Neo-Gramscian perspectives in International Relations

A critical theory route to hegemony, world order and historical change: neo-Gramscian perspectives in International Relations

Bieler, Andreas

Situated within a historical materialist problematic of social transformation that deploys many of the insights of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, a crucial break emerged, in the 19808, in the work of Robert Cox from mainstream International Relations (IR) approaches to hegemony. This article provides a comprehensive ‘state-of-the-discipline’ overview of this critical theory route to hegemony, world order and historical change. It does so by outlining the historical context within which various diverse but related neo-Gramscian perspectives emerged. Attention subsequently turns to highlight how conditions of capitalist economic crisis and structural change in the 19708 have been conceptualised, which inform contemporary debates about globalisation. Significantly, the discussion is also responsive to the various controversies and criticisms that surround the neo-Gramscian perspectives whilst, in conclusion, directions along which future research might proceed are elaborated. Hence providing a thorough survey of this historical materialist critical theory of hegemony and thus forms of social power through which conditions of capitalism are reproduced, mediated and contested.

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 19805 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 19705 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). Hence it has to be considered how intersubjective meanings-shared notions about social relations-shape reality. ‘”Reality” is not only the physical environment of human action but also the institutional, moral and ideological context that shapes thoughts and actions’ (Cox 1997: 252). The crucial point to make, then, is that hegemony filters through structures of society, economy, culture, gender, ethnicity, class and ideology.

Hegemony within a historical structure is constituted on three spheres of activity: the social relations of production, encompassing the totality of social relations in material, institutional and discursive forms that engender particular social: forces; forms of state, consisting of historically contingent state-civil society complexes; and world orders, which not only represent phases of stability and conflict but also permit scope for thinking about how alternative forms of world order might emerge (Cox 1981: 135-8). These are represented schematically (Cox 1981: 138):

If considered dialectically, in relation to each other, then it becomes possible to represent the historical process through the particular configuration of historical structures. Social forces, as the main collective actors engendered by the social relations of production, operate within and across all spheres of activity. Through the rise of contending social forces, linked to changes in production, there may occur mutually reinforcing transformations in forms of state and world order. There is no unilinear relationship between the spheres of activity and the point of departure to explain the historical process may equally be that of forms of state or world order (Cox 1981: I53n.26). Within each of the three main spheres it is argued that three further elements reciprocally combine to constitute an historical structure: ideas, understood as intersubjective meanings as well as collective images of world order; material capabilities, referring to accumulated resources; and institutions, which are amalgams of the previous two elements and are means of stabilising a particular order. These again are represented schematically (Cox 1981: 136):

The aim is to break down over time coherent historical structures-consisting of different patterns of social relations of production, forms of state and world order-that have existed within the capitalist mode of production (Cox 1987: 396-8). In the following, the main characteristics of the three spheres of activity are outlined.

The social relations of production

According to Cox (1987: 1-9), patterns of production relations are the starting point for analysing the operation and mechanisms of hegemony. Yet, from the start, this should not be taken as a move that reduces everything to production in an economistic sense.

Production…is to be understood in the broadest sense. It is not confined to the production of physical goods used or consumed. It covers the production and reproduction of knowledge and of the social relations, morals and institutions that are prerequisites to the production of physical goods (Cox 1989: 39).

These patterns are referred to as modes of social relations of production, which encapsulate configurations of social forces engaged in the process of production. By discerning different modes of social relations of production it is possible to consider how changing production relations give rise to particular social forces that become the bases of power within and across states and within a specific world order (Cox 1987: 4). The objective of outlining different modes of social relations of production is to question what promotes the emergence of particular modes and what might explain the way in which modes combine or undergo transformation (Cox 1987: 103). It is argued that the reciprocal relationship between production and power is crucial. To examine this relationship a framework is developed that focuses on how power in social relations of production may give rise to certain social forces, how these social forces may become the bases of power in forms of state and how this might shape world order. This framework revolves around the social ontology of historical structures. It refers to ‘persistent social practices, made by collective human activity and transformed through collective human activity’ (Cox 1987: 4). An attempt is therefore made to capture ‘the reciprocal relationship of structures and actors’ (Cox 1995a: 33; Cox 2000: 55-9; Bieler and Morton 2001a).

Hegemony is thus understood as a form of class rule linked to social forces, as the core collective actors, engendered by the social relations of production (Overbeek 1994). For Cox, class is viewed as an historical category and employed in a heuristic way rather than as a static analytical category (Cox 1987: 355-7, 1985/1996: 57). This means that class identity emerges within and through historical processes of economic exploitation. ‘Bring back exploitation as the hallmark of class, and at once class struggle is in the forefront, as it should be’ (Ste. Croix 1981: 57). As such, class-consciousness emerges out of particular historical contexts of struggle rather than mechanically deriving from objective determinations that have an automatic place in production relations (see Thompson 1968: 8-9; 1978). Yet the focus on exploitation and resistance to it ensures that social forces are not simply reduced to material aspects, but also include other forms of identity involved in struggle such as ethnic, nationalist, religious, gender or sexual forms. In short, ‘”non-class” issues-peace, ecology, and feminism-are not to be set aside but given a firm and conscious basis in the social realities shaped through the production process’ (Cox 1987: 353).

