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Sociologist in Focus: Antonio Gramsci


Last updated 17 Oct 2017

Useful information about the Italian Marxist writer, Antonio Gramsci.

Antonio Gramsci was born in Italy in 1891 and was the co-founder of the Italian Communist Party. He was imprisoned in 1928 for 20 years whilst serving as the party’s leader by Italy’s prime minister at the time, Benito Mussolini. 

Whilst in prison, Gramsci kept himself busy and with the help of his sister he produced a number of works. However, his work wasn’t published until after he had died (at only age 46) in what are known as the ‘Prison Notebooks’. Whilst Karl Marx claimed that the bourgeoisie (ruling class) control the economic basein society and create the superstructure that enable them to control the proletariat (working class), Gramsci argued that control occurs through ‘ideological illusions’ produced by the ruling class.

The ruling class cannot control people through coercion alone, there must also be ideological control. Gramsci called this complex process ‘hegemony’, which simply put, is a means of class domination through persuading people that the ruling class’s ideas are just common sense.

Gramsci argued that hegemony is an invisible mechanism and the ruling class’s ideas permeate the whole of society, i.e., they are unquestioned and become normalised through constant exposure particularly for the working class

However, Gramsci did not believe that hegemony goes unchallenged. Gramsci called this ‘counter-hegemony’, whereby in some societies (such as in the West) ruling class ideology is questioned. For example, this could occur after a recession, which leads to high levels of unemployment. Gramsci argued that the ruling class face constant challenges in capitalist societies due to the economic system itself but he challenges the economic determinism of traditional Marxism.

Gramsci and his work is generally covered within Theory and Methods and Beliefs in Society in Year 2, but his ideas could be used to provide an analysis of economic events such as the 2008 world financial crash and links to political regimes. Much like Marx, Gramsci’s work has as much relevance today as he did during the time of writing

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