Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony and Balkin’s theory of cultural software both examine the evolution of ideologies and their impact within a society through different perspectives. Gramsci’s approach focuses on the concept of hegemony, whereby gaining the consent of the people forms the means of gaining political and economical control. This approach is the point of contention in Balkin’s analysis, where Balkin criticises the concept of hegemony as being to monolithic and homogenous,. Instead, he puts forth his approach of studying ideology via the presence of injustice as a better alternative. This paper thus serves to look into the validities of Balkin’s claims with regards to Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony.
Balkin’s first criticism against hegemony is that it is too monolithic a model, as it deals with only a dominant ideology in a society. Balkin argues that in reality, ideology is a confluence of many different types of cognitive mechanisms - a group of heterogenous and partly reinforcing ideological effects (Balkin,1998). He uses the term “conceptual bricolage” to bring forth the point of the dynamism of ideology as a whole. Balkin felt that Gramsci has a dualistic approach of just dominant and the subaltern, which does not account for real life scenarios.
However, this may not be an accurate reflection of Gramsci’s approach of gaining dominance through gaining the consent of the people. As highlighted in Gramsci’s Pre-Prison Writing, in order to achieve leadership “they [the subalterns] must think as workers who are members of a class that aims to lead the peasants and the intellectuals: a class that can only win and only build socialism if it is aided and followed by the great majority of these social strata.” (Gramsci, 1994). This hegemonic relationship between the dominant class and the subaltern posits the influence of the subaltern masses on the ideology of the dominant class. The ruling class needs to be able to make a large part of the subalterns’ ideologies as its own. This brings to light the dynamic relationship between the ruling class and the subaltern as, in order to maintain its power, a ruling group needs to be able to bring together different ideologies from various groups and effectively incorporate them into a single dominant ideology, that the vast majority will agree with. The confluence of the many different types of cognitive mechanisms can be seen when Gramsci talks about how the “expansiveness” of hegemony to the demands of the subalterns will affect the effectiveness of the leading group to lead. Thus Gramsci indirectly puts forth a pluralistic model whereby the dominant ideology is the result of the bricolage of various subaltern’s ideology.