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Hegemony

Critical interpretations in anthropology and beyond

Gavin Smith

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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America's Quest for Global Hegemony

Offensive Realism, the Bush Doctrine, and the 2003 Iraq War

Carlos L. Yordán

Research in the discipline of international relations finds that the great democratic powers are less likely to pursue revisionist policies. This investigation challenges this argument by showing that the United States' decision to oust Saddam Hussein's regime in March 2003 was consistent with a modified version of John Mearsheimer's theory of offensive realism, which finds that great powers' motivation is global hegemony. This article is divided into three sections. The first section considers the value of Mearsheimer's theory and reworks it by adding domestic variables to explain why states abandon defensive strategies for offensive ones. The second section shows how pre-9/11 American foreign policy strategy was, for the most part, status quo oriented, and section three explains why and how the Bush administration introduced a revisionist foreign policy strategy after the 9/11 attacks. This investigation concludes by showing how the 2003 Iraq War is the first step in the United States' quest for global hegemony.

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Johannes Fabian

These comments—made originally in my role as discussant for the panel in Ljubljana—address the recent history of the question of world anthropologies and identify three issues for further critical debate: (1) hegemonic claims concerning our discipline (including the issue of hegemony within our discipline), (2) the difference between power and authority, and (3) reasons that alterity continues to be a crucial concept in post-colonial anthropology.

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"Urban renewal with dancing and music"?

The renewal machine's struggle to organize hegemony in Turkey

Cansu Civelek

In 2012, an urban renewal project in Eskişehir, Turkey, was initiated with claims of “festive renewal,” challenging the theories of critical urban studies that emphasize the disruptive effects of such projects. Built on a discussion about hegemony, which deploys consent and dissent in its organization, this article ethnographically investigates the tactics and strategies of the renewal machine that mobilized and co-opted parts of the locals into the project while invoking layers of dissent, distrust, and discomfort. The article discusses how historically built political, socioeconomic, and gender inequalities were efficiently detected, reconstituted, and put into the service of the renewal machine while revealing tension and dynamism behind the “festive renewal.” It shows a fragility of hegemony that is neither a given nor a completed template.

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Something Better

Hegemony, Development, and Desire in Guatemalan Export Agriculture

Edward F. Fischer and Peter Benson

This article examines non-traditional export production of broccoli, snow peas, and other crops in Guatemala. Focusing on Maya farmers, exporters, and government development officials, we trace the production of the desire to grow these crops, to make some extra money, and to enhance local and national economies. We find that the export business has left farmers shortchanged even as it has opened new possibilities of algo más (something more or better). We examine how this empirical paradox has emerged from the convergence and divergence of power relations and affective desires that produce the processes known as 'hegemony' and 'resistance'. We conclude by considering alternative ethnographic strategies for understanding the multifarious connections between power and desire, hegemony and culture.

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John Clarke

This article explores the significance of the work of Stuart Hall for social and political anthropology. It identifies the concern with concrete conjunctural analysis, the continuing attention to the problem of hegemony, and the centrality of a politics of articulation in theory and practice as core features of Hall's work. The article also touches on his complex relationship with theory and theorizing while grounding his work in a series of political and ethical commitments within and beyond the university.

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First as Tragedy, Then as Teleology

The Politics/People Dichotomy in the Ethnography of Post-Yugoslav Nationalization

Stef Jansen

Ethnographers working in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been at the forefront of the struggle against the identitarianism that dominates scholarship and policymaking regarding the country. Tirelessly foregrounding patterns of life that exceed, contradict, complicate or are oblivious to questions thus framed, we have—unsurprisingly—paid a price for this contribution: explorations of the appeal of nationalism are left mostly to others. Th is article identifies anemic and etic politics/people paradigm that facilitates our timidity to register the ways in which “ordinary people” may enact nationalist subjectivity. Seeking to retain the paradigm’s strengths, I call for a recalibration of how we understand it to function and explore conceptual tools to make this work. Starting from two cases of “foot soldier narratives,” I suggest that hegemony theory can help us trace not only how people are subjected to nationalization but also how they may seek subjectification through it.

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From the “state-idea” to “politically organized subjection”

Revisiting Abrams in times of crisis in Turkey and EU-Europe

Katharina Bodirsky

Philip Abrams’s notion of the “state-idea” has been of immense influence in the anthropology of the state. This article suggests a contrary reading of Abrams’s “Notes on the difficulty of studying the state” (1988) that focuses instead on his notion of “politically organized subjection,” which allows us to examine contemporary statehood in crisis where political practice increasingly seems “unmasked.” The article examines such strategies of politically organizing subjection in the contexts of current EU-Europe and Turkey. It highlights the role of hegemony-building strategies that do not so much mask political practice as openly promote polarization in society, directing ideological and material efforts at strengthening leadership over the own class alliance and using both overt and structural coercion to suppress political projects opposed to neoliberal authoritarianism.

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Free from State Violence or Free to Comply?

A Revised Typology of Coercion and Repression in Liberal Democracies

Barbora Capinska

This article addresses the problem of unclear usage of “coercion” and “repression” in literature concerning protest and repression in democratic and nondemocratic states. It questions the bases and conclusions of domestic democratic peace theory and discusses its consequences. The article proposes expanding definitions of coercion and repression in terms of timing, agency, and perceptiveness. Using vocabulary of poststructuralist discourse theory and the “logics” approach to analyzing social phenomena, it introduces the notion of hegemonic coercion and repression and describes their functioning. It argues that contemporary liberal democracies are not free from coercion and repression, but that the hegemony embodied in the state is able to sustain itself by means of hegemonic coercion with little use of direct violence. Consequently, the absence of state violence is not a criterion of a mature democracy, but can also be a characteristic of a totalitarian regime where ideological deviations are strictly and preemptively controlled.

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Iain Atack

The consent theory of power, whereby ruling elites depend ultimately on the submission, cooperation and obedience of the governed as their source of power, is often linked to debates about the effectiveness of non-violent political action. According to this theory, ruling elites depend ultimately on the submission, cooperation and obedience of the governed as their source of power. If this cooperation is with-drawn, then this power is undermined. Iain Atack outlines this theory and examines its strengths and weaknesses. Atack argues that incorporating the insights of other theories of power, such as Gramsci's theory of hegemony and Foucault's views on 'micro-power', can provide us with a more sophisticated understanding of both the effectiveness and the limits of nonviolent political action than the consent theory of power. Gramsci's contribution deepens the analysis in terms of our understanding of the origins of individual consent in the context of larger economic and political structures, while Foucault adds a different dimension, in that his micro-approach emphasizes the ubiquity and plurality of power, rather than its embodiment or reification in large-scale structures.