Forms of state

The conceptual framework, outlined so far, considers how new modes of social relations of production become established. Changes in the social relations of production give rise to new configurations of social forces. State power rests on these configurations. Therefore, rather than taking the state as a given or pre-constituted institutional category, consideration is given to the historical construction of various forms of state and the social context of political struggle. This is accomplished by drawing upon the concept of historical bloc and by widening a theory of the state to include relations within civil society.

An historical bloc refers to the way in which leading social forces within a specific national context establish a relationship over contending social forces. It is more than simply a political alliance between social forces represented by classes or fractions of classes. It indicates the integration of a variety of different class interests that are propagated throughout society ‘bringing about not only a unison of economic and political aims, but also intellectual and moral unity…on a “universal” plane’ (Gramsci 1971: 181-2). The very nature of an historical bloc, as Anne Showstack Sassoon (1987: 123) has outlined, necessarily implies the existence of hegemony. Indeed, the ‘universal plane’ that Gramsci had in mind was the creation of hegemony by a fundamental social group over subordinate groups. Hegemony would therefore be established ‘if the relationship between intellectuals and people-nation, between the leaders and the led, the rulers and the ruled, is provided by an organic cohesion …Only then can there take place an exchange of individual elements between the rulers and ruled, leaders…and led, and can the shared life be realised which alone is a social force-with the creation of the “historical bloc'” (Gramsci 1971: 418).

These issues are encompassed within the focus on different forms of state which, as Cox notes, are principally distinguished by ‘the characteristics of their historic[al] blocs, i.e. the configurations of social forces upon which state power ultimately rests. A particular configuration of social forces defines in practice the limits or parameters of state purposes, and the modus operandi of state action, defines, in other words, the raison d’etat for a particular state’ (Cox 1987: 105). In short, by considering different forms of state, it becomes possible to analyse the social basis of the state or to conceive of the historical ‘content’ of different states. The notion of historical bloc aids this endeavour by directing attention to which social forces may have been crucial in the formation of an historical bloc or particular state; what contradictions may be contained within an historical bloc upon which a form of state is founded; and what potential might exist for the formation of a rival historical bloc that may transform a particular form of state (Cox 1987: 409n.10). In contrast, therefore, to conventional state-centric approaches in IR, a wider theory of the state emerges within this framework. Instead of underrating state power and explaining it away, attention is given to social forces and processes and how these relate to the development of states (Cox 1981: 128) as well as states in alternative conditions of development (Bilgin and Morton 2002). Considering different forms of state as the expression of particular historical blocs and thus relations across state-civil society fulfils this objective. Overall, this relationship is referred to as the statecivil society complex that, clearly, owes an intellectual debt to Gramsci.

For Gramsci, the state was not simply understood as an institution limited to the ‘government of the functionaries’ or the ‘top political leaders and personalities with direct governmental responsibilities’. The state presents itself in a different way beyond the political society of public figures and top leaders so that ‘the state is the entire complex of practical and theoretical activities with which the ruling class not only justifies and maintains its dominance, but manages to win the active consent of those over whom it rules’ (Gramsci 1971: 178, 244). This alternative conception of the state is inclusive of the realm of civil society. The state should be understood, then, not just as the apparatus of government operating within the ‘public’ sphere (government, political parties, military) but also as part of the ‘private’ sphere of civil society (church, media, education) through which hegemony functions (Gramsci 1971: 261). It can therefore be argued that the state in this conception is understood as a social relation. The state is not unquestioningly taken as a distinct institutional category, or thing in itself, but conceived as a form of social relations through which capitalism and hegemony are expressed. It is this combination of political and civil society that is referred to as the integral state through which ruling classes organise intellectual and moral functions as part of the political and cultural struggle for hegemony in the effort to establish an ‘ethical’ state (Gramsci 1971: 258, 271).

