Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan
Salman Akram Awan
Muhammad Anzar Mehman
Persuasion of knowledge and its logical expression/interpretation has had been associated with all the prominent scholars, philosophers, researchers and the last but not the least, critics in all the fields of humanity and sciences. It has been evolutionary process which unfolded many unexplained realities, relevancies, refutations in the existing paradigms.
Human life is a complicated multilayered phenomenon. Human interaction is even more multifaceted shared meaning. Its survival largely rest on its relations towards society, institutions and means of production. Its development heavily depends upon its connectivity with powerful elite or dominate group of the society which gives leverage, accessibility and strategic cushion in the times of crises.
Economic domination/determinism has had been one of the effective tools in the whole human civilization and especially in modern political arena. Fall and rise of many groups, societies and states have been directly connected with economic meltdown in human history. Disintegration of Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and to some extend East Pakistan is the prime examples in this regard.
Predominated role of ideology is also not deniable. It is still a cementing force among the groups, societies or even countries. Unfinished struggle between Israel and Palestine may be the best example. The armed struggle of Kurds against Turkey is another example which highlights the importance of ideology, class struggle and conflict. The ongoing sever unseen struggle of imperialism (USA) and nationalism (Iran) tells about the conspiratorial siege of dominated group (at international level) having socio-economic superiority by controlling means of production and financial system and legitimating it through the use of international media (print & electronic).
Three famous philosophers/ thinkers namely Karl Marx, Althusser and Gramsci theories and salient features on different concepts like ideology, base, superstructure, economic determinism and labour division will be rigorously discussed along with their shortcomings. Role of hegemony, formation of popular culture and role of mass media would also be scrutinized. Many practical examples from the different fields of society, economics, politics within Pakistan and international power politics may be included to make it easier and simplifier to understand. Last but not the least, contribution of education, family, state, and religion would also be critically discussed.
Comparative study of Karl Marx, Althusser and Gramsci theories along with convergences and divergences would be highlighted in this critical review of chapter titled “Marxism, Political Economy and Ideology”.
Dominic Strinati’s book “An Introduction to Theories of Popular Culture” Second Edition presents a critical assessment of the ways in which different theorists have tried to understand and evaluate popular culture in modern society. The under-reviewed Chapter 4 titled “Marxism, political economy and ideology” from pages (119-159) is subdivided into the following sections:
1. Marx and ideology
2. Marxism and political economy
3. The limits of political economy
4. Althusser’s theory of ideology and structuralist Marxism
5. Althusser’s Marxism: economic determinism and ideology
6. Gramsci, Marxism and popular culture
7. Gramsci’s concept of hegemony
8. Conclusions: Marxism, Gramscian Marxism and popular culture
The above mentioned different sections of this chapter comprehensively explain different theories, along with their strengths and weakness. In the following paragraphs all these above mentioned sections will be critically examined.
Marx and Ideology
Karl Marx was a German economist, philosopher and sociologist. He made different statements about ideology at different points in his career; however, his most straightforward statement about ideology appears in “The German Ideology”, which he wrote with Frederick Engels.
“Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life”
No thinker in the 19th-century has perhaps had so direct, deliberate and powerful influence upon mankind as Karl Marx. The strength of his influence was unique. He completed the bulk of his work between 1844 and 1883, a period of democratic nationalism, trade unionism and revolution. Neither Marx’s mind nor his pen ever stopped moving.
The influential aspects of Marx’s work, idea of ideology that subsequent Marxism has usually tried to understand popular culture.
He was of the opinion that the dominant ideas in any society are those which are drawn up, distributed and imposed by the ruling class to secure and bring about its rule (The German Ideology, originally published in 1845/46). It remained one of the main characteristics of his findings. He justified his findings by analyzing historical perspectives of ruling class mentality, projection of dominated material force in the given society. Material production also tends to control over the means of mental production that remains a vicious circle of domination and perpetual subjugation. Ideas, its importance, implementation and acceptance all rest on the whims of ruling class in general.
