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Antagonism and Hegemonic Politics

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Antagonism and Hegemonic Politics:

Frameworks for Studying Organizational Change

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Institutional theory

Actor-network theory [ANT]

Discourse theory




Ontology [intensive politics]

Epistemology [extensive politics]






W. Orlikowski and S. Barley [2001] assess the question of how to study organizing and working practices to review the relationship between organizational change and technology [e.g. Barley and Tolbert 1997]. Their formulation of institutional theory, however, approach an assumption that alienates the physical [i.e. material] aspect of technology from the social.

Earnesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe [1985] offer an alternative framework where information technology [IT] and organization studies [OS] overlap. “A fusion of perspectives, a fusion that is more carefully attuned to explaining the nature of techno-social phenomena” [p 147]. Others [e.g. Barley and Tolbert 1997] have made contributions of comments on the earlier drafts of the relationship between organizational change and technology. Orlikowski and Barley believe in institutional influence that enables technology-in-organization; they also criticize the way institutional theory overlooks technology’s material properties, whose deficiency can remedied by giving more adequate attention to the “material constraints and affordances” that technology presents, which can afford advanced understanding of institutional reproduction and transformation [p 152].

Actor-network theory [ANT] as well as discourse theory formed by Laclau and Mouffe [1985] offer more compelling foundation in studying technology, organizations, and change. Laclau and Mouffe’s notion of a “discursive structure… constitutes and organizes social relations” [Laclau & Mouffe, 1985, p 96]; in a sense, it performs rather than contemplates. Before Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory is adopted to be the relevant study of technology-in-organizations: after Orlikowski and Barley’s distinction between structures and work practice is deconstructed: how these physical, and material, aspects are articulated is illustrated for changing organizational processes within a hegemonic operation of domineering relations.

Fusing the Physical and the Social

Orlikowski and Barley summarize the legacy of Organizational Studies [OS] as “treating technology as a material cause, of abstracting away from the specifics of a design, and of ignoring the role of human agency in the process technological change” [p 148]: technology is considered independently of the social context in which it is developed and used. With an attempt to bridge the physical and the social, ANT puts its concept of heterogeneous network to work, which comprises social and technical elements that include people, machines, texts, and any other material form [Law, 1992]. Orlikowski and Barley embrace this shift from treating technology as a physical entity which determines organizational outcomes to conceiving of technologies as social objects, but with caution for the worrisome over-socializing of technology. That is, ANT’s emphasis on the social construction may “reject the notion of material affordances and constraints altogether” [p 149]. Achieved in the practices of design, construction, development, implementation, and use, they concur with Button [1993], is an awareness of technology as a social production. Technology “vanishes” by privileging process rather than action.

Moving Theory: From Institutional to Discourse

The very act of distinguishing the physical and the social that need to be bridged, as Orlikowski and Barley believe, may render and amplify the incoherence of such a project: the natural acceptance of the distinction between the physical and the social is conceived to be the articulation of a [hegemonic] discourse that portraits such distinctions to be normal and plausible. The relevance of Laclau and Mouffe’s thinking is to study the relationship between technology and processes of institutionalization and institutional transformation. “… a pivotal question is not, as Orlikowski and Barley formulate it, how the physical [technology] shapes the social [institutions], but how technologies and institutions are articulated and hegemonically fixed within discourses that establish relations between them” [Willmott & Bridgam].

Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory focuses our attention on the conditions of identities, relationships and objectivities as they exist; the institutional contexts within which they are constructed as objects, and the relationships between these and the “producers” and “users” of technologies. The importance given by Laclau and Mouffe to antagonism and political struggle provides a distinctive way of conceiving the politically charged nature of practice, and is therefore of potential relevance to anyone engaged in changing practices of organizing…”

