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Exploring The Antonio Gramsci Notion Of Ideology Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3118 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Antonio Gramsci work of the 19th century to a large extent was built on Marxist thinking about ideology and consciousness as it gave ideology (initially developed by Karl Marx ) a more active role in history and politics than in classical historical materialism. According to Gramsci, the proletariat is able to influence “terms of its consciousness” resulting in an extended struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat regarding how the existing social reality is represented. He continues to suggest that the bourgeoisie in general exercises hegemony over the terms of ideology through its control of the consciousness and its instruments. However, according to Gramsci, the proletariat is able to exert its influence through cultural institutions initially mentioned above thus introducing major changes in classical ideological theories by denial of the subordinate class which is compared to “the passive tool of dominant ideology”.

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Gramsci uses the concept of hegemony which was previously used by Marxists to indicate the political influences of the working class in a democratic revolution. He develops this concept into an acute analysis to explain the reason for the socialist revolution predicted by orthodox Marxism not having occurred by the early 20th century. By developing on the Marxist’s concept, he suggests that capitalism remained entrenched than ever and it maintained control ideologically through a hegemonic culture and through violence, political and economic coercion. Therefore according to Gramsci, when a culture develops in which Marxist’s “owners of the means of production” identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and facilitated the maintenance of the status quo which Marxists attribute to class differences.

Gramsci’s further builds on Marxists ideology of class differences by suggesting that for any aspiring class to dominate in modernism it has to go beyond its own “economic-corporate interests, to exert intellectual and moral leadership, and to make alliances and compromises with a variety of forces”, which he refers to as a ‘historic bloc’ which forms the determinant to a particular social order that produces and re-produces the hegemony of the dominant class. This is built on Marxist ideology on the materialistic theory of history concept of “relations of production” in which he points out that the “non owners of the means of production” in order to produce a means of livelihood facilitate the “economic dominance” of the “dominating class” further creating class differences in society (p.33).

Like Karl Marx, Gramsci was an ardent proponent of historicism. Gramsci’s view like Marx’s points out that “all meaning derives from the relation between human practical activities” of which part is historical and social processes which are objective. He further builds on Marx’s ideology by asserting that “Ideas cannot be understood outside their social and historical context, apart from their function and origin”. According to Gramsci, the basis of organization of knowledge of the world is not primarily derived from people’s relationship to things but between the social relations between the users of such concepts therefore the issue of unchanging human nature does not occur. He suggests that philosophy and science don’t portray independence of man in reality but are only reliable if they express the “real development trends of a given historical situation”. This is further elucidated by the fact of Gramsci belief that Marxism was truthful socio-pragmatically because by articulating the class consciousness of the proletariat, it highlighted the “truth of tits times better than any other theory”.

While criticizing Marxist capitalist “forces of production”, Gramsci builds his argument by claiming that the revolution in Russia had made the idea of socialist revolution awaiting the full development of capitalist forces of production ‘invalid’ and he suggests that the primacy of the forces of production according to Marxists was a misconception because both economic and cultural changes are expressions of the “basic historical process” and none has primacy over the other. Therefore according to Gramsci, Marxism is a “philosophy of praxis”, and it can’t depnd on historical laws which are not seen as the agents of social change.

Gramsci’s inspiration is derived from Marx, but he expresses disagreement with Marx’s focus on economic importance. According to Marx, the economy was predetermined through history and is a determinant of the rest of society (economic determinism) Building on this, Gramsci saw that the depiction of the superstructure (civil society), focused only on the economy and did not mention cultural realm as an important factor and is therefore negligent that culture has the ability to effect change. While Marx withheld negative perception that ideology was a distortion of what people perceive as reality that is achieved through the ruling class’s ability who make their interests appear to be the interests of everyone, Gramsci, on the other hand, perceives ideology positively, and acknowledges many groups in society despite those based in class which compete with each other and have different perspectives. He calls the winning of consent as “hegemony” which operates through sustained reproduction of ideology over a period of time till the perspectives of dominant groups are perceived to be legitimate and incase of absence of consent, it is through coercion to enforce dominance. According to Gramsci, consent is achieved through civil society (family, church, education system, and media).

Marx’s ideological concept regarding ideology was epistemological as it pointed out that ideology opposed knowledge which was grounded ion science and reasoning. According to Gramsci, people have two theoretical consciousnesses: one which is implicit in activity and another which is superficially explicit or verbal which is uncritically absorbed from the past.