Scholarship and thinking are the work of ruling class which producers, regulates, products, and distributes the ideas of their age. Consequently their ideas are the ruling ideas of the age. Predominant ideas common to a capitalist society, including its popular culture, are those of the ruling class which came into being by the use of media. (commoditization, mass consumption & fast food etc).
He rightly says that popular culture is produced and spread by the ruling class or its intellectual representatives, and they dominate the consciousness and actions of those classes outside the ruling class (Basant Night, Religious-rituals activities, Marriage Halls).
He suggests that the working class must develop its own ideas and its own means of producing and distributing them if they want to oppose the ruling capitalist class successfully. (MQM mantra about exploitation of establishment, feudality, military and bureaucracy). He says having their own ideas enabling them to struggle with and combat the ideas of the ruling class, an idea consistent with the concept of hegemony. He warned that exploitation and oppression experienced by the working class make it oppose and struggle against the ruling class by producing its own ideas, together with its own industrial and political organizations (MQM Worker Union in many public-private sectors in Karachi).
To him the role of human agency and struggle is paramount for maintaining ideology (leftists in Pakistani regional and national politics tend to use their political workers). He concludes that the ruling class constructs and circulates ideas which secure its power because they dominate the minds of the working class. (Indoctrination tactics use by different terrorist organization in many parts of the world).
Murdock and Golding Analysis
They both attempted to adapt Marx’s view of ideology for a political economy approach to the analysis of the mass media.
Marx’s statement in The German Ideology
They argued that Marx’s statement in The German Ideology entails three empirical propositions which they argue can be successfully validated:
They both agreed that production and distribution of ideas is concentrated in the hands of the capitalist owners of the means of production (Opposition to MFN status to India, Memo gate, glorification of democracy/democratic government by PTV, ATV and its pitfalls by (GEO, AJJ and many others). Afterwards, their ideas receive much greater prominence and hence dominate the thoughts of subordinate groups (Enlightenment in Musharraf regime, Islamization in Zia rule etc).
They both shared similar opinion by saying that this ideological domination serves to maintain the prevailing system of class inequalities which benefits the ruling class and exploits the subordinate classes. (Hatred & Love Syndrome/ indoctrination in Pakistani politics, society, religion and even in economy).
They indicated that commodity fetishism or alienation is the result of individualism and deterministic theory about the place of ideology in the structure of capitalist societies.
The base-superstructure model is a theoretical framework that charts the different parts of society, how the elements interact, and how they form a coherent social structure. It is a tool that has been used by Marxists to schematize the shape that society takes at a particular time (hence it is a historical model). It has two main elements: the base and the superstructure, both of which can be specified further into two levels.
It is true that essence and the base of a society is its mode of material production, the economic system by which it reproduces itself, and the source of exploitative class relations. They pinpointed that it determined the superstructure of a society, its political and ideological institutions, the social relations and sets of ideas that lie outside the base such as the family, the state, religion, education and culture.
They both outlined the totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society i.e. the real foundation, on which legal and political superstructures arise and to which definite forms of social consciousness correspond. Moreover, the mode of production of material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. They showed both sides of the being and consciousness by saying consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness.
They phased out certain stage of their development, the material forces of production come in conflict with the existing relations of production, with the property relations within which they had been at work before. Notwithstanding, with the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophical in short, ideological (Case of Nationalism Drive under Bhutto Regime and Land Reform under Ayoub Rule).
Murdock and Golding conception of a political economy of the mass media
Despite differences between this perspective on ideology and that offered in The German Ideology, Murdock and Golding incorporate it into their conception of a political economy of the mass media. They combined Marx’s ruling ideas and base superstructure models of ideology.
It seems that Marx is concerned to emphasize the fact that the system of class control over the production and distribution outlined in The German Ideology is itself fixed or rooted. Analysis of cultural production needs to examine not only the class base of control, but also the general economic context within which this control is exercised.
