In the following assignment I will be look at what hegemony is, Durkheim's theory of functionalism and his belief in social order. I will look at others who challenged Durkheim's theory, such as Marx and Gramsci. I will then look at the view that hegemony is in fact detrimental to society through conformity and obedience to authority. I will do this by looking at the study carried out by Milgram on obedience to authority, and what the results of this suggest. We will see how Durkheims' idea of conforming to societies rules and norms can be seen as a positive thing, but look in particular as to how this can be the exact opposite.
Hegemony is the domination of one power or state within a league, confederation, etc. (Collins English Dictionary, 1994).
Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), like all major founders of sociology, was preoccupied with the changes transforming society. He tried to understand these changes in terms of the development of the division of labour as part of industrialisation. Durkheim argued that the division of labour gradually replaces religion as the main basis of social cohesion (Giddens, 1994).
Durkheim hated and feared social disorder. He wanted to apply sociological knowledge to social intervention by the State in order to create social harmony. He felt that progress should be towards social order, not individual freedom. For Durkheim, social order includes social integration - the unification of diverse groups of people in community (Carroll, 2003).
Durkheim's theories come from the greater framework of macro-sociology, or structuralism. This regards an individual as being born into an ongoing social system, which is independent of the individual, and determines his behaviour. This behaviour is shaped by the socialisation process, in which an individual is informed by the value system of their particular society. It is also a functionalist theory, which looks at the 'functional requirements' to be met for a society's continued survival. Most notably, a society desires order and stability, and functionalism looks at how this order is maintained (Travis, 2001).
Durkheim's Social Order
Emile Durkheim drew an analogy between a biological organism and society:
"The various organs of a living thing work together in order to maintain a healthy whole in much the same way that various institutions in society work together to produce social order"(Durkheim, 1893). All individual parts of an organic system have a function, for example with the human body, each organ performs a necessary and unique function just as social institutions work to maintain solidarity, integration and harmony of society (Carroll, 2003).
Social order is usually achieved through the perpetuation of a 'central value system', which imposes common values on all its members - for example, equality of opportunity, Christian moral values, materialism, democracy and productivity (Travis, 2001). Durkheim felt that social order les to freedom. He felt that without social restraints, humans would be uncivilised beasts, slaves to their own passions. By forming society, humans were freed from a chaotic, beast-like existence.
However, Durkheim saw crime as normal in terms of its occurrence and even saw it as having a positive social function. He saw deviance as necessary to society if society is to remain flexible and open to change and new adaptations (Coser, 1997). He viewed deviancy as fulfilling various important social needs; it acted to unify law-abiding citizens against the criminal, thus "crime brings together honest men and concentrates them" (Durkheim, 1893). Recognition of crime was a validation of the existence of laws, which were in turn a reinforcement of our central values (Travis, 2001).
Karl Marx (1818-1883) on the other hand, thought that progress should be about emancipating people from and economic exploitation. He was critical of the economic system of capitalism. He saw the system as coercive and full of conflict like slaves being ruled by masters again. He believed that workers participate within the system as a result of "self-consciousness", that is, they were born into a society without questioning it. People then try to succeed within the system rather than change it. People do not seem to realize that they have a shared interest with their class against the owners (Giddens, 1994).
Marx felt that workers would become unsatisfied with seeing so many poor and so few rich, and realize their common interest. This "class consciousness" would cause workers to destroy Capitalism and create a fair system where everyone is valued equally with no master/slave relationships (Carroll, 2003).
Durkheim's idea seems more realistic than Marx's when we look to how modern society is turning out. However, it is also true that hegemony can be detrimental to society when we look at such movements as Fascism. Conforming to certain rules and norms may not always lead to the healthy social order Durkheim was seeking.
Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was a leading Marxist thinker. He rejected economic determinism. It was Gramsci who in the late 1920's and 1930's with the rise of Fascism and the failure of Western Europe, working-class movements began to consider why the working-class was not necessarily revolutionary, why it could in fact yield to Fascism (Carroll, 2003).
Gramsci used the term hegemony to denote the predominance of one social class over others. This represents not only political and economic control, but also the ability of the dominant class to project its own way of seeing the world so that those who are subordinated by it accept it as common sense and natural (Chandler, 2004). This involves willing and active consent however, "common sense is not something rigid and immobile, but is continually transforming itself" (Gramsci, 1982:73).
