Wood, B (1998) 'Stuart Hall's Cultural Studies and the problem of hegemony', in British Journal of Sociology, Vol 49, 3: 399--414.
The claimed break with sociology is doubted [and regretted]. Cultural Studies has offered a full-blown post-modern version of nomadic identity [better than Sociology for its fans] shaped according to different conjunctures, rather than related to social organisation. It offers an independent discourse analysis of texts, which has led to moral and political bankruptcy, according to Tester.
Hall has reservations about this development. He is worried about 'slack pluralism' and the notion of power as a floating signifier (especially in the Grossberg collection 1992). He wants to cling to the sociological origins of cultural studies. But the origins of the shift towards discourse lie in his own criticisms of sociology and the attempt to break from it to develop a complex marxism. As a result, many [of his ] key works lack a sociological dimension.
In Gramsci, hegemony is seen as correlation between meanings and power, an intellectual and moral unity, the mobilisation of consent and an actual consolidation of power. This is ambiguous, and Hall needs to fill it out, via Althusser on the State and its discourses, with the relation between the state and intellectual and moral unity as a matter of articulation. 'Articulation' is formal, abstract --and ambiguous.
The position on Thatcherism varies between the conceptions of Jessop and Laclau and Mouffe. As a result, Thatcherism is not rooted in social class nor is it free- floating and discursive. In this example, hegemony is an ambiguous notion, referring to either state power or discourse. So Cultural Studies itself oscillates between culturalism and structuralism, as the result of Hall's own attempt to develop 'non- reductive determinacy'. Social unity is the result of 'a structural process of articulation' (401), but this really privileges politics as the main co-ordinating mechanism. Neither the state more discursive versions of hegemony are decisively confronted or overcome. Instead, there are endless oscillations between them. What Hall needs is a good sociological theory of combination, of solidarities, of social processes and social life itself as an articulator.
The dispute between Hall and Jessop on Thatcherism is summarised. For Jessop, Thatcherism is an economic strategy with ideology as a secondary element, a purely tactical ensemble. Hall suggests that various moral panics are co-ordinated and given authority producing 'a populist common-sense', with authoritarian populism as essential and coherent ideology. The actual debate between the two never really pushed the issue after the first exchange, especially after Hall agreed that authoritarian populism was tentative and not exclusive. It is his fault though if others read this as a dominant ideology thesis. In Policing the Crisis, Althusserian functionalism is well to the fore. Here the State simply embraces the media, leading to a rather simple version of the main thesis about there being a diffuse social crisis with different specifics. Hall has assumed that Thatcherism captures the state entirely too [Salter and Tapper would be useful for him here]. Thatcherism is simply a dominant ideology, even overriding the media. Despite his plea not to, he himself conflates the State and civil society. It seems we don't need a sophisticated notion of hegemony after all!
Is ideology a matter of general discourse or is it specifically located in the State? Laclau and Mouffe are rejected because they imply that everything is dissolved into discourse. For Laclau and Mouffe, hegemony arises when discursive fluxes are [temporarily? arbitrarily?] fixed and located: it does not emanate from some centre. This should please Hall with its emphasis on diversity and there plurality of cultural sites and so on. It would lead to a deficient politics for Hall, though -- too pluralistic, under emphasizing the unifying role of the State. It seems there are structuring principles in social life here not only in discourse, but Hall lacks a sociological critique and dithers instead -- he criticises Foucault for avoiding the issue of State power, the vertical relations of power, but these become the only unifying mechanism for Hall. Even Laclau and Mouffe suggests there is a logic of the social which constrains discourses [some sort of account of micropolitics?], but this is not a step taken by Hall.
Hall therefore oscillates between State closure and discursive openness. The former explains social stability, the latter revolutionary potential and change. This is a purely abstract notion of articulation between culture and the social. It's an Althusserian articulation, purely conjunctural [the Althusserian model was seen as 'a combinatory' by its critics, seeing actual social formations as merely particular combinations of some underlying mechanism, rather than having any concrete specificity]. Apparently, particular conjunctures can be undone again by agency. Hall assumes no necessary connection between the disparate elements but rather 'a determinate unity' (407). The process of articulation unites distinctions and differences. It is clear that this notion is to be widely applied to include the whole society, the relations between ideology and culture, between the State and various autonomous sectors, between the actions of the State and actual domination. Hall admits this usage is broad and not always understood -- that is because its ambiguous.
The problems are linked to more general ones -- how to describe structures which also allow autonomy -- and here articulation is an evasive term which avoids commitment. For example in the 1986 piece on postmodernism and articulation, articulation integrates cultural elements into a discursive formation -- there is no independent conception of culture, and culture is simply reduced to ideology. The same piece criticises Laclau and Mouffe for ignoring the social constraints and determinations of discourse, but Hall also sees ideology alone as arising from group formation: ideologies unify groups into political agents. This ignores other processes of group formation and therefore misunderstands any real basis of hegemony [class interests? collective representations?]. Similar problems arise with the State -- it is multi-centered and plural on the one hand, but also the key organising site on the other. Hegemony arises really only as a function of the State's ability to organise society as a whole [rather than representing any other kind of social unity].
Articulation therefore fights off reductionism but cannot be an explanatory concept: it discourages any positive social theory. Politics is the only integrating mechanism of the disparate social elements -- it is either organised by the State or it remains as an in determinant area. The whole discussion is ad hoc and tactical.
Hall has analysed various examples of hybrid cultures, as in the piece on identity, but only by heading towards the discursive camp. But are people's identities formed only in discourse? [I have detected an oscillation here in the discussion of black identities] -- what endures is the important element. Hall's style is evasive and features 'repeated qualification' (410). This is OK to fight off theoreticist closure [as in orthodox marxism], but is not a suitable response in the 'textualist morass of the 1990s' (410).
The answer seems to lie in McLennan's revival of sociological theories of formation and reproduction [rather obscure references] [McLennan is cited as an adviser to the whole piece]. Articulation is not the only mechanism for formation and reproduction. There is an important role played by institutionalised social relations [local solidarities?], and 'tenacious reciprocities'. Culture is not reduced to ideology. The position is social constructivist and realist.
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