Furthermore, different social relations of production engender different fractions of social forces. This means that ‘foreign’ capital, for example, is not simply represented as an autonomous force beyond the power of the state but instead is represented by certain classes or fractions of classes within the constitution of the state apparatus. There are contradictory and heterogeneous relations internal to the state, which are induced by class antagonisms between nationally- and transnationally-based capital and labour. The state, then, is the condensation of a hegemonic relationship between dominant classes and class fractions. This occurs when a leading class develops a ‘hegemonic project’ or ‘comprehensive concept of control’ which transcends particular economiccorporate interests and becomes capable of binding and cohering the diverse aspirations and general interests of various social classes and class fractions (van der Fiji, 1984, 1998; Overbeek, 1990, 1993). It is a process that involves the ‘most purely political phase’ of class struggle and occurs on a ‘”universal” plane’ to result in the forging of an historical bloc (Gramsci 1971: 263).

Hegemony and world orders

The construction of an historical bloc cannot exist without a hegemonic social class and is therefore a national phenomenon (Cox 1983: 168, 174). This is because the very nature of an historical bloc is bound up with how various classes and fractions of classes construct, or contest, hegemony through national political frameworks. Or, put another way, how such classes ‘nationalise’ themselves through historically specific and peculiar socio-economic and political structures (Gramsci 1971: 241; Showstack Sassoon 1987: 121-2). Yet the hegemony of a leading class can manifest itself as an international phenomenon insofar as it represents the development of a particular form of the social relations of production. Once hegemony has been consolidated domestically it may expand beyond a particular social order to move outward on a world scale and insert itself through the world order (Cox 1983: 171, Cox 1987: 149-50). By doing so it can connect social forces across different countries. ‘A world hegemony is thus in its beginnings an outward expansion of the internal (national) hegemony established by a…social class’ (Cox 1983: 171). The outward expansion of particular modes of social relations of production and the interests of a leading class on a world scale can also become supported by mechanisms of international organisation. This is what Gramsci (1971: 243) referred to as the ‘internal and international organisational relations of the state’: i.e. movements, voluntary associations and organisations, such as the Rotary Club, or the Roman Catholic Church that had an ‘international’ character whilst rooted within the state. Social forces may thus achieve hegemony within a national social order as well as through world order by ensuring the promotion and expansion of a mode of production. Hegemony can therefore operate at two levels: by constructing an historical bloc and establishing social cohesion within a form of state as well as by expanding a mode of production internationally and projecting hegemony through the level of world order. For instance, in Gramsci’s time, this was borne by the expansion of Fordist assembly plant production beyond the us which would lead to the growing world hegemony and power of ‘Americanism and Fordism’ from the 1920s and 1930s (Gramsci 1971: 277-318).

Pax Americana and globalisation

In more recent times, it has been one of Cox’s key objectives to explain additional processes of structural change, particularly the change from the post-World War II order to globalisation. Cox argues that a us-led hegemonic world order, labelled pax Americana, prevailed until the early 1970s. It was maintained through the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates and institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Moreover, it was based on the principle of ’embedded liberalism’, which allowed the combination of international free trade with the right for governments to intervene in their national economy in order to ensure domestic stability via social security and the partial redistribution of economic wealth (Ruggie 1982). The corresponding form of state was the Keynesian welfare state, characterised by interventionism, a policy of full employment via budget deficit spending, the mixed economy and an expansive welfare system (Gill and Law 1988: 79-80). The underlying social relations of production were organised around the Fordist accumulation regime, characterised by mass production and mass consumption, and tripartite corporatism involving government-businesslabour coalitions (Cox 1987: 219-30).2 The forms and functions of us-led hegemony, however, began to alter following the world economic crisis of the 1970s and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system during a period of ‘structural change’ in the world economy in the 1970s. This overall crisis, both of the world economy and of social power within various forms of state, has been explained as the result of two particular tendencies: the internationalisation of production and the internationalisation of the state that led the thrust towards globalisation.

Since the erosion of pax Americana principles of world order in the 1970s, there has been an increasing internationalisation of production and finance driven, at the apex of an emerging global class structure, by a ‘transnational managerial class’ (Cox 1981: 147). Taking advantage of differences between countries, there has been an integration of production processes on a transnational scale with Transnational Corporations (TNCS) promoting the operation of different elements of a single process in different territorial locations. It is this organisation of production and finance on a transnational level, which fundamentally distinguishes globalisation from the period of pax Americana. Following the neoGramscian focus on social forces, engendered by production as the main actors, it is realised that the transnational restructuring of capitalism in globalisation has led to the emergence of new social forces of capital and labour. Besides the transnational managerial class, other elements of productive capital (involved in manufacturing and extraction), including small- and medium-sized businesses acting as contractors and suppliers and import-export businesses, as well elements of financial capital (involved in banking insurance and finance) have been supportive of this internationalisation of production. Hence there has been a rise in the structural power of transnational capital supported and promoted by forms of elite interaction that have forged common perspectives, or an ’emulative uniformity’, between business, state officials and representatives of international organisations favouring the logic of capitalist market relations (Cox 1987: 298; Gill and Law 1989: 484; Gill 1995a: 400-i). Significant contradictions are likely to exist between transnational social forces of capital and nationally-based capital. The latter, engendered by national production systems, may oppose an open global economy due to their reliance on national or regional protectionism against global competition. Parallel to the division between transnational and national capital, Cox identifies two main lines of division within the working class. Firstly, workers of TNCS can be in conflict with workers of national companies, shadowing the split of capital. Secondly and related to this, there may be a rift between established workers in secure employment, often within the core workforce of TNCS, and non-established workers in temporary and part-time positions at the periphery of the labour market (Cox 1981: 235). In other words, globalisation in the form of the transnationalisation of production has led to a fractionalisation of capital and labour into transnational and national social forces alike.

