Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Hegemony refers to the process and structures by which a dominant social group maintains and legitimates its privileged position.

explanatory context

Hegemonic theorists argue that the privileged position is safeguarded through the mechanisms of the state. It is important to ensure that people accept the role and power of the state as natural (rather than as an oppressive force to be opposed). So all new dominant economic classes create what is known as an ‘organic intelligentsia’ to undertake social and governmental functions on behalf of the dominant group in order to ensure consensus.


These functions include, first, ensuring the 'spontaneous' consent of the majority of the population to the general direction imposed upon social life by the dominant group which historically enjoys prestige because of its position and function in the world of production. The second function is maintaining the apparatus of state coercive power. In short, the organic intelligentsia ensures that, if necessary, the power of the state can be brought to bear to maintain consensus.


Cultural hegemony asserted by the dominant group sustains the elements of the superstructure and forms a state which mobilises and maintains the dominant group. In short, hegemony involves all the elements of culture not just the political and economic.


The concept of hegemony is prevelent in the work of the Italian Marxist writer Antonio Gramsci and is developed in Althusser's notion of state apparatus. Hegemonic theorists are traditionally Marxist but the approach has been adopted and developed by feminists and anti-racists. Instead of focusing on class dominance, feminists see dominant ideology in terms of gender oppression and anti-racists focus on ethnic oppression.


This approach argues that class power does not just depend on economic class relations and repression. The dominant class utilise ideology to win consent from subordinate groups. Ideology refers to a set of taken-for-granted ideas and presuppositions that exist in a given social structure. The prevailing ideology is known as the dominant ideology and it serves to legitimate and preserve the existing social structure by making the order of things appear natural and unchallengeable and conceals the extent of social divisions.


analytical review

Chandler (2000) wrote:

Gramsci used the term hegemony to denote the predominance of one social class over others (e.g. bourgeois hegemony). This represents not only political and economic control, but also the ability of the dominant class to project its own way of seeing the world so that those who are subordinated by it accept it as 'common sense' and 'natural'.

The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines 'hegemony' as:

A Marxist concept given its usually accepted definition by Antonio Gramsci that focuses on cultural leadership rather than the coercive effect of state domination.


Danesi (2010, p. 140–41) wrote:

Essentially, culture industry theory sees media texts as being controlled by those in power in order to ensure consent by the masses, rather than using overt forms of coercion.
Today, this theory has morphed into so-called hegemony theory – a concept going back to Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). Those who espouse this theory are generally highly pessimistic about the possibility of genuine culture under modern capitalism, condemning media culture as a form of propaganda designed to indoctrinate the masses and disguise social inequalities.
One of the more interesting contemporary versions of hegemony theory is the one associated with the writings of the American linguist Noam Chomsky (b. 1928). Chomsky has always claimed that those who control the funding and ownership of the media, including the government in power, pressurize the media to select and present news coverage in ways that are favourable to them. In such a model, the contemporary mass media are seen as nothing more than a propaganda arm of the government and of capitalist interests. The mainstream media are thus seen as complicit in the ‘manufacturing of consent’, selecting the topics to be printed or broadcast, establishing the character of the concerns to be expressed, determining the ways in which issues are to be framed, and filtering out any information assessed to be contradictory.... Examples used to support this view include American TV coverage of recent wars, from the Vietnam War to the War on Terror (in Afghanistan and Iraq), in which it is transparently obvious that the government in power has the ability to influence how the media present stories. The end result is a media propaganda system that espouses an elemental form of patriotism and the benevolence of power brokers and the institutions that they head.

associated issues


related areas

See also



Researching the Real World Section

Hegemony and Feminism (Best 1984) downloads as .pdf


Chandler, D., 2000, Marxist Media Theory, last modified: 04 October 2000, available at, accessed 22 January 2013, page not available 22 December 2016.

Danesi, M., 2010, 'Semiotics of Media Culture', in Cobley, P. (Ed.), 2010, The Routledge Companion to Semiotics, pp. 135–49, Abingdon, Routledge.

McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 15 May 2013, page not available 22 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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