Mutant Cultural Studies

Hegemony, in Marxist discussions of ideology, is a concept that is sometimes used as though it were the equivalent of “ideological domination” [Hegemony & Legitimation]. In the aspects of leadership, however, both morally and intellectually, a leader and a boss bring to light what it is that distinguishes them from one another. “In class terms, a ruling class has leadership capacity if it is able to somehow link the interests of subordinate classes to its own interests in the pursuit of a social project which reproduces its own dominant position… A hegemonic class, then, is not just a ruling or dominant class, but a ruling class that manages to organize its rule in a particular way: namely, by linking the interests of subordinate classes and groups to its own” [Hegemony & Legitimation]. From the beginnings of the 1970s, cultural studies have perhaps embraced ‘hegemony’ as the pivotal concept with the question of power. Likewise, through hegemony have its analysts been able to understand power to be effective. Hegemony solidified cultural studies as a discipline although the ideal is still emerging. As follows, however, Lash suggests that power should look perhaps mostly elsewhere for its core concepts, but he does insist on not arguing that hegemony might be a concept of flaws and faults. Lash believes “that these [alternative concepts] are not only concepts but also are the way in which power is beginning to work in a post-hegemonic age” [Lash].

“Hegemony means domination through consent as much as coercion.” This domination uses a vehicle of either ideology or discourse… has largely been understood in terms of resistance to such symbolic power. ‘Disciplinary power’ is, for these purposes, a way of understanding hegemonic power. The institution then exercises power in many instances in the society. At the root of all this is cultural discourse and legitimate power. In between is a set of disciplinary institutions” [Lash]. Hegemony presumes, Lash argues, the three elements of symbolic domination, legitimate power, and viable institutions to determine reproduction of cultural power. Politics of hegemony receives a treatment of ‘extensive politics,’ only to be displaced by a politics called intensity: the shift from hegemony, or extensive politics, to such an intensive politics.

Epistemological Power Shift to Ontological Domination

Hegemony works through ‘the symbolic order’ or the symbolic, which presumes a great measure of domination through the unconscious mind which, in turn, actually constitutes us as subjects: this law is the symbolic order of a given society. Some authors advocate resistance to the hegemony of the symbolic through the imaginary; others, such as Slavoj Zizek, suggest such resistance is situated in ‘the real.’ The real escapes the order of representation altogether, unlike the symbolic or the imaginary; that power is largely post-hegemonic, which Zizek agrees [Butler, Laclau, and Zizek 2000]. If it were to be agreedpart way, both domination and resistance in the post-hegemonic order takes place through the real.

What is a symbol? What is ‘this symbolic’ through which hegemony works? Freud’s notion of symbol appears opposite to Zizek’s and Julia Kristeva’s [1986]. Freud believed that  symbols did not work where language was distinct, as in law, judgment, or the ego. They were displaced and condensed in the unconscious. Symbols were condensed and compressed figures cleared off the ego, which ran very opposite of the egoistic judgment and law. Whether mathematical or linguistic, the symbolic can relate to objects in two modes: ontological or epistemological. In the realms of hegemony and classical cultural studies, the symbolic worked epistemologically. In post-hegemonic cultural studies the stakes are incrementally ontological. [Ontology presents a perfect being to exist outside man’s mind.]

Cultural studies understood power through discourse as signs and symbols in language. Either physically or mathematically, objects cannot be known, in themselves or their being; there, a being is poised as the question, rather than cognition or judgments, for the power in post-hegemony and cultural studies. In Walter Benjamin’s early essay, power would be a language that is epistemological: criticism and language against power ontological. Similarly, unknowable through cognitive judgments is Zizek’s ‘real’ for a space of struggle. But further, ontology asserts and states that it is not just resistance but domination as well that works ontologically in our post-hegemonic culture. In post-gehemonic politics the stakes are no longer epistemological but own apparatus of domination. “Power, previously extensive and operating from without, becomes intensive and now works from within” [Lash].

Power Modes: Potentia Versus Potestas

In the age of classical cultural studies, of hegemony, existed essentially one type of power called potestas: one that A has over B: “… power is basically power-over, the fashion in which individuals or collectives or structures made others do what they otherwise would not to” [Lash]. Later, drawing on Spinoza, Antonio Negri calls another power that rises to the forefront, potential. What is this potential? It is a power closer to home as in energy and potential: outright domination is given way to the potential power of ‘invention’ as Maurizio Lazzarato describes [2002] in his work on Gabriel Tarde whose title is Puissances de l’invention. In this post-hegemonic cultural studies, the ‘invention’ replaces resistance.

