and the Hegemony Game
basic tool for manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words.
If you can control the meaning of words,
you can control the people who must use the words."
--Philip K. Dick
1.1 Last summer I was one of five doctoral students in the School of Education
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who had nothing better
to do than spend the hot and humid dog days of summer reading social theory.
Twice a week our group would meet inside the well-air conditioned, newly
refurbished, and entirely too plush, Johnston Center for Undergraduate
Excellence. We would endeavor to make sense of texts that we thought
represented the dominant paradigms in social theory today. Our enthusiasm
for this pursuit stemmed from a couple of frustrations with our existence
as educators and PhD students trying to make that proverbial difference.
First, we were dissatisfied with what we perceived to be a general lack
of depth and recklessness with which social theory seemed to be wielded
in most educational circles. Secondly, we were frustrated with the
apparent lack of influence K-16 educators seemed to have in shaping policy,
institutional curriculum, and most importantly, “reform” in their own
environments. We thought that by theorizing we might in some way be able to come up with meaningful
critique and a bias for action to address these concerns and “take the
power back.” Here’s what I walked away with.
as a Concept
Within the field of education there has been much discussion focused on
the definition and nature of progress. This discussion is always tied to articulation of objectives and goals that should be achieved
when endeavoring to educate young people for success in society. Of course, all of these concepts are debated and interpreted eternally with little consensus
reached on exact objectives and roles. Out of this discussion does
come action, albeit action met with resistance, compliance, or ambivalence;
but action does come. For the purpose of this paper and accompanying
analysis, I will refer to this action as reform. The aim of this
inquiry is to theorize how contemporary notions of reform appear to be
driven by discourses emanating from the corporate-media-state with
the result being a public endorsement of overt (but misleading) tenets
stated in “fast-capitalist” texts.
The notion of reform has been around in society since 1663. The Oxford
English Dictionary provides a definition of reform as “ The amendment,
or altering for the better, of some faulty state of things, esp. of a
corrupt or oppressive political institution or practice; the removal of
some abuse or wrong” (Reform). With this definition and with the
implications that it connotes the tendency is to associate reform with
movement in an improved or better direction, maybe even synonymous with
progress. Regardless, it seems that the basic meaning of reform
should be a change for the better, specifically a change more suited for
the achievement of goals outlined by decision makers in a particular field
of play. For this paper the field of play is education, but it is
important to re-cognize education as something that happens outside the
physical boundaries of school buildings as well as inside. I stress
this because there appears to be a resistance by many academics to acknowledge
this in any meaningful way, in any way really other than a boutique affinity
for the occasional foray into cultural studies or by infusing innocuous
pop culture touchstones into the curriculum. While this insistence
on where the educational play space is situated manifests itself, forces
outside education (i.e., private sector interests) exert influence in
any realm where entry is possible (such as vocational or technology training/certification).
In our current educational environment this point of influence usually
appears just about anywhere economic power can gain access. Later
I will outline a model of praxis for changing this increasingly unbalanced
relationship, but now back to the notion of reform.
2.3 The peril tied to assuming a universal meaning for the concept of reform
is that the word (or any word really) is context and practice specific.
The word has multiple identities and the basis for differentiating between
them is not always clear. The very identity of reform hinges on
analysis of factors surrounding the application of the term. Looking
back at the twentieth century and various movements in education, all
of these movements with the moniker of reform incorporated into their
mandate, one notices different conditions that precipitated these reform
movements. Acknowledging the reality that these paradigmatic shifts
were overdetermined, and not simplistically tied to one factor, there
seems to be a common factor propelling change although it did vary depending
on movement. Some reform movements were fueled by changes in social
and philosophical sentiment (i.e., early twentieth century), while others
were pushed forward by demographic shifts (1950s). The Civil Rights
Movement, driven by a confluence of factors, fostered an emphatic legal
context for reform. In the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s society witnessed
the moral panic that the Right created by stating that America had been
left behind due to an ill-focused and less than rigorous curriculum; “reform”
has been invoked here as well.
Reform and Fast-capitalist
3.1 Specifically this type of “reform” is epitomized and evidenced by
the proliferation of fast-capitalist texts which are a “mix of history
and description, prophecy, warning, proscriptions and recommendations,
parables (stories of success and failure), and large doses of utopianism”
(Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996, p.25). Examples
includes books such as Reengineering the Corporation by Michael
Hammer and James Champy, X-Engineering the Corporation also by
Hammer and Champy, and The Road Ahead by Bill Gates. (In fact,
I would consider the “No Child Left Behind” initiative more of a fast-capitalist
text than legislation informed by actual needs and best practices in education.)