Initial Findings and Suggestions
They both concluded that Marx is not an economic determinist. Marx sense of causation is not rigidly deterministic but one ‘of setting limits, exerting pressures and closing off options’, allowing for autonomy within the general limits set by ‘the economic relations of capitalism’. They further elaborated that the relation between the base and superstructure is a dynamic one, necessitating concrete and historical analyses of capitalism.
(a) The relation between base and superstructure is dynamic does not prevent it from being defined in rigid and deterministic terms.
(b) The dynamic is continually determined by the economic base. Also, if the historical nature of capitalism cannot be theorised in advance of its concrete examination, how can we know that cultural autonomy must always be limited by the economic base? Equally, how can the base superstructure distinction be accepted in advance of historical research?
(c) Labour and its division may also be directly influenced by external circumstances, climatic and geographical influences, racial peculiarities, historical influences from the outside, etc. These variations can only be discovered by analysing these empirically given circumstances other than internal or direct relation between producers and master of the conditions of the production (Seasonal, bounded and Child Labour or manual labour to Muslim in India, and blacks in USA (Some parts).
Murdock and Golding’s interpretation of Marx’s theory and some difficulties
Although they strongly criticized Marx theory but they faced lots of difficulties given below as:
They both observed that economic relations of capitalism determine the other social relations to be found in these/other societies. They provided the foundations or the base for the rest of society. Moreover, innumerable, incidental and small-scale influences can give rise to ‘infinite variations and gradations’ while economic relations remain the same (Phenomenal rise to many business tycoons in Pakistan).
They found that the possibilities for super-structural variations with the same economic base are seemingly infinite (Issuance of SROs in Sharif’s regimes and duty exemptions in Benazir’s governments). They stressed that the super-structural variations must be limited and finite, otherwise why argue that they are determined by the economic base? However, this defence demands rather than denies economic determinism. On the one hand, it can adopt an economic determinist position with all the difficulties this entails. On the other hand.
Marxism and Political Economy
Murdock and Golding observed the following points in relation to Marx statements towards political economy. Salient features are given below as:
To them, sociology of class had failed to recognise the importance of the mass media because usually sociology is concerned with the persistence of class inequalities but does not realise how significant the mass media are in legitimating inequalities in wealth, power and privilege.
For them, role of media is not up to the mark because the media make inequalities appear natural and inevitable to those who suffer the deprivation and oppression they entail. One of the main reasons of this is that flow of knowledge, information and social imagery is concentrated in the hands of those who share in the power, wealth and privilege of the dominant class.
It is commonly practice/understood that ruling class will ensure that what is socially circulated through the mass media is in its interests and serves to reproduce the system of class inequalities from which it benefits. They concluded that media structure, ownership and control are equally important.
One of the primary concerns of Murdock and Golding’s approach is the ownership and control of the mass media and cultural production.
They are critical of those approaches, such as the Frankfurt School or semiology, which exaggerate the autonomy of culture, since they consequently neglect the fundamental influence of the material production of popular culture, and the economic relations within which this takes place.
Adorno’s assumption that the popular music industry in America can be studied and understood simply by investigating its products, without looking at how music is produced industrially. Adorno’s view that the ideology spread by the mass media ensures social and political acquiescence, and so holds capitalist societies together and secures the dominance of their ruling classes.
The mass media tends to reproduce class inequalities. They rightly argue that empirical research shows that the ownership and control of the mass communication industries is indeed concentrated in the hands of relatively small groups of powerful economic and financial interests. And the last but not the least they both empirically examined and supported Marx’s ruling-class ideas model, but they were also critical of tendencies within Marxist and radical theory.
They observed that oversimplified’ accounts of the relationship between the ruling class’s ideology, the ideas and values of the owners and controllers of the mass communications industries, and what appears in the products of the mass media, that is, the ideas and values that circulate as popular culture.
