- This concept is to be understood in the context of Karl Marx's historical materialism. It refers to the ideal representation of the interests of the ruling-class as universal interests. The cumulative nature of the universalization of ideas not only broadens the scope of each ruling-class hegemony but at the same time sharpens the conflict between it and each subsequent ascendant class until such a time as a class (the proletariat ) emerges which really does represent the universal interest. According to Marx, each ruling class does actually represent a broader range of interests than its predecessors, by providing (for example) avenues of social mobility into a higher class; hence, it comes to power not only on the illusion of the common interest, but also because it does in fact serve a broader range of interests. Likewise, the ideas which express the dominant material relationships within and between classes also take a firmer grip, and for that reason are all the more embedded, providing no obvious alternatives. However, in due course the specific class interests of the ruling class become apparent, demanding a more radical negation for its transcendence.The major vehicle for bourgeois hegemony is civil society . Antonio Gramsci locates hegemony within the role of the ‘private’ or non-state levels of superstructure, distinguishing this social hegemony from the use of force, as the principal means of maintaining social order in capitalist societies. Seen in Weberian terms, it would correspond to the ‘myth of natural superiority’, or the legitimating of a status order. It is, in short, the manufacturing of consent. Cultural hegemony, which is generally identified as the major dimension of this manipulation, involves the production of ways of thinking and seeing, and of excluding alternative visions and discourses . For that same reason it is difficult to identify what are non-hegemonic modes of reasoning and penetrative analysis, especially since hegemony permeates all of the levels distinguished in Marx's schema, from the basic items of labour-power and capital , through the connections of commodity fetishism , into the fractions of classes and politics. According to Marxists, therefore, hegemony has to be confronted at every level. The same conceptual as well as methodological strictures as apply to false consciousness and its transcendence must be applied in the case of hegemony.The sociological significance of the concept, and some idea of its use in empirical research on ideology , is demonstrated in, ‘Hegemony and Consciousness in the Thought of Antonio Gramsci’, Political Studies (1975).
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.