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Process of Hegemony

Hegemony is a concept that has been popping up all over in readings for other classes…but an interesting use of it is found in Steven Buechler’s Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism. He describes “cycles of hegemony that define such very different political climates? and that there are 4 specific stages that associated with the rise and fall of hegemonic power (p. 67) associating that with a rise, maturity, and decline of hegemonic power. For him, these cycles are tied to changing economies and how states take advantage of economic opportunities (thus starting a hegemonic cycle). Obviously here, he is not pulling from Laclau and Mouffe (his citation is Gramsci), and that the hegemony is giving as example is the US military-industrial system and its forms/stages from 1900-present (and assuming that this is a dominant/influential world force)—clearly some material evidence with the type of production and economic system at a given time. But I was interested in seeing if a “life cycle? of hegemony fits with the process that Laclau and Mouffe outline.

Given that articulation/disarticulation is a process, then life cycle might fit. There would be, arguably, some evidence for the movement of the frontier and/or strength of the rearticulation/current articulation (how fragmented or contested it would be). Using Ron’s example from class, would it be fair to suggest that marriage between man/woman was strongest when there was no recognition or terminology for homosexuality? And that at this point we might be at the emerging phase of rearticulating the concept of marriage/traditional concept of marriage in decline? Perhaps gauging the strength of given concepts by forms of text or discourse and how these concepts are referred to? If we can say that articulation processes can be thought of as a life cycle, it might also be possible to think that there would be certain strategies that can be employed at different times of that life cycle for rearticulation to be more or less successful. In thinking of the war example (Matt’s use of Cloud, Greene, and DeLuca articles), would it be a matter of the peace movement making itself known or targeting specific articulation targets at given points along the way? For example, the peace movement was ineffective because they were acting at the height of the changeover (when the dominant was most defensive of the current articulation) so needed to lay other groundwork (like the other rearticulations that Ron suggested) to have effect on their specific target with military in America and combating the yellow-ribbon press. Although Laclau and Mouffe might not have intended their version of hegemony to be used as a tool for the oppressed (but do suggest rethinking?), with our discussion in class on the peace movement, we were leaning towards utility and action with this concept…hence my thinking here.

There are problems with thinking about hegemony as a life-cycle, so I am not certain that this makes sense given what we talked about in class. My concern would be:
1. How does one tell at what point of the life cycle you are at?
2. Can we really strategize with these practices? As Ron suggested, with the other issues that are connected/need to be rearticulated as well, how can we access those decisions or change some things given the material reality it is connected to?
3. Is there a level of consciousness that has to be gained about these hegemonic forces—do some act subconsciously (again, making it hard to determine life cycle or our ability to rearticulate)?

Lots of questions here, but wondering if it is a worthy place to push the process of hegemony in this way and what that might lead us to.


From a L&M perspective, it seems that thinking the process of hegemony in terms of a life cycle re-introduces a lot of “necessity? into the mix. To me, the most important move in H&SS is the production of a concept of the radically contingent and open social. I would be wary of any supplemental understanding of hegemony that felt at all deterministic. I found Buechler’s discussion of the hegemonic life cycle of the US really productive in ways, but I would worry that adopting the life cycle image of thought might lead to overdeterminations of particular articulations, understandings, assessments, interpretations…

That said, for me there is something important in Buechler’s approach that is absent in L&M. This perhaps points back towards Tony’s question in class as to whether there are other ways to make the social contingent without conceiving it in terms of discourse. In rendering the social radically contingent in this way ( and in the form of a break with traditional Marxist critique), have not L&M evacuated the concept of the mode of production from our thinking in significant ways? Help me out here, but I am really struggling to think about the process of hegemony without serious consideration of what Buechler calls the “structures of advanced capitalism.? To my mind, the move towards a logic of contingency is crucial, because it forces us to adopt a different relationship to history- historical specificity becomes possible in a qualitatively new form. However, I am not convinced that a logic of contingency is a priori incompatible with say an Althusserian understanding of the mode of production.

I am hesitant to think of the life cycle of social movements as an analog for the process of articulation/disarticulation. Of course, I've not read the piece Amy and Julie clearly know well.

As rhetorical critics/scholars, L&M's theory seems useful for those wanting to identify when major shifts happen in dominant modes of thought and the reasons for the disarticulation. Would L&M support ideas that suggest a priori conditions for organized social movements? Julie's skepticism seems right in this regard. However, Ron's inclination to link the life cycle with the organic crisis perhaps offers us a way to put our finger on the pulse of the moment of change. And, when this change occurs, then perhaps there is something theorists can learn because the moment of the hegemonic rearticulation happens at the same moment when we can identify an authentic/organized social movement. But is this how disarticulation always occurs? That would suggest an element of necessity, as Julie duly notes.

As for Julie's question about the mode of production, I will go out on a limb and say there's room to think of modes of production with L&Ms theory. Members of society engaged in the continual articulation of the dominant mode of thought are in some ways engaged in a mode of production. This mode of production can only be broken at the moment of disarticulation. But, then, I suppose a new mode of production would then be put in place.

It's late, so this might just be more ramble than muse talking.