3.2 There are many more but examples can serve as touchstones for anyone trying
to get an idea of what texts seem to speak to the American psyche when
talking about progress and how to achieve it. In big ways these
texts have impacted how people think about relationships in business,
education, and government by directly lauding and advocating awareness
“of the forces of competition in the new global capitalism and of the
need for ‘quality’” (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, p.144).
3.3 The reference to being left behind was at its core a reference to economic
strength (or weakness) and nothing more. The right was effective
in establishing a link between economic productivity and the focus of
education. The logic was, and is, that as a nation we must tighten
up in school as we might tighten up in business. Supposedly, when
American business was down and out in the early 1980s and early 1990s,
business came back strong only because of mandates for accountability
and rigor in prescribed areas and zero tolerance for anything not aimed
at achieving the objectives (i.e., profit) of management. The rhetorical
moves made by business leaders and management gurus (i.e., Management
By Objectives, Total Quality Management) insinuated autonomy and creative
“outside the box” thinking in an effort to gain a competitive edge, but
the real mandate was clear: “Do as you are told. Achieve my objectives
or be left behind.” The packaging (i.e., flexible production, worker
as decision maker, radical change, processes not tasks, technology’s empowering
potential) alluded to autonomy and empowerment, but the reality was that
this new way of being for workers and soon-to-be workers in this new capitalism
was just “…an acceleration and heightening of the effects of the old capitalism”
(p. 145). With American business having supposedly weathered the
storm and emerged stronger than ever the logic of business leaders ultimately
became the logic of policy makers eager to gain support from these business
sages and this eagerness ultimately has brought us to the current conclusion
that since business had buckled down and done these things, it was now
time for school to do the same.
All of these measures of reform were driven by the guise or belief that
said measures would transport education to a better and more appropriate
place. Once this cycle of reform movements started it becomes clear,
maybe intuitive, that since each reform was in effect responding to conditions
and results created by a previous reform that a difference in conceptualization
and effect exists. Some reform movements were meant to create better
societies and communities with opportunity for all and others were geared
toward closing a perceived gap between nations. Some movements stressed
the humanities and social sciences. In the 1960s and with most recent
reforms there has been an articulation and insistence on mastery of a
core body of knowledge that gives credence to quantitative and mathematical/scientific/technological
areas of expertise. What are the distinguishing marks here, if any?
How can we separate the types of reform?
3.5 To accurately define what I would consider (and advocate as) desired universal
marks of reform one should probably look to the goal of education situated
in a specific broader context. In fact, this broader context determines
the goal of education and consequently of reform in any setting.
If one takes democracy to mean certain things, just as communism or socialism
means distinct things, then the goals for and of the citizenry are context
specific. A mark of democratic education is that it creates in its
future citizenry a penchant and sense of responsibility for openness,
informed public scrutiny, and equal participation at all levels (Scheffler,
1997, pp.436-437). Subsequently, a mark of reform aimed at achieving
this goal is that expected outcomes will create this sort of citizenry.
If one can come to accept Scheffler’s concept of education in a democracy
then one could accept a notion of reform predicated on the expectation
of certain outcomes. By this logic, reforms like the ones seen in
the past decades ushered in by the American Right do not really seem to
create these outcomes. In fact, these reforms have equated pursuit
of economic gain, individual success, and privatization with the definition
of democratic practice. It seems that somewhere along the way educational
reform for democracy has been transformed into reform for capitalism.
The outcome creates a relation of citizen as consumer which should, in
theory, be distinctly different. When writing about the current
project of the Right (and even the neoliberal Left) Michael Apple (2001)
Thus democracy is turned into consumption
practices. In these plans, the ideal of the citizen is that of
the purchaser. Rather than democracy being a political concept,
it is transformed into a wholly economic concept. The message
of such policies is what might best be called “arithmetical particularism,”
in which the unattached individual-as-consumer is deraced, declassed,
and degendered. (p. 39)
This has momentous implications for
progressive education in that it changes the goal from educating for social
justice to educating for stable and efficient production and constant
3.6 The reason it becomes so difficult to grasp this gap or difference is
because in an effort to continue benefiting from historical hegemonic
structures, the Right, working primarily through the apparatus of the
media and government via corporate economic influence, has made the rhetorical
move of issuing and propagating certain social and futuristic vision discourses
(Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, p. 32). These discourses work to unite
and socialize individuals into a collective or “community of practice”
where the unifying espoused goals and values are really in no way tied
to actual practices logically connected to points established in said
vision discourse. The public is saturated at home, work, and school
by texts proclaiming these visions; there is no opportunity to step outside
these related social
practices or Discourses (capital “D” to differentiate it from ‘discourse’
which means ‘a stretch of spoken or written language’ or ‘language in
use’). Consequently, it becomes difficult to construct any sort
of oppositional consciousness, much less one that is bi-Discoursal (much
less multi-Discoursal) and empowered with the potential to effect liberatory
change by being aware of other (possibly more just) social possibilities
3.7 Part of the project in this creation of a New Work Order is the generation
of new social identities, which revolve around distinct conceptualizations
of language, learning, and literacy (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996,
pp. 3-6). This plays directly into reform movements in education
that stress a culture of individualized performance and success.
