Rethinking Writing Instruction

Thinking about “hegemony” in college writing circles

It’s a classic bad move to begin an essay with a definition, but I am getting obsessed with this weird word hegemony. It’s always seemed a slanted word to me. In the 60s when I was in college, leftie student activists slathered it like mustard on their favorite hotdog word, imperialism, but they were so sloppy with it I never cared much what the word meant. As they used it, hegemony was a synonym for badness.  U.S. hegemony meant U.S. badness.

 But just now I ran across hegemony in a piece asserting that academics often stifle dissent “to maintain their narrative and enforce cultural hegemony” and I thought I’d better look up the word and get a precise take on it.

My report.  Turns out the word is Greek, which is not surprising by its sound, and it referred originally to the dominance of Greek city states by stronger city states. Philip of Macedon, for example, put together a Hellenic League that dominated much of Greece in his time. He was the hegemon, or dominant leader.

The meaning of the word has expanded, as is natural. Now hegemony is political or cultural dominance over others. In Greece, it was one king over others. In high school, the hegemony of the popular kids over the other students means that they determine what is and is not cool. In Marxist philosophy, Wikipedia explains, cultural hegemony means the domination of a culturally diverse society by a ruling class that manipulates the culture of that society so its view becomes the norm.

So the quote “Academics stifle dissent to enforce their cultural hegemony” really means, at bottom, “Academics shut people up in order to remain in charge.”

Conceding many exceptions, of course, it still rings true that some academics try to shut people up just for the power buzz involved, just to dominate. It holds true in the world of college writing, where the power brokers enforce an official dogma not by arguing for its truth, but by stifling all disagreement. More on this later.

link I referred to:

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