This second type of power, that which is inventive, needs little external determination, as if forced: it does not work like mechanism. As Lash proceeds, he shows that potestas is mainly epistemological, and potential is “fully ontological. It is the motive force, the unfolding, the becoming of the thing itself, whether it be human, nonhuman, or some combination thereof.” Energy grows out of its internal velocity and, it seems, changes to transversal [Colebrook 2005]. This seems to explain the post-hegemonic cultural studies that encompass the nonhuman. At the heart of ontological potential lies in Heidegger [Lash]. To Heidegger, potential lives it out in each individual beings as co-residents: the multiplicity of being. Lash says this is strictly ontological [metaphysical] as opposed to the physical.

Hardt and Negri in Empire possessed this idea of potential for the mainstream of contemporary politics. Negri asserts as early as the 1970s that for capital to be conceived as potenstas, labor had to be potential first, as well as for Spinoza’s metaphysics of single substance. In an older ‘extensive’ politics, people were citizens, each of who stood and answered to the state and law as if they were equivalents. [The proletariat proved their identities to be any less abstract in terms of homogenous labor.] These same political individuals are called to be different from the other, however, when an intensive post-hegemonic politics displace the older ‘extensive’ politics more like “monads” than single-celled, all-identical atoms. Older organization extracted power from the outside; the post-era established within something that is termed self-organization [Lash]. No longer the people or the proletariat like mechanism with the brain on the outside: the classical Taylorist and Fordist collective laborer is born, the ‘cerveau collectif,’ the collective brain [Lazzarato 2002]. Self-organization in politics as well as at work is at work.

Where then is potestas of hegemonic politics? Lash, somewhat windingly, expounds on the spheres of these two different powers as they have evolved in post-hegemonic politics: “If potestas as power-over comes somehow from above, then potential and potestas come, not just from within, but ‘from below.’ In the post-hegemonic order, potestas or domination also begins to come from below. [The two] somehow begin to merge into one another, becoming… indistinct in relation with one another. The hegemony is above. It is outside and over. In the post-hegemonic order power comes to act from below: it no longer stays outside that which it ‘effect.’ It becomes instead immanent in its object and its processes.”

Foucault describes in The Order of Things. In Les mots et les choses, Foucault understands and differentiates classification from representation. “In biology, the classification in genre, species, and order of natural history shifts to a focus on life – physiological explorations of the interior of the organism. In economics, the classical understanding of value shifts in exchange to the more modern understanding value in terms of labor, which again constitutes value from the interior. Classical language was understood through the classification of subject, verb, and object in the Grammaire generale while in the modern, language took on its own lifeblood in the national languages and philology studied by the Grimms and Herder” [Lash]. We are considered no longer normalized, but that we self-constitute in difference, which starts when power [potential] works within, and power [potestas] becomes inherent with difference itself.

Post-Hegemonic Communications

Niklas Luhmann has profoundly understood that in the global information society, the communication is at the heart of the post-hegemonic order, which can travel faster and farther. In fact, the longer-term social relation is reduced to the short-term communication. The communication is at the heart of the post-hegemonic order, but the symbolic is somewhat national, domestic. “The symbolic, iconic of hegemonic power, collapses into the order of communications. The dualistic order of hegemony [rule versus ruled] disappears,” and legitimate domination is presumed.

Now if domination is through the communication, and the communication is among us rather than above, then sovereignty is not so legitimate anymore. Lash says as domination increasingly takes place through the media, there is no more a separate sphere of legitimation, which is the same as non-hegemonic. Another illegitimate power follows from the way it produces instead of reproduces. Such drastic change calls for a doctrine of Carl Schmitt called chronic decisionism, in which age we find ourselves. As communication works through performativity, the same has displaced mode of legitimation, becoming rather automatic.


