Social Transformative Movements in Advanced Capitalism

Moen, Darrell Gene.
"Analysis of Social Transformative Movements in Advanced Capitalism: A Neo-Gramscian Approach." (Published in:) Journal of Policy and Culture: Vol. 3. March 1998


Since the 1960s throughout the world, people have been uniting at the grassroots in an enormous number of diverse social movements in attempts to effect basic structural changes. Participants have created new cultural values and social relations, and are offering alternative interpretations of social reality that challenge the dominant culture's social assumptions.

In this paper, I briefly introduce a theoretical approach that directly addresses the issues that arise in the analysis of the process of grassroots cultural production in advanced capitalist societies. I contend that such analyses necessitate a careful examination of the relations between power and domination, social control and ideology, and resistance to the dominant culture's values and norms of behavior. I propose that the concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony developed by the Italian social theorist Antonio Gramsci are heuristic concepts that should be central to such analyses.



In this paper, I will introduce a theoretical approach that directly addresses the issues that arise in the analysis of the social transformative process of grassroots-initiated changes in social relations and cultural values, and the process of cultural production itself, in advanced capitalist societies. I contend that such analyses necessitate a careful examination of the relations between power and domination, social control and ideology, and resistance to the dominant culture's values, assumptions, and associated norms of behavior, and the emergence and efficacy of alternative ideologies. Therefore, I argue that the concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony, originally developed by Antonio Gramsci and further refined by neo-Gramscians such as Raymond Williams and Carl Boggs, are heuristic concepts that should be central to attempts at such analyses.


Hegemony, Counter-Hegemony, and the War of Position

Among the topics most discussed in Gramsci's Selections from the Prison Notebooks (1971) were the nature of ideology in advanced capitalist societies and the relationship between ideology and political action. Gramsci attributed much greater importance than had Marx to ideology as a political factor in its own right, and worked out a theory in which ideological factors could be of great importance in affecting social and political relations.

Like Marx (Marx and Engels 1947: 39), Gramsci saw ideology as mainly serving the interests of the ruling class. However, due to the tension between the ideology and the actual social and material position of the subordinate classes, he saw the possibility for the creation of an ideology representing the interests of the majority in a given society breaking through the ideological domination of the ruling class (Gramsci 1971: 326-327). The popular political struggle should thus, in part, be waged on the ideological level, with people rejecting the dominant culture's ideology in which they were immersed and embracing an ideology of social liberation.

Gramsci departed from the orthodox marxian notion that all consciousness is false consciousness, and ideology lost the pejorative flavor it had acquired in Marx's writings. Ideology was not only the cloak of ruling class interests, but could also be the articulation of the true interests of subordinate classes. For Gramsci, it was essential that the subordinate classes first achieve hegemony in the ideological-cultural sphere of society before attempting to gain control of the instruments of state power. Unless it first won in this cultural arena, which Gramsci referred to as the "war of position" seizing state power would prove to be calamitous. Thus, the long-range contestation for ideological hegemony was seen to be a gradual process taking place on many fronts.

Gramsci's growing popularity among contemporary Marxists is attributable to the insight offered in his discussion of hegemony, for it provides an understanding of how the subordinated classes are led to accept their subservient status even in the absence of overt physical repression. Carl Boggs offers a clear definition of the concept of hegemony as used by Gramsci (1976: 39):

By hegemony Gramsci meant the permeation throughout civil society – including a whole range of structures and activities like trade unions, schools, the churches, and the family – of an entire system of values, attitudes, beliefs, morality, etc. that is in one way or another supportive of the established order and the class interests that dominate it. Hegemony in this sense might be defined as an "reorganizing principle", or world-view (or combination of such world-views), that is diffused by agencies of ideological control and socialization into every area of daily life. To the extent that this prevailing consciousness is internalized by the broad masses, it becomes part of "common sense"; as all ruling elites seek to perpetuate their own philosophy, culture, morality, etc. and render them unchallengeable, part of the natural order of things. For hegemony to assert itself successfully in any society, therefore, it must operate in a dualistic manner; as a "general conception of life" for the masses, and as a "scholastic programme" or set of principles which is advanced by a sector of the intellectuals.

Hegemony thus saturates the society to such an extent that it corresponds to the reality of social experience. In this way, people contribute to the continued dominance of the ruling class, by accepting the dominant culture's values and assumptions as their own; repression is replaced by inculcation. As Boggs notes (1976: 39-40):

Where hegemony appeared as a strong force, it fulfilled a role that guns and tanks could never perform. It mystified power relations, public issues, and events; it encouraged a sense of fatalism and passivity towards political action; and it justified every type of system-serving sacrifice and deprivation. In short, hegemony worked in many ways to induce the oppressed to accept or "consent to" their own exploitation and misery.

