Hegemony is a big word for a fairly simple idea. When socially powerful people use their influence to convince less powerful people it is in their best interest to do what is actually in the most powerful people’s best interest, that’s hegemony. If you had a younger brother or sister, then chances are you’ve been hegemonic before. In this piece Nathan Palmer discusses how hegemony is used to get his daughter to bed and to justify the growing economic inequality in the United States.
My 3 year old daughter doesn’t want to go to bed, ever. I used to fight with her, but I found my feeble reserve of late day energy no match for her inexhaustible reserves of protest anger (she takes a mid-day nap- it’s not a fair fight). I have power and authority over her. I am 10 times her size. My mastery of basic intellectual skills pwns her 3 year old set. And yet I’m reduced to begging her and/or God for the mercy of sleep.
We’ve been focusing a lot on power and control here on SociologyInFocus, but it’s an election year, so this is to be expected. There are a lot of ways to control/dominate people, but not all of them are as painless or as sinister as hegemony.
Hegemony is the opposite of coercion. Whereas coercion uses force or intimidation to get folks to do what you want, hegemony is the act of convincing another that it is in their best interest to do what you want them to do. Tom Sawyer famously convinced his friends that painting a fence was “so much fun” that they begged him to let them do Sawyer’s work for him. Sawyer was a hegemonic mastermind.
Let’s go back to my daughter. I have authority, size, and power over her, but using coercion goes against my values and against the laws of my state. So I busted out my hegemony skills.