A large number of Gramsci’s theoretical concerns are almost similar and therefore built on the general questions of ideology and Marxist aesthetics, particularly because they have been highlighted as a result of the work of George Lukács, one of the major proponents in the realism/modernism debate who is also a major Marxist aesthetician. For example, Gramsci builds on the way which Lukács aesthetically and culturally confronted the immediate advent of fascism (Holub Renate, p.3).

According to Holub Renate (3), Gramsci builds on and exceeds many concerns of received Marxism when he relates realism and modernism problems to transformations in structural modern world, examines phenomena related to effect and production of industrialization due to culture, studies production of significance in linguistic and phenomenological framework which anticipates a cluster of structural linguistics and a kind of a phenomenological critical theory , carries out a critical practice which is suggestive in terms of contemporary critical theory in terms of differential pragmatics.

Holub Renate, (p. 6) suggests that Gramsci builds on Marx ideology by “rethinking” and “Reconsidering” Marxist theory and strategy with reference from dialectic questions to ideological theories, culture and the state. He further suggests that the rethinking of formidable occurrences in history resulted to key notions (political and civil society, hegemony, counter-hegemony his idea of the intellectual/organic intellectual) being conceptualized and such notions were later associated with him.

In Gramsci’s concept of the ‘intellectual’, as perceived by Holub Renate Gramsci conceptualizes “directed reproduction and dissemination of an effective hegemony”, and collaborates in the Marxist intellectuals’ theoretical project hence using this approach, Gramsci builds on Marxist ideology. Additionally, Holub Renate (11) refers to Marxis text as being “representative, along with those of Korsch and Lukács, of early western Marxism”.

Gramsci’s further builds on Marx ideology regarding his treatment of realism in the context of Marxist aesthetics. Though Gramsci does not share some theoretical assumptions with Luk’acs, his texts “evolve against a background or a structure of concerns which he has in common with Lukács” (12), who is an ardent Marxist aesthetician. Again, the way in which Gramsci’s work displays its theory is homologous to many pivotal twentieth-century Marxist ways of theorizing for example when he relates realism and modernism problems to structural al transformations of the modern life world. He also builds on Lukács work of cultural-aesthetic confrontation of the immediate advent of fascism and according to Holub Renate (15) he replays “the realist/modernist drama, enacted by Lukács {a Marxist Aeathetecian} on the one hand and by supporters of modernism on the other hand … his mode of approaching the problems of modernism and modernity, his way of posing questions and problematizing issues of technologization,” is similar to Marxist approach and therefore he builds on the ideology of Marxism.

Holub Renate views Gramsci’s analysis of modernism’s cultural problems, reflections on an anticipatory sensibility to very complex socio-cultural transformations and flexibility in adjusting previous concepts (by Marxists and other sociologists) as a building block in his new experiments and inventions so as to grasp new political and social realities .according to Holub Renate in his writings about Gramsci ideology, he confesses that he finds it difficult to separate Gramsci from the Marxist crowd in order to exclusively identify him with the German critical theory of the 19th century possibly as his work is built on the Marxist perception.

Holub Renate further suggests that Marxist intellectuals are interested in literary problems, but Gramsci refused to perceive literature as unrelated to social life and political activity. So when Gramsci re-examined the significance of literature and how it is related to politics i.e. the failed revolution on one hand and fascism on the other, he builds on basic premises of Marxist aesthetics which states “problems of culture are not separable from the realm of politics” and hence production and circulation of cultural goods e.g. literature are related to production and circulation of political, ethical and moral values and norms.

Gramsci’s thoughts in most cases are homologous or built on the critical theories of modernism and therefore there are multiple relations between his thinking and various other forms of critical theory forms of critical theory an example being neo-Marxism, Marxist linguistics, Frankfurt School modernism and critical phenomenology.

Gramsci’s analyses relations of power and function performed by intellectual activities in the course of these relations and he builds on this to formulate the intellectual theory with models such as “the traditional intellectual: artist, philosopher and poet, structure of feeling, intellectual community … The organic intellectual … the critical specialist… the universal intellectual”.

Therefore, these models incorporate instances of power and is therefore built on a Marxist account and idealism of social function and responsibilities of the individualas it outlines the non neutrality of knowledge and ideas and partiality of the producers and disseminators of knowledge therefore the political trigger of the intellectual that inscribes power and domination (i.e. social classes having owners and non owners of the means of production according to Karl marx). Therefore Gramsci by deriving the intellectual models was primarily focusing on a determinate body of knowledge which is depicted in Marx and Engels writings as well as in the anti-Marxist writings of philosophers of the twentieth century Italian cultural history e.g. Benedetto Croce. According to Holub Renate, he terms Gramci’s work as as “aesthetic fragments under the general heading of ‘Marxism and literature”, therefore depicting the notion that Gramsci’s work is ‘a fragment of Marxism’ or is derived from Marxist ideology.