In the context of the power-as-hegemony position was the idea that power was not just economic but also cultural. The idea of hegemony becomes prominent as fundamental Marxism declines. Gramsci said that the rise of cultural studies itself was based on the decline of fundamental class versus class politics. Later, from the early 1980s Lacan and semiotics would influence cultural studies. The power-as-hegemony position seemed to shy away from socialism, and often any kind of Marxism was deserted, unpopular for its notion of antagonism, which has Schmitt than Karl Marx to owe its debt.

Globalization and informatialization have caused technology and media to sneak much more central into social and cultural life, something the power-as-hegemony fell short. In the context where the vitalization of power is designated as potential and the same as life, domination as well as resistance works through such potential, or life: which casts a different light on the old, classical hegemonic power that worked in the dead-end of labor.

The rise of communications in the post-hegemonic regime of power includes a social shift that is mediatized: from the symbolic to the real, from extensive to intensive language, and from epistemology to ontology, hence a new need for studying media. Lash concludes, “… in all these cases it is a question of ontology and epistemology. Being is mediatised, as is knowledge. And the two stand less in a relation of radical separation than of fusion.”

Summary and Conclusion

“If power has become ontological, intensive, factical, and communicational, then what are the implications for cultural studies? Culture, previously outside of everyday, is now inside it. But as culture comes no longer to have that separation as it becomes itself part of the realm of fact, as it enters the order of communication, then what was cultural studies is no longer easily separable from industry [McRobbie]” [Lash].

Industrialization of culture, or rather ‘culture-ification’ of industry [Lash], does not necessarily authenticate the growing overlap of facts and values between cultural and industrial principles. Culturification contributes life and ontology to the brand new mechanism of industry, although not without abstract homogeneity of industry that might smother the being, or the life of culture. These imply that the newly challenged cultural studies face in practice the industries. In fact politics may be more bound than less as hegemony and classic institutions melt down in an age of much media and computer technology.

Technology is not to be termed physical and social simultaneously, nor is it insightful to do so. At the same time, the challenge lies in avoiding the excess: the analysis of the idealist discourse. Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory is commended in its relevance: their concept of “discursive structure” characterizes the path-dependent medium for reproducing the social world including its participants. Laclau and Mouffe can offer practice with better focus, while institutional theory, according to Orlikowski and Barley, cannot.

References and Bibliography

Ackroyd, Stephen & Thompson, Paul, 1999, Organizational Misbehaviour, Sage, London.

Barley, S. & Tolbert, P. 1997, ‘Institutionalization and structuration: Studying the links between action and institution,’ Organization Studies, 18[1], pp 93-117.

Button, G., 1993, ‘The curious case of the vanishing technology,’ Technology in working order: Studies of work, interaction and technology, pp 10-28, Routledge, London.

Foucault, Michel, 1970, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Routledge, London.

Hegemony & Legitimation, Lecture 25, Sociology 621, December 14, 2005,


Laclau, Ernesto & Mouffe, Chantal, 1985, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Verso, London: 2001, ‘Preface to the Second Edition’ in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, 2nd ed., Verso, London.

Lash, Scott, Power After Hegemony: Cultural Studies in Mutation?, University of London.

Law, J., 1992, ‘Notes on the theory of the actor-network: Ordering, strategy, and heterogeneity, Systems Practice, 5[4], pp 379-393.

Orlikowski, W. & Barley, S. 2001, ‘Technology and institutions: What can research on information technology and research on organizations learn from each other?’ MIS Quarterly, 25[2], pp 145-165.

Spicer, Andre & Bohm, Steffen, 2006, Moving Management: Theorizing Struggles against the Hegemony of Management, Coventry and Colchester, United Kingdom


Willmott, Hugh & Bridgman, Todd, 2006, ‘Institutions and technology: frameworks for understanding organizational change – the case of a major ICT outsourcing contract,’ The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, http://www.intl-jab.sagepub.com


Cite this Antagonism and Hegemonic Politics

Antagonism and Hegemonic Politics. (2016, Jul 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/antagonism-and-hegemonic-politics/

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