Althusser and Gramsci

Bryan A Case godwin at
Fri Aug 12 22:08:39 MDT 1994

Thanks for an excellent summary.  It raises in my mind an odd tangent:
does the modern emphasis on cultural studies, in neglecting (or elding, or
underemphasizing) the role of the State (cap S) leave space for an
anarchist critique?  such a critique - classically focused on - but
*never* limited to - the State seems complementary to a
vulgar-(counter)hegemonic overfocus.

--Bryan A. Case a/k/a Bryan.Case at a/k/a godwin at
	"I have come to die for your sins," Jesus told a stooped figure
passing him on the road.
	"Then what am I to die for?" the old man asked.
	Jesus took a small notebook from his pocket and copied the
question.  "If I may have your name and address," he said, "an answer
will be sent to you."
				-A.J. Langguth, JESUS CHRISTS

On Fri, 12 Aug 1994, Jonathan Beasley Murray wrote:

> I thought I'd forward this on (though I suspect I've said something
> similar to this elsewhere on the list--me and my broken record).
> In answer to Nick Lawrence, yes I guess I was going for one of my wilder
> statements when I suggested we could so simply de-Lacanize Althusser.
> And I wouldn't try to date any particular "epistemological break" (about
> which I thought Gene's comment was interesting).
> However, as the following also shows, I am interested in the
> institutional contexts to thought--and the possible uses that a writer
> may open up which may remain neglected for a number of contingent,
> material (dare I say it) reasons.  In none of this, however, would I wish
> to discover a "true" Gramsci, or an "authentic" Althusser--though I do
> believe some interpretations are better than others, pragmatically.
> Rather, it's useful to examine the fate of various Gramscianisms or
> Althusserianisms, their effects and consequences.
> Anyway, here goes on Gramsci:
> On Fri, 12 Aug 1994, Bryan A Case wrote:
> > I'm curious - as I set out on a reading of THE PRISON NOTEBOOKS - just
> > why was the Birmingham adoption of Gramsci a mistake?  How was he
> > misrepresented, etc.?  Thanks in advance.
> In (very) brief:
> Gramsci's main contribution, as I see it, is a re-conceptualization of
> civil society and its relation to the State.  There's an excellent essay
> by Norberto Bobbio (in a book whose name I forget for the moment; it's
> the book that also contains an essay by Negri) tracing
> the evolution of the concept of civil society from Hegel through Marx to
> Gramsci.  Whatever (and I would have to refresh my memory on this, too),
> the main thing is that civil society is situated as part of a fairly
> complex structure with some intellectual pedigree (pedigree not itself
> being an unqualified good; think of this as a Foucauldian discursive
> context if you will).
> As the Birmingham School took up Gramsci, they conflated culture (a word
> floated around above all by Williams, but also debated with Thompson et.
> a.) with civil society, and lost the structural analysis.  (In
> Theory-speak, of course the discursive context into which a piece of
> terminology is imported will shape that terminology, and the horizons of
> its possible uses in dramatic ways.)
> Although many British Marxists in the 70s (especially the
> historians--there's interesting stuff on this by Tom Nairn and Perry
> Anderson, for example), didn't completely lose sight of the State,
> gradually, and especially with the export of cultural studies to the US,
> the term culture, fortified with the Gramscian term "hegemony" acquired
> more and more conceptual autonomy.
> Hence (very briefly and schematically) we can get to a situation where
> almost anything is counter-hegemonic and thus subversive--listening to
> Madonna or reading the romance, for example--because the essentially
> Gramscian term hegemony (and thus by implication counter-hegemony) has
> been almost completely dissociated from its original framework.  As far
> as I can see, the results of all this--viz. American cultural
> studies--are clearly two sandwiches short of a picnic (though of course I
> over-generalize massively).  A short, sharp dose of Bourdieu should clear
> up any notion of the celebratory.
> One of my many projects is to trace through this trajectory in a little
> more thoroughness.  Tell me what you think.
> > --Bryan A. Case a/k/a Bryan.Case at a/k/a godwin at
> Unfortunately, as I'm moving state (small s) on Monday, I have few books
> to hand, and little time to clarify any more than this... still, all
> feedback is always welcome.
> Jon
> Jon Beasley-Murray
> Department of English and Comp. Lit.
> U. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
> jbmurray at


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