Jean and John Comaroff, in their discussion of hegemony, provide a useful contrast between hegemony and ideology (1992: 29):

Hegemony consists of constructs and conventional practices that have come to permeate a political community; ideology originates in the assertions of a particular social group. Hegemony is beyond direct argument; ideology is more likely to be perceived as a matter of inimical opinion and interest and hence is more open to contestation. Hegemony, at its most effective, is mute; ideology invites argument. Hegemony, then, is that part of a dominant ideology that has been naturalized and, having contrived a tangible world in its image, does not appear to be ideological at all.

Stanley Diamond, a leading American anthropologist, had this to say about Gramsci and his concept of hegemony (1988: 281):

Antonio Gramsci is … the salient post-marxist thinker. Given his notion of hegemony as affecting all areas of life under capitalism, he was convinced that the only way to transform the system was to use it for … [counter-hegemonic] ends. Obviously, this led to his insistence that the local cross-sections of bureaucratic state structures could be, so to speak, captured by an alert citizenry, working for its own interests, and distinguishing them from the state/bureaucratic imperatives. Hence, by seizing the initiative in and through the local sectors of the society (schools, clubs, churches, sodalities in general), a self-educated opposition could develop at the very heart of the hierarchical polity. Gramsci was not an ideological reductionist; he was a dialectical thinker par excellence , and saw the process of learning relative to experience.

Gramsci fully expected the process of creating a counter-hegemony to proceed gradually, with the subordinated classes at first only questioning the dominant culture's values and assumptions. This first step of scepticism and doubting about prevailing ideas in the dominant belief system, or world-view, would be followed by other steps that lead to exposing the contradictions hidden within the hegemonic discourse. This critical penetration into the false world of established appearances would then lead to the creation of an entirely new universe of ideas and values.

Gramsci argued that the subordinated classes themselves (including those individuals with extended formal education, whom he referred to as "organic intellectuals," who identified themselves with the subordinated classes), rather than an organized party leadership, must take the initiative in the counter-hegemonic process, and it is they who must realize the potential for a social transformation based on their everyday lived experiences, creating a new consciousness embodied in everyday social processes, in thought and action, a thoroughgoing cultural revolution that sets out to transform all dimensions of everyday life (1971: 393-399). Thus, Gramsci emphasized the importance of the struggle for ideological hegemony at the grassroots level as the precondition for socialist transformation.

Moreover, he felt that although grassroots-based organizations such as agrarian collectives and cooperatives may not be socialist, they could be transformed into more revolutionary forms through the presence of a theoretically-informed political party operating within the realm of ordinary, everyday existence, and not detached from the everyday concerns of ordinary people (Gramsci 1971: 187). Gramsci concluded that a political party would be necessary to transform the partial demands of interest-group oriented social movements into ones that challenge the very structure of capitalist social relations.

The shifting, changing, and ever-growing amalgamation of diverse social forces that have evolved outside the established parliamentary and trade union structures and that make up the components of the Japanese organic farming movement (see Moen 1997, 1995), is an example of what Gramsci referred to as an "historical bloc." This concept directs attention to how people, working together at the grassroots level, create new cultural values and redefine social relations through the building of popular alliances that transcend an exclusive class basis.

For Gramsci, because hegemony saturates advanced capitalist societies, the subordinated classes have a hand in its perpetuation, either knowingly or unknowingly. A complex combination of world-views that are either directly or indirectly supportive of the established order and the dominant class interests are diffused into every area of daily life through the mainstream media, schools, clubs, trade unions, government institutions, business establishments, and various social and religious organizations. Therefore, media workers, school teachers, club members, trade unionists, lower- and middle-level government and business bureaucrats and managers, farmers, and blue-collar workers alike contribute to the formation and evolution of hegemony.

However, the very totalization of hegemony and its complex and ever-changing nature, creates opportunities for opposition and renders the system more vulnerable than ever. The replacement of force and repression with consent and relative freedom in advanced capitalism allows an informed citizenry to openly challenge the values, attitudes, beliefs, norms, and assumptions embedded in the dominant culture.


Contemporary Social Movements

In Japan, since the 1960s, there have emerged a number of social movements such as the anti-war, women's, peace, anti-nuclear, student, and environmental movements, along with new religious cults, communes, and armed revolutionary sects, all of which fail to fit the paradigms of either traditional Marxism or conventional academic social science. This statement applies to other advanced capitalist countries as well. Precisely because hegemony (and counter-hegemony) are processual and continually require reformulations, redefinitions, refinements, and adjustments, the degree of contestation among all social actors increases and decreases depending upon the specific historical circumstances.

With capitalist stagnation and the concomitant legitimation crises being faced by the advanced capitalist countries during the past three decades, social protest movements have proliferated globally. Most of these movements are grassroots-initiated and are challenging the status quo in various ways with varying success. Although many of these movements have been co-opted and others have simply disintegrated, some, such as the feminist and environmental movements, are continuing to challenge the hegemonic discourse. These movements, especially feminism and ecology, have greatly influenced social consciousness and to a lesser degree, public policy.