They assert that the mass media are simply conduits or outlets for a ruling class ideology which automatically ensures the desired acquiescence of subordinate groups to ruling-class domination.
Murdock and Golding wished to see the relationship between ownership and control, and mass media output, that is between class power and popular culture, between ruling-class ideas and the dominant ideology, as an indirect and mediated one. Mass media ‘institutions do play important roles in legitimizing an in-equalitarian social order, but their relationship to that order is complex and variable and it is necessary to analyse what they do as well as what they are’.
By concentrating on the economic base’, Murdock and Golding argued, ‘we are suggesting that control over material resources and their changing distribution are ultimately the most powerful of the many levers operating in cultural production. But clearly such control is not always exercised directly, nor does the economic state of media organizations always have an immediate impact on their output.
BBC: A Case Study
The establishment, progress and working mechanism of British Broadcasting Corporation is an ideal combination of simplistic economic determinism, political economy, public service and consumerism.
Cultural Industry Tycoons
The culture industry tycoons are found to be associated with wider industrial and financial concerns, and they contend that these groups form a coherent class with common interests. They conclude that their approach and the theory put forward by Marx in The German Ideology are substantiated:
Consumerism within popular culture tends to mask the realm of production and class inequalities. Their own analysis of changes in the structure of ownership and control identifies three consequences for cultural production, distribution and consumption:
Market size, nature and scope determine the levels of production of any idea, service or product. In seeking to maximize the market, products must draw on the most widely legitimated central core values while rejecting the dissenting voice or the incompatible objection to a ruling myth. The need for easily understood, popular, formulated, un-disturbing, fictional material is at once a commercial imperative and an aesthetic recipe. (Popularity of the fast food in urban vs. rural areas in Pakistan).
The Limits of Political Economy
The political economy approach highlights some of the structural conditions under which popular culture is produced, distributed and consumed, and it has to play a key role in any adequate sociological analysis of popular culture. Salient Features are given below as:
It was rightly pinpointed that the interplay between the symbolic and economic dimensions of public communications was one of the distinguishing feature of their approach. It showed ‘how different ways of financing and organizing cultural production have traceable consequences for the range of discourses and representations in the public domain and for audiences’ access to them. The dilemma for political economy was that it had to treat both above mentioned arguments as if they were the same.
The drive to maximise profits involves the drive to maximise audiences which is the hallmark of globalization and consumerism. The consumption of popular culture, the market, is crucial to the search for profits within one country or around the globe. Little or no direct evidence is presented to suggest that the ideologies broadcast by the mass media have these desired effects, though it has to be acknowledged, as we have seen, that ideology is a subsidiary consideration in the arguments of political economy (Vatican City and Saudi broadcasts).
The interplay between base and super-structure does not give accurate result/information but provides the beginnings of a better understanding of the social and economic context within which audiences consume popular culture. Mass media is not mere conveyor belts for the interests of the dominant class it also highlights lots of other things in the given society.
The autonomy that professionals working in media organizations exercise in producing culture within the limits set by class power, the profit motive and the economic structure of ownership and control. Furthermore, political economy does not want to see the mass media as agents in a ruling class conspiracy, but neither does it want to accord them too much autonomy from economic and class power. It wishes to study media organisations as institutions which mediate between the economic structure of the media and their cultural output, but finds it difficult to square this with its claim that what they do is highly restricted by the need to produce and disseminate ruling-class ideology.
Althusser’s Theory of Ideology and Structuralist
Althusser’s objectives are to establish Marxism as a science and to rid it of economic determinism. According to Althusser, economism is a problem which has to be eradicated from Marxist theory because it represents a type of ‘essentialism.
The importance of Althusser also lies in the influence he has had on the development of the academic study of ideas, knowledge and culture. This in part derives from the association of his work with structuralism, semiology and ‘French theory’ more generally.
Althusser suggests that ideology is institutional, informing and structuring the operations of political administrations, media, art, etc. When such ideological state apparatuses fail to win the consent of subjects, then states will use repressive measures where repressive state apparatus (RSA) refers to police force, army and prison system.
