What is hegemony? And how do I challenge it? . In this assignment I will firstly give a definition of hegemony, secondly illustrate some examples of hegemonic processes and thirdly write about my experiences as a Community, Play and Youth worker on how I identify and challenge these hegemonic processes.
What is hegemony?
This is the term used by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci whose theory of hegemony is born from the basic idea that governments and states cannot enforce control over any particular class or structure unless other, more intellectual methods are used. The reason and motive behind the concept has been described to be the way society is structured and exists on a power and class base. Hegemony has been defined by R. Simon (1991 pg 24) as the way in which:
‘…. A class and its representatives exercise power over subordinate classes by means of a combination of coercion and persuasion…. It is a relation, not of domination by means of force but of consent by means of political and ideological leadership. A organisation of consent’
Therefore, I see hegemony as a social force that cannot be seen but is hidden and fragmented into the social system e.g. in culture, in politics, in education and welfare.
The power of the ruling class is maintained not necessarily through brute force, but by consent of the people who are persuaded into believing that the ideology or the philosophies of the ruling class are fixed and natural. A ruling class forms and maintains its hegemony in civil society, by creating cultural and political parties, schools, media, the church and other voluntary associations where hegemony is exercised by ruling class over other classes and social groups
Elite intellectual people in today’s society hold the power of the ruling class. ” Powerful groups are able to control the dominant ideas circulating in a society so as to justify their own positions ” Giddens (2001 pg 464)
In this way the ruling class who are in control and who have the ability to socially dominate other social groups can influence people by imposing their worldview and ideologies on the masses.
The socializing institutions such as schools, universities, the media, and the family all play major roles in assisting the ruling class to secure the consent of the inferior classes. For example living in a patriarchal system of society the traditional ideas of the family re-enforce the idea that the mans role is important and they are the ones who should go out and work and the women’s role is to stay at home and do all the domestic work and look after the children. These ideas to the population are easily accepted and seem to be common knowledge amongst people. This then passes hegemony on to us through tradition and culture.
In my own family, some of my relatives always tell the girls to do the house chores and the boys get away with doing nothing. The parents believe that the boys do not need to do domestic chores because it is the girl’s nature to do them. They feel that when the boys get married they will be the breadwinners and their wife’s will do the domesticated chores. The example I have given demonstrates the power of hegemony that is fragmented into family life.
Examples of Hegemonic processes in my work
Hegemony has been around for years all over the world; in Britain the oppression ethnic minorities faced are originated from hegemony. Britain because of its long tradition of accommodating immigrants and refugees is now a multiracial commonwealth. Members of the ethnic minority groups, in particular black and Asian experience a number of social disadvantages to greater extent than other groups.
Children in these groups are more likely to need special help in education for the exception of groups like the Chinese. Unemployment especially in young people is higher among the ethnic minority communities than among the population at large. These difficulties have been compounded by unfamiliarity with British society and especially among Asian groups by differences in languages and culture (Poulter 1990 pg 111). In addition to social disadvantages there are also the effects of racial discrimination in certain areas of life, which is also a cause for Islamaphobia.
The first example of hegemonic processes I will talk about is at school, from a Asian mans point of view I think that that the school curriculum is set more around white British culture but does not take into account enough of the culture of minority ethnic people who are also British but have different histories and cultures. If only one culture is publicly recognised and internalised then other cultures will be seen as least important. It makes minority groups feel that they are put in the category of second class citizens, that they are not respected and do not belong here. These groups feel de valued and self-conscious and that there identity and beliefs are of no significance to the wider society. Therefore these minority ethnic groups feel oppressed.
In my placement at school it is possible to see how the hegemonic process works with young Asian students. I work as a mentor and I particularly work with Asian students who are referred to me for some support. In one mentoring session a student who has problems around truancy and attendance was asked why he does not like attending school.
The student said he did not want to learn and was not bothered about education, when asked why he did not want to learn he replied that there is no point learning because at the end of the day Muslim/Asain people do not get good jobs. It seems to me that the student has conformed to the negative stereotyping that is associated with Muslim minority groups of people. I’ve talked to a few Muslim students who feel that even if they have the qualifications, it does not necessarily mean that they will get a good job.
Now the question to ask is where does this negative stereotype come from? And why do Muslim people feel oppressed? The answer to that is that the media plays a pivotal role in changing the way society thinks. The media has a role in changing people’s opinions and is the base for communication between groups of people. For example when we see the news and programmes on the television they often form the basis of our conversations at work and in the family. Individuals express issues such as terrorism and immigration verbally and these expressions are often negative opinions.
Views from the media affect our own views and therefore people often share the same views. The media has a mass audience and it can be argued that the media has an effect in shaping and changing people’s views on a massive scale. The role of the media has to be taken into account within the context of the theory of hegemony. Due to of the value of the media and the public-imposed powers it yields, Communication from the government and between the inside classes is now controlled by the media and any text consumed by the state has to be considered to be potentially open to the practice of manipulation and therefore the process of hegemony. http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/contributions/gramsci.html
( Accessed 12/06/07 at 6.10pm)
The second example I will be discussing is Global hegemony and it affects which leads to Islamaphobia. Islamaphobia, the term refers to unfounded hostility towards Islam. It refers to the consequences of hostility, to the unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, which lead to the exclusion of Muslims from, mainstream political and social affairs.
