Home 603Seminar in the Anthropology of Power

Syllabus

Week 2 Vincent, Focault, Marx

Week 3 Vincent II

Week 4 Kertzer-Anderson

Week 4 Essay 1

Week 5 Kertzer

Week 6 Anderson

Week 7 Scott

Week 8 Vincent III

Week 9 Said

Week 10 Crehan

Week 10 Essay 2

Week 11 Vincent IV

Week 12 Vincent IVb

Week 14 Swartz

Week 14 Mohanty Analytic Summary

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
Anthropology 583: Politics and Power
Instr: Dr. Ramona Pérez
November 3, 2005

Week 10: Kate Crehan: Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology

Chapter 5: The Subaltern. In Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology by Kate Crehan
    The chapter in our reader makes me love Crehan. Her writing style is infinitely agreeable with my own sensitivities. The topic of her book, Antonio Gramsci, is also brought down to my level of comprehension. Gramsci had ideas that coincide with mine in a lot of ways. I got this idea that we still have a system of slavery, it is no longer an open purchase and sale of humans; instead it is a sub-conscious and daily form of coercion that exists below the surface of our awareness. It can only be influence from belief systems and the formation of them that pushes the system on. Crehan and Gramsci make it easier to see that there are non-physical forms of control in the guise of something that we want that is motivating us to comply.
    We say that no one can make us do anything we don’t want to. Then we go out and work ourselves into un-health because doing so may get us what we desire. This chapter on the subaltern discusses several themes that thread their way through Gramscian philosophy or thought or whatever you want to call it. Themes and definitions, which Crehan tries to explain in this chapter, are those of Gramsci’s: hegemony, folklore, common sense, conceptions of the world, and colonialism and the subaltern. The chapter is broken in to these sub-headings, but the breakdown is not discrete. There is a continuous flow of these ideas and themes throughout the chapter.
    Hegemony: between Crehan’s chapter and Kleszynski’s essay, I have the impression that this is not definable in Gramscian discourse. Gramsci according to Crehan used the term to mean “a concept that Gramsci uses to explore relationships of power and the concrete ways in which these are lived” (Crehan 2002:99) However, Crehan says that the term is oversimplified in anthropology, mostly due to the use of secondhand sources such as that written by Raymond Williams (Kleszynski 10-11).
    Crehan says that because of overwhelming hegemony, “[a]s far as Gramsci is concerned, subaltern people may be well capable of seeing the little valley they inhabit very clearly, but  they remain incapable of seeing beyond their little valley walls and understanding how their little world fits into the greater one beyond it” (Crehan 2002:104). The subaltern is short sighted in this way; life does not exist beyond what they have been exposed to. Isn’t this the truth about all lives? How can one know what lies beyond having never experienced it before? Anyway, this is probably one of the reasons there is no movement towards change. The little valley sounds good. I also like to remain blissfully ignorant. And people will remain that way, as long as there is not extreme pressure from outside to change. 
    Folklore: this is interesting because he talks about this as though this is what we learn in school. Also, that the reading of folklore, like the reading of literary texts gives us an idea of the nature of the lives of subordinate peoples. That “Gramsci argue(s) for folklore to be approached as a way of discovering how the subaltern sees the world” (Crehan 2002:99). Gramsci says that all religion is folklore, and that it is not something that should be romanticized, but instead used as a means of interrogating the subaltern of the past, even though what is left (in the text or oration) is fragmentary, mutilated, and confused (!) (Crehan 2002:106). 
    The subaltern is the dominated, the peasant, those with the potential to revolt against class oppression, but mostly do not. To begin a revolution towards social change, there needs to be the right kind of ideology for the masses to follow, or the masses will remain complacent.
    Gramsci is linked with socialism, and with Marxism all over the place online (that would be world wide). I have been hearing the name for a year and now have read some passages by him within the text of Crehan. Many more of Gramsci’s writings (translated and not) are available free online, just google for Gramsci.

Question: Was Gramsci the one who came up with subaltern? Hegemony? Colonialism?

I read online that Edward Said was influenced by Antonio Gramsci’s writings. Can Gramsci’s influence on Said be articulated through this short amount of writing?

I also read somewhere online that Gramsci’s father was imprisoned when he was a young boy. Antonio had to go out and work. Then when the father was out of prison, Antonio expected him to send money for his schooling and was incensed when the money was not forthcoming. For the schooling Antonio endured lack of nutrition and lack of comforts like heating in the bitter cold winters. Small to begin with, he seems to have been semi-sickly all his life. Of course this is going to filter the way one engages with the world.
    Common sense for Gramsci is different than our United Statesian concept. For Gramsci common sense “occupies a position somewhere between folklore and knowledge produced by specialists” (Crehan 2002:110). Gramsci also sees a “relationship between common sense, religion, and philosophy” (Crehan 2002:110). So what does common sense mean for Gramsci? Common sense is something that has been passed down from generation to generation, but through transmission becomes added to and subtracted from in a continually altering form, also something not rigid or static as but fluid and adaptable as culture is. Gramsci explains it as something collective and of course we could say common also (Crehan 2002:110).  
    Colonialism and the subaltern: here is an idea that I remember from Spivak. Only in Crehan’s writing, the ideas are much easier to pin down. In Spivak, the idea of the subaltern was multifaceted and indeterminate. She, although being general in her ideas, drew her knowledge of the subordinate, the colonialized, the subaltern, from her life and studies of history in India. Crehan’s Gramsci observations were limited to Italian peasants in the historical era during which he lived.

Keith Klezynski Essay:
    Keith has written a beautiful, well thought out essay. His introduction briefly describes how Gramsci’s writing was accepted into academic circles, especially that of anthropology. Then he gives a background of the life of Gramsci. This bio shows how the conditions under which he was brought up, in the household and within the society in which he and his family lived had to have a great affect on his thinking. And think he did showing promise as a scholar at an early age with a “prodigious” memory.

Question: It is not all that clear what the difference is between organic intellectuals and traditional intellectuals. Is this distinction important? They seem to be the same coercive forces.

Question: There seems to be the conclusion that (and I did read Octavio’s essay for this question) that Crehan complains that academics use Gramscian theory produced by secondary sources, yet what is produced by Crehan is from secondary sources (Rodrigez 2005:9). Keith’s ideas concerning this seems to be that what is produced by Crehan is yet another secondary source of information about Gramscian thought. From my point of view, Crehan has produced another secondary source using mostly primary sources, but includes large blocks of text from the primary sources. Maybe it is not primary anymore if it is translated? I would think this would still be a primary source, just a translation of a primary source.

I got Octavio’s essay just too late to be able to do much else but read it once. It is a fine essay also and seems to well explain what Crehan’s book is about and the main themes from it. It is mostly fairly consistent with Keith’s summary and analysis, it will be interesting to see if there is debate about the concepts in the book.

Question: Is there any debate about what Gramsci’s project was: to begin a revolution or to incite revolution in the subaltern toward social change?

 

 

Crehan, Kate
2002    Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kleszynski, Keith
2005    Marxism for a Global World: Antonio Gramsci. Analytic Summary of   Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology by Antonio Gramsci. Class Assignment SDSU: Professor R. Pérez, Anthropology 583, Fall 2005.

Rodriguez, Octavio   
2005    An Analytic summary of Kate Crehan’s Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. Class Assignment SDSU: Professor R. Pérez, Anthropology 583, Fall 2005.

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last updated on October 9, 2010