In my review of the theoretical literature, I found two main schools of thought pertaining to the study of the so-called "new social movements." One emphasizes the need to interpret social movements within traditional categories of political economy and their relation to class politics (Resource Mobilization Theory), while the other insists on the need to interpret them within a new framework of identity politics that dismisses the centrality of class (New Social Movement theory).

My position is that there must be a convergence of the two approaches; the personal cannot be divorced from the political; an analysis of the state and class relations must go hand-in-hand with an analysis of personal identity and locally-grounded issues; extra-parliamentary actions must be coordinated with electoral politics. I agree with Carroll and Ratner who assert that: "… drawing upon Gramsci, some middle ground is possible wherein the conceptual foci of capital, class, and state remain in the discourse of social theory (1994: 5). They further state that: ". .. a Gramscian viewpoint … offers the best prospect for analyzing contemporary movement politics and strategizing about social change. This approach retains the insights of historical materialism, avoids the pitfalls of radical pluralism, and remains open to ongoing transformations in culture, politics, and capitalism" (Carroll and Ratner 1994: 3).

Social movement researchers have found that the participants in contemporary social movements belong neither to the working nor the capitalist classes, but for the most part, are of the new middle classes, elements of the old middle class, and some of the unemployed or otherwise marginalized, students, and housewives (Offe 1985: 832; Melucci 1989: 53). Thus, movement participants do not view themselves in terms of a socio-economic class, and tend to focus on grassroots politics, creating participatory democratic associations, and targeting the social domain of civil society rather than the economy or state (Cohen 1985: 667). Epstein claims that the so-called New Social Movement theory (NSM) is devoid of interest in the working class and working class concerns because the participants in the subject of their research are non-working class (1990: 48).

The New Social Movement theorists have addressed the question of why the movements in the advanced capitalist countries that have proliferated since the 1960s differ from previous movements, and also whether Marxism continues to be useful and how it might be transformed. The NSM approach, which Jean Cohen prefers to call the "identity-oriented paradigm," emphasizes the particularistic, fragmentary character of many contemporary movements and embraces their wariness to unify or even to construct a shared agenda.

Moorers and Sears polemically assert that the NSM theorists have rejected Marxism by "reducing state power to the status of a non-problem" (1992:53). They argue that by denying that the capitalist state represents a unique concentration of social power in capitalist society (Moorers and Sears 1992: 52), and by emphasizing the need to retrieve liberal democracy and liberal values, the NSM theorists fail to provide a convincing alternative to Marxism (Moorers and Sears 1992:53). They contend that since all social movements at some point must confront the state, the NSM theorists, by failing to provide an effective strategy for state confrontation, will contribute to the defeat or incorporation of social movements (Moorers and Sears 1992:68).

Touraine, a leading proponent of New Social Movement theory, sees the project of the new social movements as one of a politics of identity (1988: 18):

We no longer demand to direct the course of things; we simply claim our freedom, the right to be ourselves without being crushed by the apparatuses of power, violence, and propaganda.

Similarly, Melucci (1980: 220) finds new social movements to be:

… not oriented toward the conquest of political power or of the state apparatus, but rather toward the control of a field of autonomy or of independence vis-a-vis the system.

Thus, it appears that NSM theorists such as Melucci and Touraine perceive contemporary social movements as anti-hegemonic (working against the dominant cultural assumptions) and not as counter-hegemonic (working for the creation of a culture of emancipation). It appears to me that the NSM theorists underestimate the extent to which contemporary social movements might share a universalist vision organized around such modernist themes such as social justice, human rights, or peace.

Kauffman argues that the identity-politics of everyday life that is celebrated by NSM theorists devolves to an antipolitics, with its attention to lifestyle and lack of collective organization actually mirroring the ideology of the capitalist marketplace (1990: 78). She calls instead for an approach that balances concerns about identity "with an emphasis on solidarity, as well as with attention to other key categories like interests and needs" (Kauffman 1990: 79).

For Gramsci, the alliances formed in the maintenance of hegemony, or in mobilizing counter-hegemony, extend beyond classes to include various social forces in civil society. In contrast to Lenin's Russia, where "the state was everything" and "civil society was primordial and gelatinous" (Gramsci 1971: 238), in the advanced capitalist countries, civil society is sophisticated and diverse. As Roger Simon notes, this has profound implications for counter-hegemonic strategy (1991: 75):

The working class has to dismantle the system of fortresses and earthworks supporting the hegemony of the bourgeoisie by building alliances with all the social movements which are striving to transform the relationships within civil society. The hegemonic power exercised by the bourgeoisie through the organizations of civil society has to be increasingly undermined by the countervailing power of the social movements based on the growing activity of the members of these movements, linked together under the leadership of the working class.