During this period of structural change in the 1970s, then, the social basis across many forms of state altered as the logic of capitalist market relations created a crisis of authority in established institutions and modes of governance. Whilst some have championed such changes as the ‘retreat of the state’ (Strange 1996), or the emergence of a ‘borderless world’ (Ohmae 1990, 1996), and others have decried the global proportions of such changes in production (Hirst and Thompson 1999;Weiss 1998), it is argued here that the internationalisation of production has profoundly restructured-but not eroded-the role of the state. The notion of the internationalisation of the state captures this dynamic by referring to the way transnational processes of consensus formation, underpinned by the internationalisation of production and the thrust of globalisation, have been transmitted through the policy-making channels of governments.3 The network of control that has maintained the structural power of capital has also been supported by an ‘axis of influence’, consisting of institutions such as the World Bank, which have ensured the ideological osmosis and dissemination of policies in favour of the perceived exigencies of the global political economy. As a result, those state agencies in close contact with the global economy-offices of presidents and prime ministers, treasuries, central banks-have gained precedence over those agencies closest to domestic public policy-ministries of labour and industry or planning offices (Cox 1992: 31). Across the different forms of state in countries of advanced and peripheral capitalism, the general depiction is that the state became a transmission belt for neo-liberalism and the logic of capitalist competition from global to local spheres (Cox 1992: 31).4

From the internationalisation of the state to globalisation: further developments

Although the thesis of the internationalisation of the state has received much recent criticism, the work of Stephen Gill has greatly contributed to understanding this process as part of the changing character of us-centred hegemony in the global political economy, notably in his detailed analysis of the role of the Trilateral Commission (Gill 1990). Similar to Cox, the global restructuring of production is located within a context of structural change in the 19705. It was in this period that there was a transition from what Gill recognises as an international historical bloc of social forces, established in the post-World War II period, towards a transnational historical bloc, forging links and a synthesis of interests and identities not only beyond national boundaries and classes but also creating the conditions for the hegemony of transnational capital. Yet Gill departs from Gramsci to assert that an historical bloc ‘may at times have the potential to become hegemonic’, thereby implying that a historical bloc can be established without necessarily enjoying hegemonic rule (Gill 1993: 40). For example, Gill argues that the current transnational historical bloc has a position of supremacy but not hegemony. Drawing in principle from Gramsci, it is argued that supremacy prevails, when a situation of hegemony is not apparent and when dominance is exercised through an historical bloc over fragmented opposition (Gill 1995a: 400, 402, 412).

This politics of supremacy is organised through two key processes: the new constitutionalism of disciplinary neoliberalism and the concomitant spread of market civilisation. According to Gill, new constitutionalism involves the narrowing of the social basis of popular participation within the world order of disciplinary neo-liberalism. It involves the hollowing out of democracy and the affirmation, in matters of political economy, of a set of macro-economic policies such as market efficiency, discipline and confidence, policy credibility and competitiveness. It is ‘the move towards construction of legal or constitutional devices to remove or insulate substantially the new economic institutions from popular scrutiny or democratic accountability’ (Gill 1991, 1992: 165). Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) within the European Union (EU) is regarded as a good example of this process (Gill 2001). New constitutionalism results in an attempt to make neo-liberalism the sole model of development by disseminating the notion of market civilisation based on an ideology of capitalist progress and exclusionary or hierarchical patterns of social relations (Gill 1995a: 399). Within the global political economy, mechanisms of surveillance have supported the market civilisation of new constitutionalism in something tentatively likened to a global ‘panopticon’ of surveillance (Gill 1995b).