Louis Althusser”s Marxist or critical approach to cultural analysis examined the connections between social structure, power and culture (Smith 52), and how this influences subjectivity. Althusser endeavored to develop a scientific or systematic theory as to how society functions in order to maintain conditions favorable to capitalism.
He studied the relationship between ideology and the roles. He identified society which creates for people that help to perpetuate these conditions.
Althusser’s structural model of society consists of two different levels and of three spheres and is significant in part because it attaches specificity to Marxist ideas which often tend to posit somewhat free floating dominant ideologies (Smith 54). Detail is given below as:
He says that economic base refers to sites of production (including the cultural industries). To him, the superstructure: the politico-legal which consists of the political and legal systems. He explains that ideological structure which refers to institutions such as churches and schools that perpetuate dominant beliefs and values. Although culture (the economic base) and politics (the superstructure) are independent of each other in Althusser’s model, they still share the ideological interconnections which serve to perpetuate the capitalist system (Fiske 287).
Comparative Study of Althusser and Marx
Philosopher Subject Details
Althusser Economics/production and reproduction Reproduction of the conditions of production is not simply guaranteed by perpetuating existing material conditions such as wages (Norton 1483); rather, he believed that such conditions are achieved more and more outside production through the concept which Althusser deems as the state apparatus.
Marx Economics/production and reproduction The role of economics is paramount which supports/upholds the status quo for ideology. The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production
Althusser State State apparatus, referring to its function to repress the working-classes and thus perpetuate the capitalist system. He divides the state apparatus into two different forces: the repressive state apparatus (RSA) and the ideological state apparatus (ISA).
Marx State Machine of repression. Enable the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working-class (capitalist exploitation)
Departing from Marxist
Althusser further departs from Marxist theory by introducing the concept of ideological state apparatuses or ISAs. Unlike repressive state apparatuses, ideological state apparatuses cannot as easily be unified into one cumulative force as they originate primarily from various sources in the private sector. However, differentiating between RSAs and ISAs solely on the basis of the split between the public and private sectors is somewhat difficult, given that institution such as the media, which Althusser defines as part of the private sector, in fact spans both categories. Althusser seems to anticipate this point of contention by maintaining that the key difference between the two categories is that whereas RSAs function for the most part by violence, ISAs function primarily by ideology. The examples which Althusser provides of ISAs include forms of organized religion, the education system, family unit, legal system, political parties, trade unions, media and the arts.
Pre-Industrial Society and Family Unit
In pre-industrial society, Althusser argues that the importance of the family unit as an ideological state apparatus was only seconded by that of the primary ideological state apparatus at that time, the church which concentrated within it not only religious functions, but also educational ones, and a large proportion of the functions of communications and culture.
He concluded that the French Revolution (1789-1799) displaced the hegemonic power of the church onto other sources. Education, status quo, school system also played very important role. Moreover, the education system indoctrinates its audience according to ruling-class ideology during the years in which the child is most vulnerable, squeezed between the family state apparatus and the educational state apparatus (Aitcheson College System, Religious school system).
Althusser proposed that individuals are transformed into subjects through the ideological mechanism of interpellation. He explained that interpellation works primarily through language and occurs when we are hailed by a message.
It is one of the best examples to understand different aspects of Althusser theory and findings When a policeman calls out, Hey, you there!, most people within hearing distance will immediately assume that they are the ones being summoned, even if they have done nothing wrong. This reaction positions the individual as a subject in relation to the general ideological codes of law and criminality. Althusser believed that the dominant beliefs, values and practices that constitute ideology serve a political function. As we progress through the education system and enter the workforce, ideology works through state institutions to interpellate or construct us into particular subject positions in which our work and lifestyle benefits those who control the processes of production (Smith 208). For instance, come election time, politicians continuously address their audience in their speeches as voters or taxpayers, thereby referring to the subject positions which most benefit them in their capacity as political leaders.
