Hegemony, Ideology, and Power

Hegemony, Ideology, and Power

Hegemony refers to the control of the ideology of a society. The dominant group maintains power by imposing their ideology on everyone. Recall that ideology refers to the stories, myths, explanations, definitions, and rationalizations that are used to justify inequality between the dominant and the minoritized groups. The key element of hegemony is that it enables domination to occur with the consent of the minoritized group— rather than by force. If people believe that they deserve their unequal positions—that these positions are fair and natural—no force is necessary. In other words, the minoritized group accepts their lower position in society because they come to accept the rationalizations for it. Hegemony, then, includes the ability to define and impose self-discipline on others in ways that serve dominant group interests.

Hegemony: The imposition of dominant group ideology onto everyone in society. Hegemony makes it difficult to escape or to resist “believing in” this dominant ideology, thus social control is achieved through conditioning rather than physical force or intimidation.

As explained earlier, in order to oppress, a group must hold institutional power in society. In this way, the group is in the position to impose their worldview on others and control the ideas (ideologies), political rules (the technical mechanisms), and social rules for communication (discourses) that we are all taught (socialized) to see as normal, natural, and required for a functioning society. This domination is historical (long-term) and normalized.

Power in the context of understanding social justice refers to the ideological, technical, and discursive elements by which those in authority impose their ideas and interests on everyone. Michel Foucault’s (1977/1995) analysis of a 19th-century prison structure may be helpful for understanding the concept of power. The panopticon shown in Figure 5.4 is a design unveiled in 1843 in which the cells of a prison were located around the circumference of a circle with a tower in the center and a guard located in the tower. The key to the panopticon design is the funneling of light in ways that create strategic darkness and blindness. Much like the effects of being onstage with the lights shining in your eyes, the prisoners


in the cells could not see the tower guard watching them. The prisoners were constantly visible to the central tower while they themselves were blinded—never knowing when they were being watched. Thus the guard could monitor the prisoners without the prisoners knowing when, or even if, they were being observed.

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