The overarching concept of supremacy has also been used to develop an understanding of the construction of us foreign policy towards the ‘Third World’ and how challenges were mounted against the us in the 1970s through the New International Economic Order (NIEO) (Augelli and Murphy 1988). It is argued that the ideological promotion of American liberalism, based on individualism and free trade, assured American supremacy through the 1970s and was reconstructed in the 1980s. Yet this projection of supremacy did not simply unfold through domination. Rather than simply equating supremacy with dominance, Augelli and Murphy argue that supremacy can be maintained through domination or hegemony (Augelli and Murphy 1988: 132). As Murphy (1994: 295n.8) outlines in a separate study of industrial change and international organisations, supremacy defines the position of a leading class within an historical bloc and can be secured by hegemony as well as through domination. Gramsci (1971: 57) himself states, ‘the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as “domination” and as “intellectual and moral leadership'”. Where the former strain of supremacy involves subjugation by force, the latter involves leading allied groups. Shifts or variations in hegemony therefore characterise conditions of supremacy, which may reveal the limits of organising the balance between passive and active consent relative to force within world order.

A recent important intervention by van der Pijl (1998) further expands the possibility of using class struggle as an analytical device for the analysis of confrontations beyond those concerned with purely material interests. he distinguishes three areas of capitalist discipline and exploitation: (1) original accumulation and resistance to it, mainly relevant during the early history of capitalism; (2) the capitalist production process, referring to the exploitation of labour in the work place; and (3) the extension of exploitation into the sphere of social reproduction, submitting education and health to capitalist profit criteria and leading to the destruction and exhaustion of the environment. It is the latter form of capitalist discipline that has become increasingly relevant during neo-liberal globalisation. Resistance to it, be it by progressive social movements and Green Parties, or be it by populist, nationalist movements, can be understood as class struggle as much as the confrontation between employers and employees at the workplace (van der Pijl 1998: 36-49).

In addition to the neo-Gramscian perspectives discussed so far, there also exists a diverse array of similar perspectives analysing hegemony in the global political economy. This includes, among others, an account of the historically specific way in which mass production was institutionalised in the us and how this propelled forms of American-centred leadership and world hegemony in the post-World War II period (Rupert 19953). Extending this analysis, there has also been consideration of struggles between social forces in the us over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and globalisation (Rupert I995b, 2000). Moreover, there have been analyses of European integration within the context of globalisation and the role of transnational classes within European governance (van Apeldoorn 2002; Bieler 2000; Bieler and Morton 2001b; Bieling and Steinhilber 2000; Holman, Overbeek and Ryner 1998; Ryner 2002; Shields 2003); the internationalisation and democratisation of Southern Europe, particularly Spain, within the global political economy (Holman 1996); and analysis of international organisations including the role of gender and women’s movements (Lee 1995; Stienstra 1994; Whitworth 1994).There has also been a recent return to understanding forms of us foreign policy intervention within countries of peripheral capitalism. This has included analysing the promotion of polyarchy defined as, ‘a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation in decisionmaking is confined to leadership choice in elections carefully managed by elites’ (Robinson 1996: 49). Polyarchy, or low intensity democracy, is therefore analysed as an adjunct of us hegemony through institutions such as the us Agency for International Development (USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) in the particular countries of the Philippines, Chile, Nicaragua, and Haiti and tentatively extended with reference to the former Soviet bloc and South Africa. Other recent research has similarly focused on the promotion of’democracy’ in Southern Africa (Taylor 2001) as well as the construction and contestation of hegemony in Mexico (Morton zoosc). Furthermore, aspects of neo-liberalism and cultural hegemony have been dealt with in a study of mass communications scholarship in Chile (Davies 1999).There are clearly a variety of neo-Gramscian perspectives dealing with a diversity of issues linked to the analysis of hegemony in the global political economy. The next section outlines some of the criticisms levelled against such perspectives and, in conclusion, indications are given of what direction future research might proceed.

Welcome debate: controversies surrounding neoGramscian perspectives

In broad outline, neo-Gramscian perspectives have been criticised as too unfashionably Marxist or, alternatively, too lacking in Marxist rigour. They are seen as unfashionable because many retain an essentially historical materialist position as central to analysis-focusing on the ‘decisive nucleus of economic activity’ (Gramsci, 1971: 161). Hence the accusation that analysis remains caught within modernist assumptions that take as foundational the structures of historical processes determining the realms of the possible (Ashley 1989: 275). However, rather than succumbing to this problem, the fallibility of all knowledge claims is accepted across neo-Gramscian perspectives. A minimal foundationalism is therefore evident based on a cautious, contingent and transitory universalism that combines dialogue between universal values and local definitions within historically specific circumstances (Cox 1995b: 14; Cox 2000: 46).

Elsewhere, other commentators have alternatively decried the lack of historical materialist rigour within neo-Gramscian perspectives. According to Peter Burnham (1991) the neoGramscian treatment of hegemony amounts to a ‘pluralist empiricism’ that fails to recognise the central importance of the capital relation and is therefore preoccupied with the articulation of ideology. By granting equal weight to ideas and material capabilities it is argued that the contradictions of the capital relation are blurred which results in ‘a slide towards an idealist account of the determination of economic policy’ (Burnham 1991: 81). Hence, the categories of state and market are regarded as opposed forms of social organisation that operate separately in external relationship to one another. This leads to a supposed relocation of the state as a ‘thing’ in itself standing outside the relationship between capital and labour (Burnham 1994).