Government has been inserting ideologically driven propaganda into prime time television shows with the full cooperation and approval of network executives. The anti-drug advertising deal provides an example of how freedom may be compromised as the ideological state apparatus of television places ruling class, government sanctioned ideas into the forefront of society (USA society and floods of rosy words about democratic regime at prime time in PTV, A-TV etc in Pakistan).
Althusser’s theory of ideology not only fails to deal with the problem of economic determinism, but also encounters the problem of functionalism. The functionalism and economic determinism in Althusser’s theory of ideology mean that it cannot visualize education as a ‘relatively autonomous’ institution with its own ‘specific effectiveness.
Gramsci’s Concept of Hegemony
(a) Greek Term
Hegemony is a Greek term that originally designated the power of a single state over other states in a confederacy, for example the power of Athens over the Greek city-states.
(b) Cultural and Ideological Meaning
Hegemony as a cultural and ideological means whereby the dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the ‘spontaneous consent’ of subordinate groups, including the working class.
(c) Way to Success
This is achieved by the negotiated construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and dominated groups.
(d) Various Modes of Social Control
He rightly uses the concept of hegemony to describe the various modes of social control available to the dominant social group.
(e) Coercive & Consensual Control
He distinguishes between coercive control which is manifest through direct force or the threat of force, and consensual control which arises when individuals ‘willingly’ or ‘Voluntarily’ assimilate the world-view or hegemony of the dominant group; an assimilation which allows that group to be hegemonic.
(f) Importance of Subordinate Group
In Gramsci’s theory, subordinate groups accept the ideas, values and leadership of the dominant group not because they are physically forced to, nor because they are ideologically indoctrinated, but because they have reasons of their own. For example, hegemony is secured because concessions are made by dominant to subordinate groups and its cultural expression will reflect this.
(g) Supremacy of social group
He argues that ‘the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways’, as ‘domination’ and as ‘intellectual and moral leadership’. A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to ‘liquidate’, or subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindredand allied groups.
(h) Importance of Civil Society
He is of the opinion that Hegemony is formed by certain institutions and groups within capitalist societies, what Gramsci calls civil society, which produces, reproduces and changes hegemony, while the state is responsible for the use of coercion.
(i) Popular Culture and Mass Media
He pinpointed that popular culture and the mass media are places where hegemony is produced, reproduced and transformed; they are institutions of civil society which involve cultural production and consumption. Hegemony operates through the institutions of civil society which characterise mature liberal-democratic, capitalist societies. These institutions include education, the family, the church, the mass media, popular culture, etc. Civil society is where Gramsci places culture and ideology within societies, and hegemony is the concept he uses to understand how they work. For him, popular culture and the mass media are accounted for by the concept of hegemony.
(j) Comparison between Political and Military Strategy
He draws a distinction between war of manoeuvre or movement and war of position. War of movement refers to a swift, frontal and direct attack on the enemy with the aim of winning quickly and decisively. This is comparable to rebellious political action. It describes the bolshevik revolution of 1917 in Russia, which involved a war of movement against the political target provided by a centralised and dominant state power left unprotected by civil society. Hegemony in civil society was weak while the state was strong and highly visible, so a revolutionary war of movement against the state could be mounted and concluded successfully.
According to him, a war of position involves a long, protracted and uneven struggle over the hegemony of the dominant group, and its eventual replacement by the hegemony of the subordinate groups fighting for power and the revolutionary transformation of society. He concluded that hegemony is not a fixed and finite set of ideas which have a constant function to perform. But it is also true that hegemony secures the dominance of the most powerful classes and groups in society, and does so by even determining what is called ‘common sense..
His theory suggests that the producers, distributors and interpreters of popular media culture, within the institutions of civil society, are intellectuals engaged in forming and contesting the prevailing hegemony. Gramsci is using the term ‘intellectuals’ not in its restricted elitist sense of great artists, major writers or renowned academics, but in a much broader occupational sense to refer to those employed in the production.
