Hegemony is a representational strategy of power; a way of using representations to control other people. In many ways hegemony is the central concept of media studies. This idea is crucial to the key concepts of representation, ideology, narrative, institutions and audience so it is essential that we develop a detailed understanding of the idea.
Let us start with a definition:
Hegemony is a representational strategy of social power that aims to ensure the continued tacit or active support of the majority of the people for the rule of the minority (even though the rule of that minority – the elite – is not in the interests of the majority). This is achieved by representing all groups bar the elite as unfit or unsuitable to hold and wield legitimate power and by representing the elite as the only group capable of ensuring social peace, prosperity, justice, etc.
The ‘fearful outsider’ is the most commonly encountered representation used by the elite to control the majority and ensure that the majority continue to tacitly support the rule of the elite. Anyone or any group who can be depicted as ‘not one of us’ or ‘outside the boundaries of normal society’ (i.e. as other) is being represented as fearful so that the majority of the population will turn to the elite (who hold and wield all the power in society) for protection. Consider; ‘hoodies’, paedophiles, criminals, ‘chavs’, foreigners, immigrants, every front page of the Daily Mail, indeed any moral panic is a hegemonic success because the elite will be turned to by the people to save them from the source of the panic (see the list above).
More technically we can say that:
Hegemony is the manufacture consent through the manipulation of the common sense.
Other – The ‘not us’ from which we derive some sense of who ‘we’ are. This ‘we’ being a common sense notion useful to the manufacture of consent and not the reality of the social group in question; use of ‘we’ and ‘us’ always establishes a ‘them’ who are not us (i.e. it sets out what is normal – us – and what is abnormal – them).
Manufacture Consent – No elite can rule through force alone and forever. A ruling group needs the consent of the majority to maintain and replicate (i.e. hand it on to their children) their rule. The consent, however, is not sought from the majority – they could decide the wrong thing after all – nor left up to them rather it is manufactured by the elite through the processes of hegemony. It is a consent that is not freely given nor is it fully informed (quite the opposite) rather it is carefully built up for us by the elite; it is a consent we give with out knowing and without option.
Common Sense – The realm of uncritical assumptions and acceptance of what is normal and abnormal as defined by the elite or as Gramsci put it:
“Common sense is not something rigid and stationary, but is in continuous transformation, becoming enriched with scientific notions and philosophical opinions that have entered into common circulation. 'Common sense' is the folklore of philosophy and always stands midway between folklore proper (folklore as it is normally understood) and the philosophy, science, and economics of the scientists. Common sense creates the folklore of the future, a relatively rigidified phase of popular knowledge in a given time and place.”
Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from cultural writings. London (Lawrence & Wishart) 1985, 421
Moral Panic – A moral panic is a collective outburst against a perceived threat to the ethical underpinning of the community. Often this threat has been outsiders to the community – Jews and Roma have suffered terribly at the hands of moral panics – but anyone or group who can be seen as outsiders (on grounds of their identity or actions) can also be constructed as a threat and thus cause a moral panic.