In specific response to these criticisms, it was outlined earlier in this article how the social relations of production are taken as the starting point for thinking about world order and the way they engender configurations of social forces. By thus asking what modes of social relations of production within capitalism have been prevalent in particular historical circumstances, the state is not treated as an unquestioned category. Indeed, rather closer to Burnham’s own position than he might admit, the state is treated as an aspect of the social relations of production so that questions about the apparent separation of politics and economics or states and markets within capitalism are promoted. Although a fully developed theory of the state is not evident, there clearly exists a set of at least implicit assumptions about the state as a form of social relations through which capitalism and hegemony are expressed. Moreover, ideas in the form of intersubjective meanings are accepted as part of the global political economy itself. Yet, in contrast to Burnham’s claim, they are not regarded as an additional independent variable next to material properties. Rather, the ‘material structure of ideology’ is the principal emphasis, which demonstrates an awareness of the ideological mediations of the state through libraries, schools, architecture, street names and layout (Gramsci 1995: 155-6).5 Only those ideas, which are disseminated through or rooted in such structures, linked to a particular constellation of social forces engaged in an ideological struggle for hegemony are considered to be ‘organic ideas’ (Bieler 2001). In Gramsci’s own words, only those ideas can be regarded as Organic’ that Organise human masses, and create the terrain on which men move, acquire consciousness of their position, struggle, etc.’. These are contrasted with ideas that are merely ‘arbitrary, rationalistic, or “willed”‘, based on extemporary polemics (Gramsci 1971: 376-7). This indicates an appreciation of the links intellectuals may have, or the wider social function they perform, in relation to the world of production within capitalist society to offer the basis for a materialist and social class analysis of intellectuals.6 It is therefore an appreciation of how ideas and intellectual activity can ‘assume the fanatical granite compactness of . . . “popular beliefs” which assume the same energy as “material forces'” (Gramsci 1971: 404).

A different series of criticisms have separately centred on the thesis of globalisation and the internationalisation of the state proposed by neo-Gramscian perspectives. In particular, Leo Panitch has argued that an account unfolds which is too top down in its expression of power relations and assumes that globalisation is a process that proceeds from the global to the national or the outside-in. The point that globalisation is authored by states is thus overlooked by developing the metaphor of a transmission belt from the global to the national within the thesis of the internationalisation of the state (Panitch 1994, 2000). It has been added that this is a one-way view of internationalisation that respectively: overlooks reciprocal interaction between the global and the local; overlooks mutually reinforcing social relations within the global political economy; or ignores class conflict within national social formations (Ling 1996; Baker 1999; Moran 1998).The role of the state, following Panitch’s (1994: 74) argument, is still determined by struggles among social forces located within particular social formations, even though social forces may be implicated in transnational structures.

In response, it will be recalled from the above discussion that the point of departure within a neo-Gramscian approach could equally be changing social relations of production within forms of state or world order (Cox 1981: 153n.26). Indeed, Cox’s focus has been on historical blocs underpinning particular states and how these are connected through the mutual interests of social classes in different countries. Further, following both Gramsci and Cox, the national context is the only place where an historical bloc can be founded and where the task of building new historical blocs, as the basis for counter-hegemony to change world order, must begin. Gill too, although he tends to take a slightly different tack on the application of notions such as historical bloc and supremacy, is still interested in analysing attempts to constitutionalise neo-liberalism at the domestic, regional and global levels (Gill 19953: 422). Therefore, there is a focus on transnational networks of production and how national governments have lost much autonomy in policy-making, but also how states are still an integral part of this process.

Extending these insights (Bieler and Morton 2003), it might also be important to recognise that capital is not simply something that is footloose, beyond the power of the state, but is represented by classes and fractions of classes within the very constitution of the state. The phenomenon now recognised as globalisation, represented by the transnationalisation of production, therefore induces the reproduction of capital within different states through a process of internalisation between various fractions of classes within states (Poulantzas 1975: 73-6). Seen in this way, globalisation and the related emergence of transnational social forces of capital and labour has not led to a retreat of the state. Instead, there has unfolded a restructuring of different forms of state through an internalisation within the state itself of new configurations of social forces expressed by class struggle between different (national and transnational) fractions of capital and labour. This stress on both internalisation and internationalisation is somewhat different from assuming that various forms of state have become simple ‘transmission belts’ from the global to the national.