In the attempt to transform social relations within civil society, counter-hegemonic movements practice a politics unlike that envisioned by classical Marxists in the struggle for state power. Many of the participants in contemporary social movements eschew dependence on the lead of a vanguard of revolutionary political party intellectuals, and with the decline in numbers and strength of the traditional working class, a revolutionary coalition of working and middle classes is called for.

Discussing Gramsci's assertion that all people are intellectuals, Carroll notes (1992:11): "Gramsci viewed politics as a process in which people become conscious, active agents of history, able to think and act for themselves." In Gramsci's words (1971: 323-324):

It (is) better to work out consciously and critically one's own conception of the world, and thus, in connection with the labours of one's own brain, choose one's sphere of activity, take an active part in the creation of the history of the world, be one's own guide, refusing to accept passively and supinely from outside the moulding of one's personality.

In the conception of counter-hegemony advanced by Boggs (1986) and Epstein (1990) with which I concur, the working class is no longer cast in the role of "leader" but is viewed as an indispensable participant in the politics of social transformation. Brecher and Costello (1990) argue that the ideal organization for building counter-hegemony may not necessarily be a political party, but may possibly be some sort of "labor-community coalitions" involving a convergence of labor and the new social movements around a shared vision.

Thus, contrary to the assertions of many NSM theorists, the counter-hegemonic struggle involves a coalition of forces unified by a common strategy to obtain the ultimate goal of social transformation, however decentralized and democratically structured the exercise of leadership may be (Carroll 1992:12). Adam (1993:325) aptly observes that any attempt to theorize about contemporary social movements must recognize that:

[T]he differentiation and formation of subordinated categories of people are both a part of and apart from the political economy of advanced capitalism. How people come to identify themselves with some others in opposition to still other people is always a particular historical process which is not pre-determined along a single political dimension, such as exclusion from production decisions, but rather follows complex patterns of inferiorization in the many spheres of life. [italics in original]

As the discussion above indicates, the Gramscian concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony greatly facilitate the analysis of ideological and cultural creation and re-creation in advanced capitalist societies. Before turning to a discussion of other theoretical influences that I have incorporated into my own approach, I feel it necessary to offer a critique of James C. Scott's use of the hegemony concept in the context of pre-capitalist social formations and contemporary Third World societies. The seemingly growing influence of Scott in academic discourse necessitates a brief discussion of how, in my estimation, his use of the terms "hegemony" and "counter-hegemony" diverges greatly from that intended by Gramsci.

Scott seemingly makes use of the hegemony concept in his analysis of peasant agriculture in Malaysia (1985) and of the global history of slavery, serfdom, and caste subordination (1990) in order to discredit it. Although Scott's decision to analyze "everyday forms of resistance" such as foot dragging, dissimulation, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, and sabotage, "the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups" (1985:29) is commendable, since this is an area of study previously neglected by social scientists who tended to focus on organized forms of resistance, what I find troubling is his assertion that "… the notion of hegemony and its related concepts of false-consciousness, mystification, and ideological state apparatuses not only fail to make sense of class relations in Sedaka [the village he studied in Malaysia], but are just as likely to mislead us seriously in understanding class conflict in most situations…. [T]he concept of hegemony ignores the extent to which most subordinate classes are able, on the basis of their daily material experience, to penetrate and demystify the prevailing ideology" (Scott 1985:317).

Such an assertion clearly indicates that Scott is (either intentionally or unintentionally) misusing the hegemony concept. As Akram-Lodhi (1992:180) argues, Scott's "analysis can be criticized for having an insufficient command of the concept of hegemony."

Scott ignores the processual nature of hegemony, and although not intended by Gramsci to be used in an analysis of pre-capitalist and developing capitalist societies, Scott insists on employing the term in his analysis of just such societies in order to denounce its inapplicability for all social formations, including advanced capitalist ones. Furthermore, he equates hegemony with false consciousness and thus reduces it to a ruling-class ideology (1990: 70-81).

The emancipatory aspect of Gramsci's concept of hegemony is ignored by Scott. The openly repressive nature of feudal societies and slave societies, and the authoritarian nature of many contemporary developing capitalist societies precludes (or at least makes difficult) the possibility of openly challenging the legitimacy of the ruling elites. Scott's assertions that the concept of hegemony cannot account for the continuation of social conflict within a given hegemony, and that it disallows attempts to effect structural change from below (1990), clearly reveals his lack of understanding of the concept as developed by Gramsci. Precisely because hegemony (and counter-hegemony) are processual and continually require reformulations, redefinitions, refinements, and adjustments, the degree of contestation among all social actors increases and decreases depending upon the specific historical circumstances. Social conflict and social change are not inconveniences" for theories of hegemony as claimed by Scott (1990); they are at the center of the concept of hegemony.

