Re: hegemony and the polyphony of culture

30 Nov 1994 23:23 CST

In article <3bdn0l$>, (Wing-Hoi Chan (GD 1999)) writes...
>As an anthropology student I find it difficult to reconcile the concept
>of hegemony and the critique of notions of culture as a "unified whole"
>etc. Seems to me that anthropologists can get a lot of explanatory
>mileage from the notion of hegemony, only by ignoring challenges (often
>made by the same people who appeals to "hegemony" on other occasions) to
>concepts of culture as an integrated whole, evenly distributed among the
>population, and sometimes based on a very small number of foundational
>notions ("cosmology", "cultural logic", "habitus", and what not.).

I'm having trouble following your reasoning here. You seem to be under the
belief that hegemony can't operate unless culture is a unified whole? Nation-
states create hegemonic relations with other nation-states, and these nation-
states are NOT unified wholes so if that is what you mean then no, there is
no problem with the concept of hegemony and critiques of "culture as a unified
whole". But then again, cultures can also have hegemonic relations with other
cultures (acculturative relations). I reject the notion of culture as a
unified whole, but there is no question about the concept of hegemony.

>Indeed, Bourdieu's concept of habitus, especially in his "Outline for a
>Theory of Practice", is far more akin to Levi-Strauss's ideas than is
>usually recognized. It is convenient that such notions help to reproduces
>systems of social inequality etc. But if culture is incoherent, is not
>uniformly distributed, or can be transposed by agents in specific
>historical conjunctures, that any facile appeal to "hegemony" is suspect.

I think you are correlating hegemony with culture when it would be better
correlated with nation-state.

>I am aware that some recent reviews observes that people now care more
>about what culture does (or how people use it) than what culture is.

What is culture? I got you here.

>However, to the extent that we are not dealing with how groups of people
>actually invoke aspects of culture to legitimize inequality etc, but
>explaining aspects of culture in terms of how it may possibly help
>perpetuating inequality, I am not convinced. There are important
>exceptions to this facile appeal to "hegemony". For example when Bourdieu
>talks about how education perpetuates inequality, he does not have to
>rely on supposed internalization of hegemonic notions by the masses. The
>masses need only believe that the elite culture is superior.

Thats hegemony. When the masses *believe*, without questioning, that the elite
culture is superior then they have fallen into a hegemonic relationship. The
internalization or acceptance of such a belief is what Gramsci called
"ideological hegemony". A good example is Social Darwinism in America. Many
people have fallen for this rubbish and believe that the rich are rich because
they are superior. Luck and inheritance has nothing to do with it.

Hope these pointers helped!

james b.