Session One: Neoliberal Common-Sense

For an introduction to the Culture, Power and Politics seminar, please go to the ‘About’ page.

Our very first seminar tried to look at a question which is crucial to everyone who wants to achieve real change in our society: why doesn’t everyone seem to want it, or fail to do anything about it even if they seem to want it?

One of the most influential ways of thinking about this question comes from the writing of the Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci, a hero of the struggle against fascism in Europe who died in Mussolini’s jails.

Gramsci argues that politics is always partly a struggle to define those ways of looking at the world which are simply taken for granted by most members of a society: their ‘common-sense’.

In his final published work, part of the Soundings ‘After Neoliberalism’ manifesto, and co-authored with cultural theorist Alan O’Shea, the pioneer of Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall, explored the ways in which neoliberalism* works to colonise the common-sense of public opinion, guaranteeing acquiescence to neoliberalism even when its effects (e.g. greater social inequality) are unpopular. You can read the essay HERE.

In the first session we explored the background to Gramsci’s ideas; their relevance to our situation today; the many complex issues which they raise for thinking about the relationship between power, consciousness and everyday life; their implications for thinking about the strategy of campaigns such as UK Uncut; the controversy over the term ‘common-sense’ (which Gramscian scholar Peter Thomas has recently suggested is a bad translation), and various other things.

The best further reading would be Roger Simon’s book Gramsci’s Political Thought the third edition of which is about to be published by Lawrence & Wishart, who have made available a special pre-publication pdf for these seminars which can be accessed HERE.

To listen to a recording of the seminar click HERE.

If you want the powerpoint slides from that session, they are here: Hegemony and neoliberal common sense CPP

*neoliberalism = the ideology which promotes privatisation of public services, low taxation, suppression of labour organisation, generally being very nice to the rich.