Scott offers a misleading oversimplification of the concept of hegemony in order to refute its efficacy (1985:315):

Hegemony is simply the name Gramsci gave to this process of ideological domination. The central idea behind it is the claim that the ruling class dominates not only the means of physical production but the means of symbolic production as well. Its control over the material forces of production is replicated, at the level of ideas, in its control over the ideological "sectors" of society – culture, religion, education, and the media – in a manner that allows it to disseminate those values that reinforce its position. What Gramsci did, in brief, was to explain the institutional basis of false-consciousness. [italics in original]

To conflate the concept of hegemony with that of false consciousness is absurd. Unfortunately, with the influence that Scott has had within the social science disciplines in recent years, the concept of hegemony has been degraded by a number of writers to a static and simple notion of ruling class ideology.

Ohnuki-Tierney, as an example of an anthropologist (specializing in symbolic studies of aspects of Japanese culture) following Scott's lead, asserts (1993 :6): "A superficial application of such conceptual tools as false consciousness, mystification, hegemony or even naturalization too often encourages the researcher to evade confronting the questions and to ignore culture-specific meanings and particular historical processes." This type of blind dismissal of the hegemony concept, its conflation with false consciousness and mystification, and assertion that its use by researchers often indicates an evasion of cultural and historical specificity, clearly reveals an anti-marxian ideological bias.

Scott gives an example from his research in a village in Malaysia to support his contention that the concept of hegemony is unworkable (1985:318):

If there were a dominant, hegemonic ideology in Sedaka, it would make its presence known in several ways. At a minimum, it would require that the beliefs and values of the agrarian elite penetrate and dominate the worldview of the poor so as to elicit their consent and approval of an agrarian order which, materially, does not serve their objective interests. Its function would be to conceal or misrepresent the real conflicts of class interests that we have examined and to make of the poor, in effect, coconspirators in their own victimization.
We have surely heard enough from the poorer farmers in Sedaka to reject, out of hand, such a summary characterization of their ideological situation. If there is any penetration to be accounted for here, it is less the penetration of elite beliefs among the poor than the capacity of the poor to pierce, in almost every particular, the self-serving picture presented by wealthy farmers, landlords, and outside officials.

It is clear that Scott is not offering an analysis of hegemony as he claims; he is analyzing ideological domination by local and state elites in a Third World society. Scott's analysis is here limited to a transition phase to capitalist social relations in rural Malaysia. He is referring, not to hegemony, but to an unsophisticated (relative to the sophisticated nature of hegemony and culture production in an advanced capitalist society such as found in Japan) attempt by the state, in league with local elites, to impose a new ideology to fit the evolving socio-political landscape being brought about by the penetration of capitalist social relations into rural Malaysia. By equating hegemony with ideology, Scott distorts the concept of hegemony in a way that makes it meaningless.

Scott is convinced that subordinate classes are unable to act collectively to transform society, creating a counter-hegemony. He states that "… historically, the breaking of the norms and values of a dominant ideology is typically the work of the bearers of a new mode of production – for example, capitalists – and not of subordinate classes such as peasants and workers" (italics in original. 1985: 31). When Scott decides to mention Gramsci's concept of counter-hegemony, it is only in passing, and then only to reject it (1985: 346):

Gramsci and many others assume that the key task for any subordinate class is to create a counter-hegemony that will ultimately be capable of transforming the society. This position may have some merit for mature capitalist societies, where an elaborated ideology may already be in place. But it ignores the central fact that it has been capitalism that has historically transformed societies and broken apart existing relations of production. [italics in original]

To baldly state that Gramsci ignored the transformative capacity of capitalism is absurd. Gramsci's historical analysis of capitalism enabled him to not only delineate the disruptive nature of capitalist penetration into local communities throughout the world, it enabled him to perceive the potential of subordinated classes to take the initiative and use the structures, institutions, and mechanisms within capitalist society to effect an emancipatory transformation from the bottom-up.

It is this potential that makes the Gramscian concepts of hegemony and counter-hegemony inimical to the dominant culture. The concept of hegemony must be differentiated from notions such as mystification, false consciousness, naturalization, and ideology. The concept is an important heuristic device to not only critique the dominant culture's values and assumptions, but to overcome values and assumptions that primarily benefit the minority and replace them with ones that benefit the majority.

In my study of the process of counter-hegemony exemplified by the organic farming movement in Japan, I found that organic farmer's groups have taken the initiative and formed agricultural production collectives. They have built alliances with urban consumers, creating alternative marketing structures, and in the process have redefined cultural values, norms of behavior, and social relations. The participants in the organic farming movement in Japan are effectively manipulating the institutions of the advanced capitalist state and civil society in Japan by using them to further their project of creating a new culture. Their achievements and successes over a period of 20 years effectively negate the pessimistic assertions of Scott that subordinated groups of people are limited to individual acts of resistance, that they have no class consciousness, and that the potential for a grassroots-initiated social transformation is only an illusion.


