Philip II of King of Macedon, Ny Carlsberg Gly...
Philip II of King of Macedon, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek via Wikipedia

Hegemony is a political science term with ancient roots.

In the Greco–Roman world of 5th century European Classical antiquity, the city-state of Sparta was the hegemon of the Peloponnesian League (6th – 4th centuries BC); King Philip II of Macedon was the hegemon of the League of Corinth, in 337 BC, (a kingship he willed to his son, Alexander the Great).¹

In the 19th century historians used the term to describe one nation’s power over another, and by implication, the whole notion of Imperialism.

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891 – 1937) was the first to use hegemony to describe the idea of a ruling class socially and economically dominating others within a given society.

The contemporary sociological meaning of the term hegemony points to an entire system of cultural values and practices existing within interconnected and (apparently) legitimate social institutions (e.g. markets, legal system, government, education, religion and media) which the powerful allegedly use to oppress the powerless.

Occupy DC
Image by AFSC Photos via Flickr

Along these lines, the French social thinker Bourdieu, Pierre (1930-2002) introduced the idea of “cultural capital” to try to explain the complex relations contributing to societal inequity, discrimination and domination.

For all its flaws, the recent “Occupy movement” (where protestors are sweeping the globe in protest of being “have-nots” apparently marginalized by a few wealthy “haves”)² raises the question of institutional legitimacy, which just a few decades ago, was certainly not a mainstream issue and hardly questioned by most people in the G8.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemony

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupy_movement

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