Saturday, 20 September 2014


In everyday usage, the term 'hegemony' refers to control, or even dominance.   For 60 years, Fianna Fail was the hegemonic political party in Ireland - the party which dominated the scene, which spent more time in power than any other, which came to regard itself as 'the natural party of government'.

As Fintan O'Toole used to explain it, Fianna Fail thought and even now may think of itself as a 'movement', not merely a political party.  This notion - that Fianna Fail's ideas, or more accurately its modes of practice, its sense of its constituency (since most Irish political parties are intellectually invertebrate) have so saturated Irish society that its influence is chiefly to be found beyond the realm of the 'political' as such - leads us to the sense in which I want to use the term here.  The great Italian Communist party leader, newspaper writer, and Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, who died in a Fascist jail in 1937, used the term 'hegemony' to explain how, in modern liberal capitalist societies, power is maintained by means beyond the merely violent or coercive.  This made such societies much harder to revolutionize than societies (such as Tsarist Russia) where an oppressive state, and a powerful aristocracy, sit atop a structure composed mostly of ill-educated and poorly organised peasants and workers.  In capitalist democracies, their strength-in-depth lies precisely in the way that leadership and control are exercised in extraordinarily ramified and complex ways - through law, education, religion, culture.  In all these realms, in civil society itself, authority or hegemony is produced and reproduced in a constant never-ending iteration.  Hegemony, ultimately, is the attainment of ideological control by one sector of a society to the extent that it manages to convince its rivals that its interests and worldview are isomorphic with theirs.

It's in this sense that one can apply the term hegemony to an area of endeavour such as archaeology, as it's practiced in Israel/Palestine.  In Israel, excavations of sites such as the Western Wall have been driven as much by politics as by scholarship, and Biblical Studies, as Keith Whitelam demonstrated in a classic book, The Invention of Ancient Israel (1987), can be shown to have been similarly affected.  Such work, such struggles, are prime examples of the long war which this blog has lately compared to the Gaza attacks and killings.  Here is a blogpiece by Natasha Roth from the London Review of Books on precisely this topic:

Settlement through Excavation



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