Feminism, Social History, and Cultural Critique

Anthropologists have recently recognized the importance of the types of questions raised or not raised by the researcher in the interpretation of social reality as perceived by the research subjects. Women were often neglected or marginalized in the ethnographic enterprise, usually carried out by men. Cultures previously interpreted through often internally-biased intellectual and ideological assumptions of men, have been totally recast by ethnographies that address the role and status, perceptions and convictions of women.

Women are important figures in social movements in Japan, and are often the catalyst in effecting change from the grassroots level. Many of the women in my study of the organic farming movement have been influenced in varying degrees by the postwar Japanese women's movement, and that influence is reflected in the varying strategies they employ in day-to-day living.

Although the women participating in social protest organizations in Japan were previously perceived by many to be middle-class women with time on their hands, pursuing "hobbies" (shumi ) to further their own self-centered interests, this stereotype, perpetuated by the dominant culture, no longer pertains. With economic necessity forcing women to work, many on a full-time basis, there are very few full-time housewives to be found in Japan.

It is working women who are active in social movements in Japan, and the organic farming movement is no exception. I found that the majority of women participants in the movement to be working, at least on a part-time basis. They are involved in working for social change not because they are interested in pursuing a hobby, but because they feel the need to fight for basic human rights.

Another theoretical and methodological development in social science research in the postwar period that has had a profound influence in my own theoretical orientation has been the emphasis on portraying the daily lives of diverse social groups and their interactions, and the nature of these interactions and "history in the making" in terms of exploitation and domination. Crossing social science boundaries, the call for social relevance in academic research elicited an impressive variety of innovative responses.

In the works of E.P. Thompson, for example, whose influence in anthropology has increased markedly in recent years, we find a comprehensive notion of production articulated by his use of the notion of the dialectics between social being and social consciousness. By social being, he is referring to the material interactions that are experienced in the process of historical existence. Social consciousness refers to cultural values and assumptions, mutual expectations, and norms of behavior through which human actions obtain their meaning. He states (1978:8):

For we cannot conceive of any form of social being independently of its organizing concepts and expectations; nor could social being reproduce itself for a day without thought.

This dialectic for Thompson is used to show how consciousness is mediated by lived experience, enabling people to see through the surface appearances of the dominant culture, and participate in redefining and reformulating their self-identities and their social relations, becoming active participants in remaking their social existence.

Thompson also argues that the social historian must question the historical evidence in relation to power and domination, being cognizant of who writes history for what purpose. In addition to engaging in a critical historiography, Thompson insists that the economic, political, and cultural realms are intricately interrelated, and in a departure from structural Marxists, maintains that the reproduction of the economy does not determine the reproduction of culture or the character of political institutions (Thompson 1978: 68):

… historical materialism (as assumed as hypothesis by Marx, and as subsequently developed in our practice) must be concerned with other "circuits" also: the circuits of power, the reproduction of ideology, etc., and these belong to a different logic and to other categories.

For Thompson, political economy demystifies only those interactions that are related to production and cannot disclose the cultural components that make up the totality of social relations in capitalism. Thus, Thompson's assertion that the reproduction of capitalist social relations is dependent upon a medium of social control that incorporates the cultural, political, and economic realms viewed historically, and that because these realms cannot be totally controlled by the ruling class, underlines his point that people are able to reflect on their positions of subordination and struggle to overcome domination in its varied guises.

The parallels to Gramsci's concept of hegemony and the possibilities for building a counter-hegemony are obvious. Thompson's emphasis on people making their own history, the political nature of cultural production, and the limitations of political economy has enabled researchers influenced by his theoretical formulations to incorporate a dimension of critical historiography into their fieldwork.

Jean and John Comaroff, for example, are urging fellow anthropologists to broaden the scope of their inquiry, and to engage in an "ethnography of the historical imagination" which they define as "… a historical anthropology that is dedicated to exploring the processes that make and transform particular worlds – processes that reciprocally shape subjects and contexts, that allow certain things to be said and done" (Jean and John Comaroff 1992: 31). Incorporating a critical historiography, armed with Gramsci's concept of hegemony, familiar with further refinements made by Raymond Williams, they urge anthropologists to include the people who help to make history in their historical accounts (Jean and John Comaroff 1992: 33), and to include the wider dimensions of national and international factors in analyses of local systems and seemingly localized phenomena (Jean and John Comaroff 1992: 31-32).

Raymond Williams has also had an increasing influence in anthropology as the discipline has recently returned to its previous concern with the concept of culture. Williams, like Thompson, focuses attention on forms of domination outside the labor process, by relating political power to culture. Williams, incorporating Gramsci's concept of hegemony, addresses issues related to culture and domination.

