Hegemony Essay

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Hegemony refers to one group systematically overpowering and dominating another group, and it can occur economically, ideologically, culturally, and socially by privileging certain values, information, and social norms to the exclusion of others. Theories of hegemony seek to analyze the ability of dominant groups to maintain social and economic privilege through their influence over societal constructs such as the media, advertising, books, and film. Other theories see hegemony as a consequence of current educational practices. These regard the values, knowledge, and social norms stressed in schools as working to advance the desires of the dominant group. The subjugated are left no choice but to accept and assume the dominant ideology. In this way, the dominant group maintains their advantaged status through ideology rather than aggression. This subtle and covert control ensures that domination is sustained through inherent inequity. This entry will discuss the historical foundations of hegemony as well as its current use as a theoretical tool for analyzing sustained social, economic, and educational disparity.

Up to the early 1900s, education was heavily influenced by logical positivism, which held that certain norms were valid simply because they were supported and accepted through authority and reason. In response, Theodor Adorno (1903–1969), Jürgen Habermas (1929– ), Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), and others were drawn to establish the Frankfurt School. Using aspects of Marxism to examine the entrenched social stratification and positivistic approaches to education, Frankfurt School theorists recognized the education system as constructed in such a way as to safeguard the economic and social interests of the elite. The Frankfurt School successfully established a connection between hegemony and educational practice; however, they failed to consider the possibility of individuals actively resisting social and economic subjugation.

Influenced by the Frankfurt School, critical theorists have analyzed the role of hegemony in modern societies to better understand how hegemony and inequality are sustained. Antonio Gramsci viewed capitalism as largely perpetuating hegemony. Embracing communism, Gramsci supported revolution as a means to liberate the subjugated. Henry Giroux utilized a neo-Marxist approach to critically examine the role of hegemony and agreed with the Frankfurt School’s social theorists acknowledging the role of education in reproducing class stratification. However, Giroux questioned the inflexibility of social stratification and alleged that students and teachers could actively resist hegemony.

Michael Apple examined the underpinnings of hegemony in modern society and viewed the curricular and organizational choices educators and administrators employ in schools as highly subjective. Apple viewed education as political with schools reproducing societal class stratifications through the set of courses offered to particular students. For Apple, education does not encourage social mobility; rather, it safeguards the existing economic and social hierarchies. Apple critically examined hegemony to enlighten educators as to their uninformed participation in the social reproduction of dominant society’s ideology.

Contemporary views of hegemony have moved away from traditional Marxism and incorporate a multifaceted approach. Peter McLaren extends the concept of hegemony to include gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class. Using hegemony to understand subjugation, scholars are broadening hegemony’s scope by applying emerging critical theories such as critical race theory and critical feminist theory to better understand inequality and oppression.


Apple, M. (2004). Ideology and curriculum: 25th anniversary edition. New York: Routledge.

  1. Aronowitz, S., & Giroux, H. A. (1991). Postmodern education: Politics, culture, and social criticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  2. Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. London: Sage.
  3. Giroux, H. A. (1983). Theory and resistance in education: A pedagogy for the opposition. Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.
  4. Giroux, H. A. (1991). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. New York: Routledge.
  5. Gramsci, A. (1988). An Antonio Gramsci reader: Selected writings, 1916–1935 (D. Forgacs, Ed.). London: Lawrence & Wishart.
  6. McLaren, P. (1989). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education. New York: Longman.

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