This discrimination is caused because the view of Islam is a one sided and closed view. I am a British Muslim who was born in England and I am the first generation of Muslims to be born in Britain, I have seen and heard of most of the issues that are being faced by Muslims in society today locally, nationally and globally. Since September the 11th the Muslim community have been labelled as terrorists and Islam has been called an evil religion.
This is due to the lack of knowledge of Islam by non-Muslims and by the media that mainly fuels hatred and misinterpretations of Islam. Muslims are going through very unstable times, this is because of the ongoing stability in the middle east, the continuing effects of September 11th, war in Iraq and increasing levels of racism directed against Muslims. There has been a series of racist attacks on communities in recent years including Muslim businesses being attacked, mosques vandalised, refugees and asylum seekers being harassed and young people from these communities suffering racist abuse (www.theasiannews.co.uk) Accessed 19/06/07 at 1.35pm.
How do I challenge these hegemonic processes
My role as a Youth worker has an advantage in terms of working informally and being able to use a number of approaches and different styles of learning when working alongside young people. The present and future generation of non-Muslim young people are growing up bombarded with lots of images and news coverage about so called Islamic jihadists terrorists plotting to destroy the western world.
These young people are manipulated into believing that Muslims are evil and mad. I once asked six students what is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention Islam and all six said 0sama Bin Laden and terrorists. You can not blame them for thinking like that it is the powerful men who have a hidden agenda.
Lets look at Gramsci’s view on challenging hegemony. Firstly he says to develop alternative philosophy, ideology and intellectualism. I implement this first step in my job as a youth worker by challenging these stereotypical views of Muslims and by educating people about Islam. As a CPY practitioner workers have to be aware of the issues that are happening on a local, national and international level. People need to be aware of and educated on the Global issues that have an impact in society today. I have to make people aware of the multicultural society that we live in and of the different religions and cultures in Britain.
According to (Keith popple 1995 pg 24) community workers are in a position in the middle of the hegemonic process, where they do not always agree with certain ideologies that the ruling class express, these practitioners are in a better position to inform the community by encouraging individuals and groups to articulate their opposing to oppressive power. Community workers have the training to help people explain clearly and make connections between their position and the need for change.
Secondly Gramsci says to build bridges and alliances. In the last election I have been voting for George Galloway’s RESPECT party and the reason for this is because this is the only party that sticks up for what is right and addresses some of the issues on a national and international level. In looking at issues around Islamaphobia workers can try to involve the wider community including parents, religious and community groups to provide support for individuals who are racially abused and also to educate other people. Making contact with educative agencies that work with people to tackle racial misunderstandings is another way of teaching people about discrimination especially young people.
Thirdly Gramsci says to empower the populace: believe in themselves and. their cause. CPY workers can assist people by working with them against negative self-esteem especially the racially abused. And encourage them not to give up life just because they are different. When I work in school I try to enable the students to work on strengthening and building their self-esteem and personal development.
Students can gain understanding of themselves in reflection of me talking about my personal development as a Muslim Asian professional and this proves that it is not always true that Muslims cannot get good jobs. CPY workers may also be faced with the additional responsibility of helping individuals to deal with the emotional responses. CPY workers too may need assistance with coping with the emotional demands made on them.
In practise I can also help people to identify hegemonic processes by informing them by giving out information that they can access which can give them an awareness of what is going on in the society they live in. Giving people information and awareness of hegemonic processes can make people realise what is happening and it enables them to identify their position in society giving them power and focus to do better in life and help others.
In conclusion to the issues discussed in this assignment to help myself challenge hegemonic processes I have to be aware of the hegemonic processes that are happening. By being aware of these processes myself and learning the connections that sustain these ideologies gives renewed focus to help see my CPY values work in my every day life. This in turn gives me motivation, encouragement, and skills to help further shared learning and awareness in helping to change the world we live in.
1. SIMONS, R. 1991. Gramsci’s Political Thoughts: An Introduction. Published by Lawrence & Wishart. London.
2. GIDDENS, A. 2001. Sociology. Published by Blackwell Publishers. Oxford.
3. POULTER, S. 1990. Asian Traditions and English Law. Published by the Runnymede Trust with Trentham Books. London.
4. http://www.cultsock.ndirect.co.uk/MUHome/cshtml/contributions/gramsci.html Accessed 12/06/07 at 6.10pm
5. http://www.theasiannews.co.uk/heritage/s/223/223551_islamaphobia__the_new_face_of_racism.html Accessed 19/06/07 at 1.35pm
6. POPPLE, K. 1995. Analysing Community Work. Published by the Open University Press. Buckingham.
7. Course Handout. Gramsci’s Theory on Hegemony. 30/04/07.