Williams states that he fears the concept of hegemony is being diluted by the varied interpretations to which it is put, and that it may be "… dragged back to the relatively simple, uniform and static notion which "superstructure" in ordinary use had become" (Williams 1980: 37). He stresses the importance of recognizing the fluid, processual nature of hegemony which has "… continually to be renewed, recreated and defended; and by the same token, … can be continually challenged and in certain respects modified" (Williams 1980: 38). He goes on to explain his understanding of hegemony (Williams 1980: 38-39):

[W]hat I have in mind is the central, effective and dominant system of meanings and values, which are not merely abstract but which are organized and lived. That is why hegemony is not to be understood at the level of mere opinion or mere manipulation. It is a whole body of practices and expectations; our assignments of energy, our ordinary understanding of the nature of man and of his world. It is a set of meanings and values which as they are experienced as practices appear as reciprocally confirming. It thus constitutes a sense of reality for most people in the society, a sense of absolute because experienced reality beyond which it is very difficult for most members of the society to move, in most areas of their lives.

Williams, like Gramsci, views cultural values as material actions that are continually being produced, reproduced, accepted, and discarded, and those values are the values propounded by the ruling class.

Williams has, I think, contributed greatly to cultural analysis through his notion of "selective tradition." By strengthening the notion of tradition, which is sometimes inert in Marxism, he has opened a new avenue of inquiry related to a deeper understanding of the processual nature of hegemony (Williams 1980:39):

Moreover, at a philosophical level, at the true level of theory and at level of the history of various practices, there is a process which I call the selective tradition, that which, within the terms of an effective dominant culture, is always passed off as the tradition, the significant past. But always the selectivity is the point; the way in which from a whole possible area of past and present, certain meanings and practices are neglected and excluded. Even more crucially, some of these meanings and practices are reinterpreted, diluted, or put into forms which support or at least do not contradict other elements within the effective dominant culture. The processes of education; the processes of a much wider social training within institutions like the family; the practical definitions and organization of work; the selective tradition at an intellectual and theoretical level; all these forces are involved in a continual making and remaking of an effective dominant culture, and on them, as experienced, as built into our living, its reality depends. [italics in original]

Thus, he defines selective tradition as the culturally-constituted practices and expectations that are represented as "the tradition" of a given society, but are actually the basis for the legitimation of the existing social order. Furthermore, he persuasively argues that the tradition that is dominant, one out of a myriad possibility of traditions, is continually being reworked and re-presented to serve the hegemony of the ruling class.

By clarifying the dynamic, rather than static, nature of hegemony, Williams emphasizes the historical dimension in the concept of hegemony, and at the same time deepens our understanding of the amount of flexibility it can possess in accommodating alternative values. His insight into the historical variability and cultural specificity of hegemony, and the ability of a strong hegemony to tolerate alternative, and at times even oppositional, forms of behavior is an important contribution to the analysis of the process and contours of hegemony, and of the inherent difficulties involved in the "war of position" and the building of a counter-hegemony (1980: 39-43).



In the example of postwar Japan, the ruling class has enjoyed the benefits of a strong hegemony since the mid-1950s. This has been facilitated by the one-party state and the conservative coalition that has supported it. By deftly employing an appeal to nationalist sentiments of "Japanese uniqueness" and the need to sacrifice in order to elevate the nation's status among nations; by making immediately available to the public translations of academic and non-academic works by foreign writers, and publications by domestic scholars and social commentators that praise Japan's "successes" and extol Japan's "uniqueness;" by introducing a revived and "democratic" emperor system ideology that Japanese can take pride in; and, in short, by utilizing the sophisticated ideological resources available to the advanced technocratic capitalist state, the ruling class has managed to maintain its control of Japanese society. However, that grip is starting to loosen, and a weakening of ruling class hegemony can be discerned. With the break-up of the Liberal Democratic Party into several new political parties that offer no new policy directions, a legitimation crisis of mammoth proportions has appeared. This legitimation crisis has quickened the pace of the counter-hegemonic process as witnessed by the increased visibility of a wide range of social movements and by the dramatic increase in Japan Communist Party candidates elected to the Lower House in the October 1996 elections and the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in mid-1997.

In my own ethnographic research, by incorporating the emancipatory aspect of Gramsci's theory and his insistence on the need to articulate and diffuse alternative ways of conceptualizing the world through theoretically-informed collective action at the grassroots level, I have found that the organic farming movement in Japan offers an excellent example of the process of creating a counter-hegemonic culture. The Japanese organic farming movement is challenging the hegemony that prevails in Japan not only in the ideological-cultural realm but in the political-economic realm. The participants are not only reformulating and redefining the dominant culture's values and assumptions, they are acting collectively to create new social relations, work relations, and definitions of self in relation to society, both national and international.