Having said that it may prove a useful way forward for the study of popular culture, but it needs to recognise the importance of economic constraints. And the last but not the least there is dialectic between the processes of production and the activities of consumption.
(1) It is difficult to separate hegemony from coercion, since hegemony can itself be coercive. Hegemony is about domination, while coercion can be used in a hegemonic fashion. Notwithstanding, force can be used against certain subordinate groups with the consent of other subordinate groups: a presumably hegemonic use of coercion. Likewise, coercion can be used in a legitimate or hegemonic way by agencies of the state.
(2) To him, hegemony is related to civil society and coercion to the state. Gramsci may accept that institutions in civil society can also act coercively and that state institutions can act in a hegemonic manner. But it is a serious issue how then can an institution like parliament be analysed, since it is central to liberal-democratic states and can order coercive acts to be performed, but equally works hegemonically through ceremonials and rituals, and the staging of democratic politics?
(3) Gramsci stresses the importance of conflict for the emergence of hegemony and historical changes. Hegemony is a consequence of class conflict, but it continually favours one side of the struggle rather than the other: the dominant group at the expense of the subordinate groups. The concept of hegemony seems sometimes to describe a series of football games in which both sides can play but only one side can win.
(4) Gramsci does recognise the importance of coercion, but he thinks that hegemony is a more potent type of social control.
(5) There is a question, if Gramsci’s theory relies on economic or class reductionism, then it would not appear to have found a new way forward for the Marxist theory of ideology.
Gramsci, Marxism and Popular Culture
He developed of the concept of hegemony, a particular approach to the study of popular culture. The analysis of ‘Thatcherism’ and its fortunes during the 1980s by members of this centre clearly owes a great deal to Gramsci’s notions of hegemonic and counterhegemonic struggles, and of the role played in them by ‘intellectuals’ McRobbie (1991b) argues that what is needed to resolve this situation is a neo-Gramscian theory of hegemony.
He stressed the need to have taking ‘the different ways of working, the different contexts, the different conclusions as equally valid (if differently weighted) contributions to the multidisciplinary field of cultural studies and the study of popular culture. The value of these conclusions will have to be left for the moment. We have first to determine what Gramsci’s arguments amount to: then we can assess whether his work deserves the importance it is given.
Gramsci’s View on Marxism
To him, neither Marxism is not simply a science, whose concepts have to be defined and developed in a rigorous and logical manner nor merely a perspective well equipped to make sense of the world. He criticized that his theory of political theory mere focused upon the emancipation of the working class and ignored other interrelated factors within a given society. He labeled Marxism as theory which guides, motivates and inspires, while monitoring and building, the socialist working-class revolution. Like Althusser, Gramsci wants to eradicate economic determinism from Marxist theory and to improve its explanations of the superstructure. He opposed to scientist and deterministic interpretations of Marxism. He stressed the fundamental role performed in historical change by human agency in the shape of class and other social struggles.
Main Reason for Economic Determinism Opposition
Gramsci opposed to economic determinism because it reduced the superstructure to the economy, and involved a strict determinism; Althusser, on the other hand was prepared to accept some variant of determinism because it is scientific
The working class is first formed objectively in the mode of production because it is exploited, excluded from property rights and coerced to perform wage labour. Gradually, as a result of its objective class situation, it begins to develop class consciousness and forms its own industrial and political organisations, and its own ideology and culture. These institutions enable it to eventually seize state power, and usher in the socialist overthrow of capitalism (Union Culture in Pakistan, WAPDA, PIA, PTCL, NBP etc).
Gramsci’s critical argument was that the scenario ignored the uneven and contingent nature of class struggle, tracing its emergence directly to the economic base. It neglected the fact that class struggle was subject to reversals and setbacks as well as victories, and is not a smooth evolutionary process. Neither was it possible, according to Gramsci, to see class struggle as a purely objective or economic struggle, since it must inevitably involve ideas and ideologies.
