Hegemony 101

Antonio Gramsci lives — or at least he does in classrooms across England for those studying Geography A-level with the Edexcel board. One of the units for the A2 exam sat during the final year at school is “Superpower Geographies” (notice the modish use of the plural). The unit is described thus: “Power — both economic and political — is not evenly distributed. Some nations and players have a disproportionate influence over regional and global decision making, whereas others work within systems they have little influence over.”

Fair enough. But it goes on: “Equally the nature of power has changed, from direct to more subtle control; through trade, culture, flows of capital and resources.” 

And it is here that dear old Gramsci comes in. He famously argued, when the revolution was slow in coming to Italy, that capitalism had constructed a hegemonic culture which had so impregnated every part of life that it somehow managed to preserve the capitalist system long after it should otherwise have collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions.

What has this to do with the role of superpowers today? Why do the geography examiners think it might have any relevance to the power of the US or the rise of China or India? In their eyes, the US has managed to export its own hegemonic culture — McDonalds, Coca-Cola, MTV and Friends — so as to preserve its dominance long after its time too has passed. 

The Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove certainly does have his work cut out.

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