During the course of my research in Japan, I came across numerous examples of ways in which the participants in the organic farming movement used the system to further their interests and advance towards their goals, some of which were counter-hegemonic, and by doing so, weakening the hegemony of the dominant culture. The mass media, for example, were used repeatedly: advertisements were placed in leading national daily newspapers calling on supporters to "adopt" trees standing on land proposed for the construction of golf courses (Standing Tree Trust); local newspaper offices were called to send reporters to cover organic farmer's group meetings or interview visiting researchers (I was interviewed on several occasions and my critical comments concerning governmental actions were faithfully published); network television news teams were invited to produce documentaries on a number of activities that movement participants were engaged in; and local radio stations were used to broadcast debates concerning agricultural issues. Movement participants held round-table discussions on agricultural liberalization at universities; organic farmers spoke at elementary and secondary schools about their farming experiences; the Miyoshi-Tokyo Co-partnership members (my primary research group of a union of 30 organic farm families and 1,200 Tokyo-area consumer families) took advantage of a Tokyo Metropolitan Government program that offered grants to purchase delivery vehicles used for direct-marketing of produce; organic farmers gave talks at local meetings of the conservative Association of Agricultural Cooperatives; and both consumers and farmers attended and engaged in discussions of topics that ranged from various aspects of the organic farming movement to opposition to government policies in various domestic as well as foreign relations issues, at a large variety of local organizations and clubs, including trade union locals. Thus, in various ways, the "system" was being used effectively to further the counter-hegemonic project.

Hegemony, relying as it does on "consent" does not have an unqualified control of cultural production; mass media executives at the top cannot effectively police the information input by local reporters or lower-level editors; universities cannot maintain their semblance as institutions encouraging freedom of inquiry and expression if alternative or oppositional viewpoints are systematically excluded; large organizations such as trade unions or national agricultural associations cannot control the content of discussions at the local level; and national education ministries cannot effectively intervene to prohibit teachers from using school facilities to indirectly weaken the hegemonic discourse.

This indicates that many members of the new middle classes, including professionals, technical workers, lower- and middle-level bureaucrats in public and private institutions, academics, and media and cultural workers, are identifying themselves with the bottom two-thirds of society, often sharing common values and interests despite differences in lifestyle or social status. Their increased disaffection with the dominant culture and the values associated with it is manifested in their increased involvement in movements working for qualitative social change in areas such as the environment, feminism, democratic empowerment, and personal as well as social transformation.

The participants' involvement in the organic farming movement in Japan, for example, has influenced not only their perceptions of self in relation to other, but their growing ideological commitment to broader social issues not considered by them prior to their involvement. Participants are concurrently involved in other movements as well. These include a variety of women's, environmental, peace, foreign policy, human rights, and labor movements. The diversity of interests influences the broadening of the movement as participants talk with each other about issues not related to the organic farming movement per se. Thus, movement participants are not simply anti-hegemonic, opposing the dominant culture's ideas and values that legitimate the power structure, they are counter-hegemonic in that they offer a vision of a non-economistic, democratized state centered on universal values of social justice, human rights, and popular participation in the reformulation of the meanings attached to work, authority, culture, family, community, gender, and consumption.

Because they address real human needs and pressing social problems, reflect real historical processes, and respond to deep contradictions in the world capitalist system and Japan's place within it as an advanced capitalist power, the participants in the organic farming movement are employing multiple discourses that are attracting a diversified cross-section of society. Although the movement does not center itself on material struggles narrowly defined, it is not simply an expression of a middle-class culture.

The complexity of advanced capitalist society and the blurring of the previous boundaries between the economic sphere and the political, social, and cultural realms is reflected in the very complexity of the movement itself; its concern with declining living standards and loss of jobs related to capitalist stagnation and generalized sense of alienation and powerlessness; with political corruption and societal decay; and with cultural values and assumptions no longer accepted as "common sense." This holistic approach enables the participants to see the connections and address issues that are social, political, and cultural as well as economic. Cultural reductionism and economic determinism are being transcended, pointing the way to a more sophisticated understanding of advanced capitalism and the possibility of effecting structural change through mechanisms not necessarily based in the material forces and relations of production.

With capitalist restructuring on a global scale and the internationalization of the Japanese economy generating greater inequality; with the pressure on living standards creating a more widely shared common experience for the majority of working people (including farmers and the new middle classes); with the growing awareness that the dominant culture's values and assumptions are bankrupt and the increasing realization that the continuation of growth-centered economic policies are leading to a further decline in the quality of life for the majority of the population instead of the implied promise of increasing prosperity for all, an emerging "historical bloc" of diverse social forces is discernible in contemporary Japan. This widely shared common experience is the basis for greater solidarity and the attempt to reshape society from the bottom-up, incorporating the needs and hopes of the majority of the Japanese populace.

The theoretical perspective I have presented here cannot be expected to address all the problems associated with the interpretation of a complex social process. However, I feel this theoretical approach allows one to gain insights into the process of creating a counter-hegemony within advanced capitalism that would not be possible otherwise.



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