Language, Agency and Hegemony: A Gramscian Response to Post‐Marxism

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe have attempted to save the concept of ?hegemony? from its economistic and essentialist Marxist roots by incorporating the linguistic influences of post?structuralist theory. Their major Marxist detractors criticise their trajectory as a ?descent into discourse? ? a decay from well?grounded, material reality into the idealistic and problematic realm of language and discourse. Both sides of the debate seem to agree on one thing: the line from Marxism to post?Marxism is the line from the economy to language, from ?reality? to discourse. This article focuses on Gramsci?s writings on language to argue against both sides of this debate. It illustrates how language is central to Gramsci?s historical materialism and that he does not oppose it to materiality. It argues that Gramsci adopted the very term hegemony substantially from his university studies in linguistics ? the debates from which Ferdinand de Saussure also developed structuralism. For Gramsci, such linguistic issues were directly related to the ?questione della lingua? and Italian unification. Moreover, language lies at the centre of Gramsci?s understanding of the relationship between coercion and consent. This not only troubles Laclau & Mouffe?s reading of Gramsci, but it illuminates a more productive conception of hegemony that can address recent debates around post?structuralism and the use of ?hegemony? to analyse globalisation and an increasingly technological and electronic world
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