People consent to the practices and beliefs of the ruling powers' as it becomes how things are. Gramsci thought that class struggle must always involve ideas and ideologies; ideas that would make the revolution and also that would prevent it. Gramsci's stance involved a rejection of economism since it saw a struggle for ideological hegemony as a primary factor in radical change (Chandler, 2004).
Conformity and Obedience to Authority
"The essence of conformity is yielding to group pressures"(Mann, 1969). Many psychological experiments were carried out in order to understand the powers of conforming to a group, for example Asch's Line Judgement tests in 1965, and also conformity to obedience, for example Milgram's Obedience tests in 1965. Both experiments showed how influential group conformity can be and in Milgram's study this showed to what extent people would conform to an authority figure.
In Nazi Germany from 1933-1945, millions of innocent people were systematically put to death in concentration camps as a result of direct orders from the well-known psychopathic monster, Adolf Hitler. However, he could not have done this alone. What about the people who ran the day-to-day operations - were they all monsters too? Not according to Arendt (1963) who observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal who was found guilty of the murder of millions of Jews. She described him as dull and ordinary, who saw himself as a little cog in a big machine. "In certain circumstance the most ordinary decent person can become a criminal" (Arendt, 1963).
The problem of obedience to authority arose again in Vietnam, when a group of American soldiers, claiming that they were simply following orders, killed a number of civilians in the community My Lai (Atkinson et al, 2000).
This issue of obedience to authority was explored empirically in a series of important and controversial studies conducted by Milgram (1963, 74) at Yale University. Ordinary men and women were recruited through a newspaper advertisement that offered $4 for one hour's participation in a "study of memory". Upon arrival, participants were told they would play the role of teacher. The participant was to read a series of words of pairs to another person and test their memory by reading the first word of each pair and ask them to select the correct second word from four alternatives. Each time the learner made an error, the participant was to press a lever that delivered an electric shock to the learner (Atkinson et al, 2000).
The participant watched as the learner was strapped into a seat with electrodes attached to their wrists. The participant was then seated in an adjoining room in front of a shock generator with thirty lever switches labelled with voltages rating from 15 to 450 volts and grouped from "Slight Shock" to "Danger: Severe Shock" (Atkinson et al, 2000).
Results of Milgrams Experiments
When Milgram conducted the study he found that with a little bit of coaxing, the majority (60%) of subjects would administer shocks right up to 450 volts. Each time the learner got something wrong the teacher was told to administer shocks and increase the voltage with each wrong answer. The teacher could hear the learner scream in pain as a result of the shocks, but many still continued. At a certain stage the learner no longer made a sound, and the teacher was then told that no response was to be considered a wrong answer and they were to increase the voltage (Atkinson et al, 2000).
The people administering the shocks were not pathological sadists, as psychologists described them as normal everyday people. The learner of course was a planted actor, told to scream and make noises as though they were receiving electric shocks. However, the participants were unaware of this fact. Some participants were having seizures and breakdowns as they knew what they were doing was wrong.
By replying to the advertisement and agreeing to be involved with the study, participants in Milgrams experiments implicitly agreed to cooperate with the experimenter, follow the directions of the person in charge and see the job through to completion. This is a very strong social norm and we tend to underestimate how difficult it is to break such an agreement and go back on our implied word to cooperate. The experiment was designed to reinforce this norm by making it particularly difficult to stop once it had begun. This experiment also shows that it does not take much to convince someone to do horrific things (Atkinson et al, 2000).
Although Durkheim's functionalist theory may seem very restricting to an individual, some social order must remain. Marx and Gramsci both put forward very heroic theories of people coming together to overthrow the powers that be, which on paper sound very daring and desirable for the 'little people'. However, in reality this could never really happen, society functions by people following rules and norms and could never cope in a society where people make their own rules. For example, without laws, people would probably become more involved in criminal activities as there are no societal reinforcements or restraints to govern otherwise.
There is therefore no doubt that rules and norms are needed within society to prevent chaos. As we have seen, however, too much order by one person can lead to society conforming and acting in ways that are undesirable. We have seen this through Nazi Germany, and the experiments conducted by Milgram. It can then be said that hegemony can be detrimental to society when in the wrong controlling hands.