Additionally, the emphasis on certain achievement levels on end of year
tests (i.e., “high stakes testing”) fundamentally shifts, even co-opts
the purpose of education in our times. The rhetoric of high-stakes
testing demands concentration on the individual and propagates a learning
environment devoid of any notion of publicness or common good. It
mirrors the logic of capitalism in that ultimately one must make a decision
that benefits the individual over the group; any way of knowing or conceptualizing
must also follow this logic. This way of knowing is familiar--we see it
daily as we engage in the performative practices that are our lives in
a capitalist society.
3.8 For contemporary educators concerned with this articulation of citizenship
a sort of relational mapping might be in order. For instance, it
might be fruitful to agree on a broad definition of a term like democracy
(separate from capitalism) then establish a relation to educational practice
that fosters democratic ideals and inclinations (the practice and ideals
being the second and third points in the triangulation). One could
even juxtapose this theoretical relationship with capitalism (broadly
defined) and link it to educational practice that aims to achieve goals
associated with terms like capitalism, competition, and individualism.
The comparison makes it possible to schematize relations and state rather
lucidly that one does not necessarily equate to the other, thereby yielding
a usable and identifiable concept of reform practices likely of generating
positive movement toward a stated end.
The Hegemony Game
4.1 The discussion up to this point is my impression of our summer reading
group’s dialogue on reform movements and where it took us as far as conclusions
about broad sentiment in policy making circles. As the group struggled
through the hot summer days our reading was framed by this context of
subordination as educators, subordination to a group that we thought had
little compassion for truly democratic aims of education. While
working through Gayatri Spivak’s A Critique of Postcolonial Reason:
Toward a History of the Vanishing Present we came across a passage
that, in grand reductionist fashion, we came to refer to lightheartedly
as advocacy for playing the hegemony game. Leading to construction
of this coinage is the commentary from Spivak (1999),
When a line of communication is
established between a member of subaltern groups and the circuits of
citizenship or institutionality, the subaltern has been inserted into
the long road to hegemony. Unless we want to be romantic purists
or primitivists about ‘preserving subalternity’--a contradiction in
terms--this is absolutely to be desired. (p. 310).
In many ways, the power to provide
a dominant articulation of reform has been ceded to interests tied closely
to the interests of the corporate-media-state. In broad strokes,
the Left has become content to critique and claim non-participation in
activities that encourage practices and reading counter to their desired
ways of knowing; I am concerned here with either large-scale or strategic
proactive and sustainable measures, not just reactionary periodic performances.
By refusing to act and articulate, one is not outside of the hegemony;
in actuality it is worse in that one is complicit to the dominant articulation
in the hegemonic structure. The spirit of this call seems
in line with Raymond Williams’ (1985) claim that by creating a recognition
or critical oppositional consciousness of hegemony,
it thus affects thinking about Revolution
in that it stresses not only the transfer of political or economic power,
but the overthrow of a specific hegemony: that is to say an integral
form of class rule which exists not only in political or economic
power, but the overthrow of a specific hegemony...This can be done,
it is argued, by creating an alternative hegemony--a new predominant
practice and consciousness" (p. 145).
Despite the overt rhetoric of competition
and progress, fast-capitalist texts, by their very nature, discourage
revolution and rearticulation not in line with the historical capitalist
project. This makes the task much more formidable, but impossible
to ignore, for any teacher vested in the project of democratic and liberatory
4.2 While progressive educators may not possess direct access to the tools
of mass articulation owned by the corporate-media-state, the opportunity
for decontextualization and “deterritorialization” does exist. Most
educators are familiar with decontextualization as a pedagogical practice
but ultimately deterritorialization is essential for the project at hand.