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Gramsci builds on Marxist ideology by deploying his skills to attempt to amend Marxist theories where they are most deficient and vulnerable (39) e.g. by relating superstructure to Marx’s infrastructure which changes the perception of Marx’s “forces of production and relations of production” as being the major concepts of materialistic history of theory. Therefore Gramsci derives and build on Luk’acs definitive Marxist aesthetics and ideology by organizing his work around a cultural and political critique in his “philosophy of praxis”.

Gramsci builds on the deficiency of Marxist ideology in exploring the ways that the superstructure, its culture, politics and ideology are linked to the base, and by exploring the several ways which the state, culture and politics result in production of ideology, power and authority. His unrelenting interest in the realm of the superstructure unlike the base was just an attempt to build on Marxist ideology by attempting to correct Marxist theory in the areas which it looked very deficient.

According to Holub Renate (42), he argues that Gramsci built on Marxist dialectic on superstructure as he was a student and proponent of the work of Antonio Labriola who was an Italian Marxist who opted for a Hegelian basis of interpreting Marx dialectic amidst the theoreticians of the second international. He further strengthens his argument that: “Marxist aesthetics, particularly in the Lukácsian version, tended to ignore new cultural formations when measuring art against a new set of aesthetics. Gramsci does both and more” (48).

Gramsci’s ideology had a different view of Marxist historical materialism which he saw as infantilism. According to him, political acts were an organisational matter which facilitated party, group and societal coherence. These parallels are eminent with Weber’s status groups, though Weber criticizes the economism of certain aspects of historical materialism which he highlighted in his ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’. On the other hand, Gramsci’s thoughts were anti-economist, but relied liberalism that claimed that the economy was a pure determinant of socio-political relations. His statement suggests that in certain ways, Gramci’s perceptions are in agreement with Weber’s anti-positivism which gives the suggestion that both Weber and Gramci’s works criticised both Marxist and liberal economism and positivism.

            The most pararrelism between Weber and Gramsci emanates from Weberian views on individual action. Regarding this concept, Weber perceives collectivities to be results of certain individual acts while Gramsci on the other hand perceives a collective will embodied in the party. According to Weber inexorable social forces were not a causative factor of conduct and Weber seems to disagree with Gramsci’s hegemony though Weber agrees that actors are sometimes unconscious with their actions.

Weber perceives collectivities as being conceptual abstractions, but he is unable to account for structural inequalities, while Gramsci’s ‘State and party’ can be perceived as ideal-type constructs according to his perspective of class of class action. Thus on several aspects, Gramsci accounts for deficiencies in Weber’s account on both bourgeois and proletarian classes unlike the individual. According to Weber class is heterogeneous in collective action and it is through status groups that the means for Gramci’s hegemony are portrayed and the difference according to Weber is one of interpretation as was not convinced that values or ideology could result in a difference in realities of social structure at a bureaucratic stage. Gramci’s ideology dominated and it is here that Gramsci and Weber agree.

According to Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis, ideologies are arbitrary and must be combated for reasons of political struggle so as to make the governed to feel intellectually independent (Gramsci, 1988: 196). This is built on Weber’s argument of collectivities being results of the sum of individual actions. Gramsci continues to build on these ideas by defending ideology as being a social fact, hence he states that:

“To reinforce the conception of ‘historical bloc’ in which precisely material forces are the content and ideologies are the form, though this distinction between form and content has purely indicative value, since the material forces would be inconceivable historically without form and the individual fancies without the material forces.” (Gramsci, 1988: 200).

Gramsci explores factors which might play a role in arresting historical change as he (Gramsci) shifts his attention away from the material, economic and objective factor of Marx dialectic to the theoretical, subjective or supernatural factor and Holub Renate calls this shift as the “beginning of western Marxism” (50) because on the basis of Marxist paradigm contexts, Gramsci develops interest in understanding the complexity of the real of the super-structural while relating it to the economic basis            

There are crossovers in Weberian perception of legitimate domination and Gramsci’s imposed hegemony as they are both dependent on concept and Max Weber admits that the aspect of legitimacy has to be perceived in the same way as Gramsci’s hegemony. Does it mean that they shared a similar methodology? This question arises since they were both anti-economist and to some degree anti-positivistic. Critical analysis of their views makes one wonder whether Gramsci knew effects of Weberian status groups in civil society as he took the hegemonistic idea above the basis of economicism even though domination according to Gramsci was based on class.


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