Definition of Hegemony

Last Thursday I met with a brilliant new student. She is working on a paper for the novel 1984, and wanted to bounce ideas off of me. It was very fun, because she had so many wonderful ideas already. She was talking about George Orwell’s rejection of totalitarianism throughout the book, but had many questions she was just dying to explore the answers to. Unfortunately, she is only a junior in high school, and her paper is only supposed to be 3-4 pages. Working with her made me want to go back to graduate school though. It was so refreshing to have that type of conversation with someone so young, who has so many ideas and questions. She was also very excited to learn a new vocabulary word during our session- hegemony.

Photo Credit: netcharles.com (cited in the hyperlink above)

After she learned about hegemony and how she could use it while conceptualizing her paper, she smiled and said, “I like that word” before typing furiously for ten minutes on her computer. I was glad to know that learning a new word like that could help inspire her writing so much. It was a very cool moment. I know I have mentioned hegemony here before, but I am not sure it really gets used very often in regular conversations, so I have decided to define it for you as well.

Hegemony, as I understand it, means the oppression of others by a larger dominant, overarching (and widely accepted) force that creates a structure of sameness and difference. All societies have hegemony, and the tools to create what is deemed “normal” often belongs to the people/ entities in power. Hegemony can be both cultural and political, and its presence can be seen in books, movies, and society as a whole, since a small percentage of the population controls what movies are made, which books are published, and who wins elections.

One small group of people, usually the ones with the most money or political influence, can influence the way the society as a whole thinks and acts, even if they are perhaps acting against their best interests as individuals. Perhaps the easiest example of hegemony at work is in media portrayals of “average” people, ethnicities, places, politicians, love interests, gender identities, religions, music, rituals, and cultural practices.

Here is an interesting article that discusses hegemony’s role in relation to media theory which might interest you.

In our conversation, my student and I were discussing Orwell’s subversion of hegemony. Totalitarianism tries to enforce and reinforce a strict hegemonic culture from which to work from. Any variance must be destroyed so that people don’t question, don’t think, and certainly don’t make connections with each other independent of the state.

A very fun light from Spa Envy in Seattle- a group of people I have made individual connections with 🙂

In many ways, I like to consider this blog as a variance from hegemony. My interests include things that the hegemonic parts of Western culture accepts, like Jane Austen, but this blogging project also builds various connections with others based on individual interpretation and experiences. That, to me, does subvert hegemonic influence in many ways, and has been one of the primary benefits of the internet.

What do you think? If you have any more examples of hegemony in our modern times?

Happy Sunday,

Miss E

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20 comments on “Definition of Hegemony

  1. careyrowland says:

    Heteronomy is always more interesting than hegemony.
    Antidisestablishmentinteriaism trumps it all.

  2. katepatrick says:

    I learned a new word today thanks to you! Love the spa picture. That place looking sooooo relaxing…. Hope you have a wonderful week. I enjoy reading your blog.

  3. Chris says:

    i found this most interesting and at 67 and having only grade nine education it is always refreshing to learn.

  4. carla says:

    I know some parents who operate in this way, not really interested in their children’s individual interests, but just for control and power. It makes kids feel crazy because they are not validated and sometimes punished severely for just being themselves.

  5. elmediat says:

    Excellent post. Having the experience of working with young bright mind, I can relate to the excitement and energy to felt talking to the student. The media connection to hegemony reminds of the media literacy principles that I explore with my students. All Mass Media constructs a reality that is built on a set of values, beliefs, and ideologies. It conveys and re-enforces accepted beliefs. I point out that if you never see a person of a particular gender, age, race or ethnicity in a particular role it becomes the norm. White students seldom notice that a poster/image of only white individuals has excluded non-whites.

  6. The denial that our climate is changing and that this is due to humans’ activities fits some of the the notions of hegemony ie “One small group of people, usually the ones with the most money or political influence, can influence the way the society as a whole thinks and acts, even if they are perhaps acting against their best interests as individuals.”

  7. Elisheba says:

    Thanks for this post. I teach at Rutgers University and I’m also often inspired and amazed by my students!

  8. lou elio says:

    I recall the first time really noticing the word…. years and years ago in the “Ender’s Game” novels by Orson Scott Card. The leader of the western world, and later earth was called the Hegemon. The main characters were a group of children, all exceedingly gifted, and two of them created false identities which commented via blogs and chat boards about politics, affecting public opinion, and ultimately guiding and setting government policies. It was a great “teen” book, especially considering it featured tech that didnt exist then but is commonplace now.

  9. If you want to find out about hegemony, really experience it, start saying what you really feel, no matter who is around you, what is at stake.

    I have found that far to many times, people make it look like they have tolerance but you find out that it’s a facade as soon as someone upsets the apple cart by countering what they believe is right. Or ‘good.’

    They are then very careful to maintain the appearance that they are open so they don’t respond directly but rather gossip to others about what so and so said, or did. Or worse.

    There are many ways to burn people at the stake and sadly it happens all the time. No matter how much people chant, love, bliss and tolerance. They still like to stick with our own and believe deep down they are right.

    So, it is great to know the word, to write about how uncool it is to behave in such a way, but until we live with courage, as individuals, in a way that counters hegemony, it matters not. And in fact ignorance may indeed be bliss.

  10. erasmus2011 says:

    This is a really interesting post! What do you think about Animal Farm by George Orwell? Do you think that if a totalitarian power disappears it would be automatically replaced by another which can be worse than the previous one?

    • That is a really great question actually. I feel like it is also entirely possible that transfer to a newer power could be worse. Many people fear that I think, which is one of the reasons why political change is often slow-going. If people are used to totalitarian rule, it seems to become an entrenched part of the social structure and easily replaced by further totalitarian powers.

      • However, I also think that Orwell proposes in his works that the way to undermine that rule is through individual expression and non-state sanctioned social interaction.

      • erasmus2011 says:

        Thank you for your answer!
        Individual expression is often repressed in many countries… Totalitarian powers like when everything is formated and standardized. It’s easier to control people if you can easily find the agent provocateur. Gorge Orwel’s books are really interesting!

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