Jameson (1998) forwards that deterritorialization decodes terms of previous
capitalist coding systems and liberates these coding systems for new and
more functional combinations. Deterritorialization is more permanent
than decontextualization in that it does not just aim to present
something outside of its original context, but that it is more absolute
in reconfiguring it into a system more concerned with form than content.
This system ultimately becomes a marketing pretext convenient for accelerated
capitalism’s need to constantly create new consumer identities, fresh
untapped target markets, and uninterrupted consumption. Jameson
thinks about this in an inquiry into the evolution of finance capital
in an increasingly globalized world and his argument identifies the primary
forces driving this deterritorialization to be the same globalizing forces
that facilitate the abstraction of money, which seems to be more aptly
represented as the owners of production versus the consumers. Looking
back at our argument concerning the articulation and reading of reform,
it is easy to see how the Right has deterritorialized previous codings
of reform in order to cement new ones beneficial to their cause; this
has impacted education as the influence of capital has shaped policy in
education. Playing the hegemony game means that the Left must start
to participate in deterritorialization as well.
5.1 There are four particular conditions, or fronts, of engagement that I
envision as examples of playing the hegemony game. The first three
will probably be recognized as practices associated with some form of
decontextualization, leaving the fourth as what I view to be the most
radical and challenging option for progressive educators on the
5.2 First, at the very least K-12 educators can use the classroom to decontextualize
current meanings/readings of articulated terms and practices such as patriotism,
knowledge, and power. For instance, in the high school classroom
the move to decontextualization might be one of critical literacy curricular
practices closely tied to the teaching for that ever-absurd beast, the
high-stakes test. Working as a dialectic, the knowledge for achievement
on the test is imparted but also critiqued at the same time; consider
Howard Zinn’s work as an option for a text to aid in this instruction.
This approach is familiar to educators aiming to “subvert,” but we have
also witnessed the call for this sort of pedagogy previously and have
been privy to declarations of its failure as well. Oftentimes this
approach gets caught up in the rearticulation machine of the public school
bureaucracy ending up like the innocuous initiatives of mainstream multicultural
education or cultural studies (I do not dispute that these are important
trajectories, but it is difficult to do them effectively and remain employed
by the state).
5.3 The second approach is probably the one most prevalent in schools of education
operating around the notion that they are instruments built for the achievement
of social justice. It is the practice of conducting teacher education
with subversive intent and it is a worthwhile approach (and is the exact
sort and nature of interaction that progressive educators must establish
and propagate with fast-capitalist texts, which do most certainly include
high-stakes testing, the standard course of study, end-of-year test, etc).
When continuing to engage in this practice teachers should aim for a decontextualizing
experience with the texts of fast-capitalism that strives to elucidate
exactly what is wrong with the Right’s articulation. Directly, it
is the creation of a myopia that focuses only on the micro-setting and
not “…the bigger picture--the larger frame--of global and nation-state
politics, historical exploitation, access to information and education,
the complex workings of technology, and the winner-take all nature of
contemporary capitalism” (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996, p. 145).
This radical contextuality could also employ the relational mapping exercise
discussed earlier and could be applied for any number of concepts or ideals,
not just democracy. The hope here is that at the local level, the
classroom, teachers can start down the “road to hegemony” with a re-presenting
of the content mandated by our public schools. I like the notion
of advocacy for this approach but it fails often (and is ineffective globally),
especially when we see a majority of these newly minted subversives leave
the teaching profession after only two or three years of service.
5.4 Point three of these four-points advocates the embracing of adult education.
In fact, this might even be a call to revisit the initial focus, even
alternative intellectual practice, of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary
Cultural Studies. In lieu of focusing (and funding) so heavily on
traditional undergraduates, a shifting should take place. The new
focus, Stuart Hall might label it as “popular pedagogy,” ought to be centered
on non-traditional students in open college or university settings (definitely
community and junior colleges too). This practice of decentering
(or at not focusing so intently) on the stereotypical and often elite
college student is beneficial for several reasons. First, and most
appealing, is that practices of critical literacy tend to resonate more
strongly with individuals who have had the benefit of life experiences,
specifically experiences not associated with the elite class and privilege,
ultimately creating a foil or point of negation from which critical awareness
can emerge. While the previous two points can manifest in the teacher
striving to “convert” members of an elite class to a different way of
thinking and different attitude toward class privilege, this point is
less likely to end in such a fashion as the majority of adult education
students are not members of upper socioeconomic strata. If teachers
aim to resuscitate the notion of liberatory education that starts with
working with students who are aware of life’s gritty materialities (Apple,
2001, p. 64), it seems to make sense for progressive educators to leave
research one universities (hopefully with their grant money) and meaningfully
advocate the mandate for adult education.