Finally, Cox (1992: 30-1, 2002: 33) has made clear that the internationalisation of the state and the role of transnational elites (or a nebuleuse) in forging consensus within this process remains to be fully deciphered and needs much more study. Indeed, the overall argument concerning the internationalisation of the state was based on a series of linked hypotheses suggestive for empirical investigation (Cox 1993/ 1996: 276). The overall position adopted on the relationship between the global and the national, or between hegemony, supremacy and historical bloc, may differ from one neoGramscian perspective to the next, but it is usually driven by the purpose and empirical context of the research.

Further criticisms have also focused on how the hegemony of transnational capital has been over-estimated and how the possibility for transformation within world order is thereby diminished by neo-Gramscian perspectives (Drainville 1995). For example, the focus on elite agency in European integration processes by Gill and van Apeldoorn would indirectly reinforce a negative assessment of labour’s potential role in resisting neo-liberalism (Strange 2002). Analysis, notes Andre Drainville (1994: 125), ‘must give way to more active sorties against transnational neo-liberalism, and the analysis of concepts of control must beget original concepts of resistance.’ It is therefore important, as Paul Cammack (1999) has added, to avoid overstating the coherence of neo-liberalism and to identify materially grounded opportunities for counter-hegemonic action. All too often, a host of questions related to counter-hegemonic forms of resistance are usually left for future research, although the demonstrations during the ‘Carnival Against Capitalism’ (London, June 1999), mobilisations against the WorldTrade Organisation (Seattle, November 1999), protests against the IMF and World Bank (Washington, April 2000 and Prague, September 2000), and ‘riots’ during the European Union summit at Nice (December 2000), as well as the G-8 meeting at Genoa (July 2001), all seemingly further expose the imperative of analysing globalisation as a set of highly contested social relations. Overall, while the point about a lack of empirical investigation into concrete acts of resistance is correct in many instances, it should not be exaggerated either. It has to be noted that an analysis of the current power configuration of social forces does not by itself strengthen this configuration nor docs it exclude an investigation of possible resistance. Rather, the analysis of hegemonic practices can be understood as the absolutely essential first step towards an investigation into potential alternative developments; and resistance can only be successfully mounted if one understands what precisely needs to be resisted. Moreover, several neo-Gramscian attempts dealing with issues of resistance have now been formulated and provide fertile avenues for further exploration (see Cox 1999; Gill 2000, 2001; Morton 2002). The primary task of critical scholarship is to therefore clarify resistance to globalisation (Cox 2002: 42).

The final and most recent criticisms arise from the call for a much needed engagement by neo-Gramscian perspectives with the writings of Gramsci and thus the complex methodological, ontological, epistemological and contextual issues that embroiled the Italian thinker (Germain and Kenny 1998). This emphasis was presaged in an earlier argument warning that the incorporation of Gramscian insights into IR and IPE ran ‘the risk of denuding the borrowed concepts of the theoretical significance in which they cohere’ (Smith 1994: 147). To commit the latter error could reduce scholars to the accusation of ‘searching for gems’ in the Prison Notebooks in order to ‘save’ IPE from a pervasive economism (Gareau 1993: 301). To be sure, such criticisms and warnings have rightly drawn attention to the importance of remaining engaged with Gramsci’s own writings. Germain and Kenny also rightly call for greater sensitivity to the problems of meaning and understanding in the history of ideas when appropriating Gramsci for contemporary application. In such ways, then, the demand to remain (rc)cngaged with Gramsci’s thought and practice was a necessary one to make and well overdue. Yet the demand to return Gramsci to his historical context need not prevent the possibility of appreciating ideas both in and beyond their context. Rather than the seemingly austere historicism of Germain and Kenny’s demands, which limit the relevance of past ideas in the present, it is possible to acknowledge the role played by both past forms of thought and previous historical conditions in shaping subsequent ideas and existing social relations (Morton 2003a). This method pushes one to consider what might be historically relevant as well as limited in a theoretical and practical translation of past ideas in relation to alternative conditions.

Conclusion

To summarise, it has been shown how an alternative critical theory route to hegemony improves on mainstream IR routes. Notably a case was made for a critical theory of hegemony that directs attention to relations between social interests in the struggle for consensual leadership rather than concentrating solely on state dominance. With a particular historical materialist focus and critique of capitalism it was therefore shown how various neo-Gramscian perspectives provide an alternative critical theory route to hegemony.

As a result it was argued that the conceptual framework developed by such neo-Gramscian perspectives rethinks prevalent ontological assumptions in IR due to a theory of hegemony that focuses on social forces engendered by changes in the social relations of production, forms of state and world order. It was highlighted how this route to hegemony opens up questions about the social processes that create and transform different forms of state. Attention is thus drawn towards the raison d’etat, or the basis of state power, that includes the social basis of hegemony or the configuration of social forces upon which power rests across the terrain of state-civil society relations. With an appreciation of how ideas, institutions and material capabilities interact in the construction and contestation of hegemony it was also possible to pay attention to issues of intersubjectivity. Therefore a critical theory of hegemony was developed that was not equated with dominance and thus went beyond a theory of the state-as-force. Finally, by recognising the different social purpose behind a critical theory, committed to historical change, this route to hegemony poses an epistemological challenge to knowledge claims associated with positivist social science.

