Academic journal article Capital & Class

A Critical Theory Route to Hegemony, World Order and Historical Change: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives in International Relations

Academic journal article Capital & Class

A Critical Theory Route to Hegemony, World Order and Historical Change: Neo-Gramscian Perspectives in International Relations

Article excerpt

Situated within a historical materialist problematic of social transformation and deploying many insights from the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, a crucial break with mainstream International Relations (IR) approaches emerged by the 1980s in the work of Robert Cox. In contrast to mainstream routes to hegemony in IR, which develop a static theory of politics, an abstract ahistorical conception of the state and an appeal to universal validity (e.g. Keohane 1984 and 1989; Waltz 1979), debate shifted towards a critical theory of hegemony, world order and historical change (for the classic critique, see Ashley 1984). Rather than a problem-solving preoccupation with the maintenance of social power relationships, a critical theory of hegemony directs attention to questioning the prevailing order of the world. (1) It 'does not take institutions and social and power relations for granted but calls them into question by concerning itself with their origins and whether they might be in the process of changing' (Cox 1981: 129). Thus, it is specifically critical in the sense of asking how existing social or world orders have come into being, how norms, institutions or practices therefore emerge, and what forces may have the emancipatory potential to change or transform the prevailing order. As such, a critical theory develops a dialectical theory of history concerned not just with the past but with a continual process of historical change and with exploring the potential for alternative forms of development (Cox 1981: 129, 133-4). Cox's critical theory of hegemony thus focuses on interaction between particular processes, notably springing from the dialectical possibilities of change within the sphere of production and the exploitative character of social relations, not as unchanging ahistorical essences but as a continuing creation of new forms (Cox 1981: 132).The first section of this article outlines the conceptual framework developed by Robert Cox, linking it back to Gramsci's own work. This includes situating the world economic crisis of the 197Os within more recent debates about globalisation and how this period of 'structural change' has been conceptualised. Then, attention will turn to what has been recognised (see Morton 2001) as similar, but diverse, neo-Gramscian perspectives in International Relations (IR) that build on Cox's work and constitute a distinct critical theory route to considering hegemony, world order and historical change. Finally, various controversies surrounding the neo-Gramscian perspectives will be traced, before elaborating in conclusion the directions along which future research might proceed.

A critical theory route to hegemony, world order and historical change

Unlike conventional IR theory, which reduces hegemony to a single dimension of dominance based on the economic and military capabilities of states, a neo-Gramscian perspective developed by Cox broadens the domain of hegemony. It appears as an expression of broadly based consent, manifested in the acceptance of ideas and supported by material resources and institutions, which is initially established by social forces occupying a leading role within a state, but is then projected outwards on a world scale. Within a world order a situation of hegemony may prevail 'based on a coherent conjunction or fit between a configuration of material power, the prevalent collective image of world order (including certain norms) and a set of institutions which administer the order with a certain semblance of universality' (Cox 1981: 139). Hegemony is therefore a form of dominance, but it refers more to a consensual order so that 'dominance by a powerful state may be a necessary but not a sufficient condition of hegemony' (Cox 1981: 139). If hegemony is understood as an 'opinion-moulding activity', rather than brute force or dominance, then consideration has to turn to how a hegemonic social or world order is based on values and understandings that permeate the nature of that order (Cox 1992/1996: 151). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.