cultural Hegemony and mass media

3 Cultural Hegemony: Transferred
3.1 Elements of the theory to be transferred
3.2 Disambiguation: Social Media
3.3 Cultural Hegemony in Social Media?

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography

1 Introduction

No other medium is growing as fast as the Internet and the Social Web. According to Mende, Oehmichen and Schröter (2013), the number of users of the Internet and Web 2.0 applications in Germany literally exploded in the past fifteen years - a growth that is unique in the history of media development. While in 1997 only 7% of the German population used the Internet at least occasionally, we are now able to record 76% onliners in all age groups, and even 99% onliners in the youngest age group (14-29 years of age) (p. 35). When it comes to social networking sites - as an example for Social Web applications - Mende et al. report a rapid development. In 2007, merely 7% of online users said they were present in social networks, only five years later, however, there were 37% of onliners that used social networking sites. In the young age group, over three quarters (76%) of the online users are actively involved in social networks (p. 44), demonstrating that these applications will be of great significance as well in the future. These figures underline the immense expansion of the Social Web and its increasing importance, not only for the users, but also for researchers. So if social media are among, if not the most important mass medium of our time - why not apply classical theories that helped to examine the conventional mass media such as newspapers, radio and TV to the new media?

This paper aims to revisit the theory of cultural hegemony and its link to mass media and later on transfer it from this classical frame to a whole new type of media - the social media. Central questions will be: Is the phenomenon of cultural hegemony to be found in the context of social media? Which aspects of the theory can be properly transferred to the new media?

2 Cultural Hegemony: Revisited

The term “hegemony“ originally derived fom the Greek word h ē gemon í a which means “leadership” or “rule”. The Italian writer and philosopher Antonio Gramsci molded the term “hegemony” in the sociological sense, which leads us to the term “cultural hegemony”.

2.1 The theory of Cultural Hegemony according to Gramsci

Initially, the question of hegemony emerged from a historical analysis of the rise of the bourgeoisie to being the ruling class in the 19th century. Gramsci was in this context interested in the relation between leading and ruling in a political context. One of the classes in a society is “leading“ towards like-minded classes and “ruling“ towards opposed classes. So before one class can reach political power, it has to be the leading class, this means in possession of the political hegemony; this is necessary to become the ruling class (Duncombe, “Cultural Hegemony”; Langemeyer 2009: 74).

These observations can easily be transferred from the level of politics to the field of culture: according to Gramsci, the state comprises the political society (societ à politica) and the civil society (societ à civile). The civil society equals the public sphere and consists of a number of sub-sections or institutions like church, science, education system, family, trade unions, and, of course, media. These sub-sectors are described as “hegemonic instruments“, because within their sphere, the struggle for cultural hegemony takes place. Here, the ruling class tries to implement their leadership onto the other social classes. And keeping the leadership of the ruling class stable is only possible when firmly establishing this leadership in the culture of a society (Langemeyer 2009: 75). But what is culture?

As Stephen Duncombe puts it, “culture, in this sense, is what guides our ideas of right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, just and unjust, possible and impossible; this means our whole way of life, of thinking and feeling.” (Duncombe, “Cultural Hegemony”). Culture therefore describes our view of the world, our ideas of what is “normal” and of how we should act and interact in society. Consequently, the concept of cultural hegemony means to firmly establish the ruling class’ ideas in people’s minds by representing them as right and normal. Like that, those ideas turn into culture, they become the consensus the society is based on. Within a social class, the intellectuals are responsible for creating these rules or patterns of behaviour and to communicate them to the masses, the so-called „subordinate classes“. Intellectuals does not necessarily have to mean educated people, but those how are in charge of an organizing function within their group. They could be described as “leading personalities“ (Langemeyer 2009: 75).

When the ideas and rules are successfully spread (over mass media or other hegemonic instruments) they become social norms. In this way, the ruling of the leading class is legitimized and secured. Cultural hegemony therefore describes a power relationship, in which the power is based on the broad approval of the ruled ones, because, according to Gramsci, ruling only on the base of violence is not possible. It has to be supported - consciously or unconsciously - by the subordinate masses (Langemeyer 2009: 75; Pirker 2010: 153).

To put it in a nutshell, cultural hegemony is a process of domination, in which one set of values and ideas undermines others, this means the interests of one group are supported over those of others (Littlejohn & Foss 2005: 292f.). In consequence, one class exerts leadership over all others.

2.2 Cultural Hegemony and mass media

Media are instruments employed by the dominant parts of society to spread their set of ideas and values “and by representing the interests of those already in power, media subvert the interests of marginalized groups.” (Littlejohn & Foss 2005: 295). So to say, mass media help to exert cultural hegemony in the society by imposing particular ideas upon the consciousness of the population they would not normally give thought to. Nevertheless, the new ideas are adopted, because “they are so commonly shared in the cultural community” (Nordenstreng 1977: 276). The values and beliefs conveyed by mass media become taken- for-granted, unchallenged social practices, part of the common sense (Pirker 2010: 153). Because of the important role communication technology plays in our everyday life and its complete integration, the considerable influence of mass media is very rarely detected or criticized. Therefore, hegemony is not discovered, at least not by the broad masses.

Duncombe illustrates it like this:

The power of cultural hegemony lies in its invisibility. Unlike a soldier with a gun or a political system backed up by a written constitution, culture resides within us. It doesn’t seem ‘political,’ it’s just what we like, or what we think is beautiful, or what feels comfortable. Wrapped in stories and images and figures of speech, culture is a politics that doesn’t look like politics and is therefore a lot harder to notice, much less resist. When a culture becomes hegemonic, it becomes ‘common sense’ for the majority of the population (Duncombe, “Cultural Hegemony”).

3 Cultural Hegemony: Transferred

3.1 Elements of the theory to be transferred

To be able to transfer the theory of cultural hegemony from the classical mass media to the new social media, we have to be aware of what to transfer exactly. Which are the elements that constitute the concept of cultural hegemony and are they to be found in the context of social media as well?


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Cultural Hegemony Revisited & Transferred
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ISBN (Buch)
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Cultural Hegemony, Antonio Gramsci, Social Media, Social Web, soziale Medien, ruling class, herrschende Klasse, Marxismus, Marxism, hegemony, Hegemonie, kulturelle Hegemonie, Herrschaftsbegriff, Marxist philosophy
Arbeit zitieren
B. A. Helene Hofmann (Autor:in), 2013, Cultural Hegemony Revisited & Transferred, München, GRIN Verlag,


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