In a separate section, further developments by diverse, yet related, neo-Gramscian perspectives were outlined. Subsequently, a series of criticisms of the neo-Gramscian perspectives were discussed. Analysis can be pushed into further theoretical and empirical areas by addressing some of these criticisms. For example, in terms of further research directions, benefit could be gained by directly considering the role of organised labour in contesting the latest agenda of neoliberal globalisation (Bieler 20033 and 2003b, Strange 2002).7 It is also important to problematise the tactics and strategies of resistances to neo-liberalism by giving further thought to ‘new’ social movements, such as forms of peasant mobilisation in Latin America like the Movimento (dos Trabalhadores Rurais) Sem Terra (MST: Movement of Landless Rural Workers) in Brazil and the Ejérdto Zapatista de Liberation Nacional (EZLN: Zapatista Army of National Liberation) in Chiapas, Mexico (Morton 2002). At a more explicitly theoretical level, additional work could also be conducted in revealing Gramsci’s theory of the state and then situating this within a wider discussion of state theory (Bieler and Morton 2003). Overall, though, what matters ‘is the way in which Gramsci’s legacy gets interpreted, transmitted and used so that it [can] remain an effective tool not only for the critical analysis of hegemony but also for the development of an alternative politics and culture’ (Buttigieg 1986: 15).

Notes

* We would like to thank Robert Cox and Kees van der Pijl for their comments on this article in draft as well as two anonymous referees of this journal, and Gerard Strange, for their supportive criticisms. Adam David Morton also acknowledges the financial support of an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship (Ref.: T026271041).

1. Although overlaps may exist, the critical impetus bears a less than direct affiliation with the constellation of social thought known as the Frankfurt School represented by, among others, the work of Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno or, more recently, Jürgen Habermas (Cox 19953: 32). Hence, Cox may not explicitly understand himself to be working within the fold of the Frankfurt School (Scheeler 2002: 4). For a useful discussion of the contradictory strands and influences between Frankfurt School critical theory and critical IR theory seeWyn Jones (2000).

2. It is worth noting that, whilst the Keynesian welfare state form is referred to by Cox as the ‘neoliberal state’, this precedent is not followed. This is because confusion can result when using his term and distinguishing it from the more conventional understanding of neo-liberalism related to processes in the late 19705 and 19805, which he calls ‘hyperliberalism’.

3. At first sight, this understanding of a restructured, but not eroded role of the state, resembles Cerny’s conceptualisation of the ‘competition state’ in globalisation (Cerny 20003, 2000b). Rather than withering away, Cerny argues that ‘states play a crucial role as stabilisers and enforcers of the rules and practices of global society’ (Cerny 2000b: 301). In contrast to neo-Gramscian perspectives, however, the state is not understood as resting on and being constituted by a particular configuration of social forces. Rather, the state is understood as an independent actor intervening in the market in different ways. As a result, ‘competition state’ analysis falls into the trap of separating economics from politics and the market from the state, resulting in an ahistoric analysis of different social forms specific to capitalism (see Burnham 1994). In contrast to ‘competition state’ analysis, regulation theory places an emphasis on how a particular mode of regulation, constituted by the institutional ensemble of the state, is related to a specific accumulation regime, i.e. the way production is organised (for an overview of regulation theory approaches, see Jessop 2001 ). The problem here, however, is that ‘theories of regulation are founded on a division of the world into a system of states and of multiple sovereignties and an identification of national modes of regulation’ (Dunford 1990: 310). As a result, the transnational dimension of globalisation and the related emergence of new social forces cannot be conceptualised.

4. It is noteworthy that the metaphor of a transmission belt has been withdrawn from more recent work (Cox 2002: 33).

5. James Scott (1998) has extended this awareness in an interesting , way by encompassing a variety of state naming practices, or ‘state simplifications’, that enhance the legibility of society.

6. One way in which such enquiry has proceeded is through a detailed focus on the social function of the intellectual within conditions of socio-economic modernisation to highlight the mixture of critical opposition and accommodation that has confronted intellectuals in Latin America, with a specific focus on the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes (see Morton 2003b).

7. Many of Gramsci’s own insights on the conflict between capital and labour, arising from political action within new workers’ organisations known as ‘Factory Councils’ in Turin during the biennio rosso (1919-20), might have relevance here and can be found in Gramsci (1977, 1978,1994).

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