5.5 The fourth, and most controversial, aspect associated with playing the
hegemony game endorses overt and deliberate participation in the capitalistic
enterprise. This does not sit well with most on the Left because
it seems akin to joining the dark side; in fact, I have wrestled with
this point myself. But, potential critics should be reminded of
two things here: (1) just because one criticizes the oppression, domination,
exploitation, articulation, etc. does not mean that you are situated (or
even able to be situated) outside of the hegemony (i.e., hegemony is a
process and not a fixed placement). (2) Business has ventured into education
and rearticulated concepts like reform so critical educators should be
willing to journey into business to take the power back.
5.6 Ethics and logics are inscribed by corporate entities dominant in hegemonic
relations, the same entities whose discourses and values manifest themselves
in fast-capitalist texts are touchstones for reform movements in schools.
Again, from an educator’s vantage it seems more likely that Bill Gates’
books influence school board members and legislators than John Dewey’s
works on education. Because the rhetoric and logic of the corporate
model is so pervasive, schools offer no solace from the pressure to assimilate
to and appropriate the ethos of the market mentality. The real and
felt presence of corporate influence (i.e., funding) on schools, public
and especially private, inscribes the mindset of individual achievement,
consumption and exploitation on the captive audience of schoolchildren.
Additionally, with the prevalence of teacher and student accountability,
individual performance, and high-stakes testing, education is being used
as a tool to ensure that regression to the mean is institutionalized,
with the mean being a white middle to upper class capitalist male.
It is difficult to find rhetorics or texts in the popular discourse that
theorize the aim of education in any way other than that provided by the
purveyors of fast-capitalist discourses.
5.7 If the worldviews created by these ethics and logics are to change, critical
educators must become participants, if not leaders, in the institutions
that propagate these ethics (it is debatable as to whether or not school
is currently one of these institutions or merely an apparatus of corporate
interests). As intellectuals, be it urban or "traditional"
in Gramscian terms, contemporary educators are charged with the task of
"articulating the relationship between the entrepreneur and the instrumental
mass and to carry out the immediate execution of the production plan"
(Gramsci, 2000, p.308). This relation provides opportunity for intervention.
Educators could use the classroom to interrupt corporate hegemonic discourses
(i.e., my first three points), but I believe educators should also be
willing to consider direct participation in the private sector in an effort
to more directly influence the creation and articulation of discourses
emanating from this realm. This, of course, requires that one resist
the inclination to privilege classroom education and its discourses over
education in the workday world. So, if one is willing to trouble
the notion of education, pushing it to mean many things happening inside
and outside the halls of academia, it becomes possible to identify corporate
entities working to rearticulate ethics and logics. I do not want
to think of agency as reduced solely to practices of consumption, but
I do think that for an example of how corporate values can work to shape
social practices and perspectives we can start “education” and interaction
at points of consumption.
5.8 For instance, the world’s number one natural foods chain Whole Foods Market
(i.e.,Wellspring Grocery Store) has had near 20% five year sales growth
rate and 52 week stock price high that is impressive in any market, but
especially an extended bear market. The national discourse, for better
or for worse, is obsessed with investment and wealth accumulation and
preservation. When institutions are successful financially they
garner attention of investors, big and small. Even if our agency
has been reduced to what we consume, by shopping at Whole Foods Market
and supporting their practices of sound environmental stewardship and
employee equality we are engaging and experiencing different possibilities
driven by different ethics and logics. The responsibility of the
progressive in organizations of any kind is to direct the discourse to areas of importance,
especially ones not predicated on the benefit of the minority at the expense
and exploitation of the few. If this sort of economic participation
is not palatable, one should entertain the possibility of supporting multiple
economies on a community or local level (i.e., co-ops or alternative currencies).
Regardless, it would be a mistake not to consider all possibilities (even
ones with the “enemy” or “oppressor”) when one is precariously positioned
in undesirable hegemonic relations.
5.9 In conclusion, I encourage other educators concerned with issues of
reform and teacher agency in reform to view my argument as a potential
step toward serious considerations of practices in critical literacy and
pedagogy; terms that without radical reconsideration are dead and useless.
Having been inserted down that “long road to hegemony” there really is
no choice but to focus intently on social practices and their connections
across various social and cultural sites and institutions including sites
outside of the classroom. New conceptualizations of pedagogies and
texts must emerge independent of present-day corporate agendas if we are
to succeed in building viable communities and identities based on dialogic
civility, and not predicated on exploitation and individual profit.
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Jameson, F. (1998). The
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