Gramsci and the French Revolution
He interpreted French Revolution differently from Marxism. He argued that Marxist interpretations of that revolution relied too heavily on the significance of the economic class struggle between the aristocracy and the bureaucracy and underestimated the significance of the role of ideas and intellectuals in ensuring the bourgeoisie’s success in the revolution.
For Gramsci, the same point can be made about the Marxist theory of the socialist, working-class revolution: that it should not devalue the importance of the role of ideas and culture in the making of this revolution, any more than it should underestimate the importance of the role of bourgeois ideas and culture in preventing it from happening. This role of ideas and culture is what Gramsci understands as hegemony, which is produced by the activity of intellectuals, and feeds into the class struggle.
During and after the First World War, capitalism as he saw it experienced profound and severe economic and political crises. The bolshevik revolution had occurred in Russia, and working-class insurrections had broken out in various parts of Europe, where governments faced hostile political opposition on several fronts.
In Turin, for example, there had been a series of factory occupations, while the national government appeared corrupt and unstable. This situation would have seemed ripe for socialist revolutions, yet, apart from the Soviet Union, He argued that one reason the factory occupations failed was because they lacked political direction. He similarly noted the failure of economic crises to lead to political and ideological crises favourable to the cause of socialism and the working class.
Pursuits of knowledge, research, criticism and interpretation tend to pass through from different stages of evolution. New ideas about self, society, and ideology were intellectualized at a specific time framework in certain societies of the West. Afterwards, it was patronized through the help of dominated society culture, the owners of means of intellect, wisdom and production subjugated the general masses and lately legitimized it with the help of mass media.
The birth of popular culture, ramifications of socio-economy axis, rise to geography and above all indoctrination of oppression played havocs in the Western culture and French Revolution was the beginning of an end in this regard.
Marxism remained one of the predominated philosophies in the West which ultimately changed the socio-economic and geo-political parameters of the Europe especially the East Europe. The Geek philosophy” justice is always done among the equals” was one of the main reasons of the emergence of working class in the world particularly in the Europe. It geared unending game of blame, conspiracy, confrontation and conflict in the modern political history of mankind.
Relations and interplay between base and super-structure started a vicious circle of ruling class vs. working class and possession of both deprived millions of people from even basic rights of living in human history. Human agency and people as subject has been one of the main source of power, domination and even creation. Humans are supreme but economic determinism departs moralities from ruling class missions. It controls the means of creativity and production, the deadly combination for martial excel and the rise to fascist ideology of Hitler and Benito Mussolini were supposed to be resultant of that ideology.
Undoubtedly, political economy plays very important role in the formation of a group, society or country. The combination of politics and economy pave the way of glory, success and winning hearts and souls. Karl Marx, Althusser and Gramsci stated different aspects of political economy but the one thing was common i.e. paramount importance of political economy in the lives of common people and rulers alike.
Three famous philosophers/ thinkers namely Karl Marx, Althusser and Gramsci theories and salient features on different concepts like ideology, base, superstructure, economic determinism and labour division. The critical analysis shows that all three certain limits because of their main focuses relating to their theories.
Hegemony as a cultural and ideological means whereby the dominant groups in society, including fundamentally but not exclusively the ruling class, maintain their dominance by securing the ‘spontaneous consent’ of subordinate groups, including the working class remained one of the hot topics among the sociologists, psychologists, political scientists and even economists. Soviet Union Revolution and the rise to capitalism portray the crux of all these above mentioned philosophies and search for new imputes are going on among the community of scholars and researchers alike around the globe.
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All are students of M.Phil (Research), Semester II at University of Punjab, Institute of Communication Study, News Campus Lahore. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan is a Research Scholar in a federal government department. Salman Akram Awan is personal staff officer to Vice Chancellor, University of Education, Lahore. Muhammad Anzar Mehman is Public Relations Officer at University of Education, Lahore.