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Hegemony: critical interpretations in anthropology and beyond

Gavin Smith

Abstract

The popularity of the notion of hegemony in anthropology and cognate disciplines has waxed and waned. The self-censorship of Gramsci's most accessible writings (Selections from the prison notebooks) and the multi-layered nature of his thinking have led to a variety of understandings of the term. Easier to reflect on historically, after the events, than to use for analyses of the present, hegemony is both attractive to intellectuals insofar as it establishes their role in politics and yet prone to vagueness in its application to real life situations. For these reasons perhaps, the notion is now on the wane. Yet before we throw out the baby with the bath water, we need to reflect on precisely how it has been used in social analysis and praxis. This article takes a critical view of those people who have most influenced anthropologists in their understanding of the term and argues that the fetishization of `culture' has probably done more to mystify the concept than anything else.

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