ideology, exploitation and domination (re-post)

Jon Beasley-Murray jpb8 at
Sat Jan 7 23:57:06 MST 1995

On Sun, 8 Jan 1995, Thomas Schumacher wrote:

concerning cultural studies and the CCCS:

> It's also not clear to me that cultural studies'
> adoption of hegemony necessarily lead them to abandon the economic.  It seems
> to me that part of the reason that the Centre chose the theoretical baggage
> that they did is because of their objectives (i.e., the "sociological" study of
> popular culture, not a theory of capitalism).  The particular marxism that
> Hall, et al., chose to work with was in many respects quite useful.  The kind
> of cultural studies which has gone on to study "resistant readings" has less to
> do with the marxist tool that they used as much as it has to do with the fact
> that cultural studies has dropped a their marxist tools (in part, as Jon
> pointed out, because they've found other things to study [counter-hegemonies]).

Yes, I see this--and I agree that at times I may seem to be championing a
theoretical idealism along the lines of "if only you choose the right
concepts or theorists you can get the right results."  Theories and
theorists are historical products as much as anything else: and "Gramsci"
or "overdetermination" are different entities at different times in
Italy, Britain or the US.  More work needs to be done on this kind of
contextual reading, however--and it is clear that Gramsci (for example)
is expecially prone to being read out of historical context, presenting
himself so clearly (no individual agency intended here) as the Marxist
intellectual martyr in the fascist jail.  Yet Gramsci in post-45 Italy
signifies a whole different set of political alliances and strategies
(concerning institutionalization in the PCI for example) than
Gramscianism does in 70s Britain.

The ways in which other intellectual and material forces affect the
articualtion and reception of ideas (as in the import of cultural studies
to the US) also has to be examined--the different relative strengths of
sociaology or political science in Britain and the US is important to the
strange transatlantic mutation, for example.

Still, concepts are not wholly mutable, and the specfic (and
determinately limited) plasticity of concepts such as "hegemony" may have
enabled particular theoretical and political choices in way in which
other concepts (here I would suggest "the State") would not have been so
amenable would not have.  Equally, cultural studies was receptive to
Gramscianism in part because of the ways in which Williams et. al. had
already begun thinking about the term "culture" itself (which also is
somewhat similar to the Althusserian "ideology," if not, eventually,
similar enough).

Yet the role of political theory surely is still to go beyond such
historical and cultural traditions, even as (indeed because) it
recognizes them--and we should ask what it means for CCCS's brand of
marxism to be "useful" (for whom? for what?) and ask what uses can be
made of it now, and what uses might be made of (here, I would suggest)
the Italian social theory of *autonomia*.

To point to another point of contact, however, I am wondering how similar
what I've been terming "ethics" is to what Williams called "structures of
feeling"--although the latter is a notoriously vague and under-theorized

Take care


Jon Beasley-Murray
Literature Program
Duke University
jpb8 at


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