Hegemony and the state

As I noted above, underpinning most of these critical analyses is one particular concept and the analytic framework that was developed to understand it - hegemony. The concept of hegemony was elaborated most productively in the work of Antonio Gramsci (Gramsci, 1971). It refers to the ability of dominant groups in society to establish the "common sense” or "doxa” of a society, "the fund of self-evident descriptions of social reality that normally go without saying” (Fraser, 1997, p. 153). The role of education and of what is and is not taught is crucial here.

Hegemony is both discursive and political. It has as a major interest the creation of consent. This includes the power to establish “legitimate” definitions of social needs and authoritative definitions of social simations. It involves the power to define what counts as legitimate areas of agreement and disagreement. And it points to the ability of dominant groups to shape which political agendas are made public and are discussed as "possible.” As a concept it has enabled us to ask how alliances are formed and what effects such alliances have. It has opened up an entire terrain of questions concerning the ways in which the struggles over social meanings are comiected to the structures of inequality in society. Questions such as the following come to the fore: “How do pervasive axes of dominance and subordination affect the production and circulation of social meanings? How does stratification along lines of gender, 'race,’ [ethnicity,] and class affect the discursive construction of social identities and the formation of social groups?” (Fraser. 1997, p. 153).

There are of course worries around the use of concepts such as hegemony to understand Asian realities, since such concepts have been largely developed out of Western contexts (see, e.g., Vickers, 2018). But as a number of other Asian scholars have noted, this is a very reductive position to take. While they agree that it is crucial to take very seriously Chen’s arguments that we should be guided by a position embodied in "Asia as method” (Chen, 2010), at the same time it is very important to not automatically reject the use of theories of hegemony simply because of their origin. The combination of both leads to a productive tension that provides essential insights into the politics of education (Apple, Lim, et al., 2018).

As I have shown at much greater length elsewhere, hegemony is a process not a thing. Furthermore, it is not monolithic. It does not constitute a seamless web, nor does it refer to a process whereby dominant groups exercise top-down and near total control over meanings. Exactly the opposite is the case. Hegemonic power is constantly having to be built and re-built; it is contested and negotiated (Apple, 2006, 2012, 2014). Thus, because society has a plurality of competing ethical and political visions and discourses, conflicts and contestation are constitutive dynamics in any hegemonic relations (Fraser, 1997, p. 154). Because of this, counter-hegemonic groups and alliances are also crucial to any understanding of the relationships of power. Hence, the state is neither a simple nor a fixed object. Rather, along with Gramsci, it is wiser to take the position that "the life of the state is conceived of as a continuous process of formation and superceding of unstable equilibria” (Gramsci, 1971. p. 182). A sense of constant movement, of conflict and unstable compromises that ultimately lead to further movement, is a guiding understanding of this kind of approach. This is tme not only of the state and its relations to civil society, but also within the state itself. And it is also true in terms of the constantly shifting role the state plays in producing and policing what counts as legitimate knowledge both within schools and in the larger society.

The state and the production of public knowledge

Among the most cmcial ways to understand the complex connections between education and power is to examine the politics of knowledge. One of the most powerful questions that can be asked in education is that offered by Herbert Spencer many years ago: "What knowledge is of most worth?” In the course of a number of books about the relationship between culture and power, I have sought to reword this question into "Whose knowledge is most worth?” (Apple, 1986, 1996, 2006, 2012, 2014, 2019; see also Whitty, 1985) Either way of wording the issue points to one of the central concerns of curriculum studies, the sociology of education, and to critical educational studies in general. Out of the vast universe of possible knowledge, only some knowledge and ways of organising it get declared to be legitimate or "official.” Thus, even the most practical of tasks in education - answering the question of what one should teach - has at its very basis a cultural politics. But the politics of curriculum does not end with the knowledge itself. It also involves who should select it, how it should be organised, taught, and evaluated, and once again who should be involved in asking and answering these questions.

Yet even these issues are insufficient. Official knowledge is taught within specific kinds of institutions, with their own histories, tensions, political economies, hierarchies, and bureaucratic needs and interests (Teese, 2013). Therefore, thinking about school knowledge involves at the same time thinking about its internal and external contexts. Whether we like it or not, like the rest of education, curriculum talk is often power talk. There is, of course, a long tradition within curriculum studies and the sociology of education of recognising this. Some of the best work on these issues has been international in nature, since one of the very best ways of more fully understanding how power works internally and externally in education is to compare what is taken for granted in one’s own nation or region with what is taken for granted in another.

In order to engage in this kind of analysis, it is important to understand that official knowledge is the result of conflicts and compromises both within the state and between the state and civil society. Thus, what kind of state one has is crucial. This involves complex issues of political economy, of cultural politics, of the relationship between cultural legitimacy and state regulation, and of the ways in which and through which identifiable social movements and alliances form (Apple, 2014). Understanding these things has also involved tensions between different models of interpretation, including neo-Marxist, world-system, and poststructural/postmodern perspectives. It is in the sociology of curriculum particularly that the relationship between culture and power has continued to receive considerable attention, with what counts as "official knowledge” being one of the foci and what does not receive the imprimatur of legitimacy also being subject to attention. Thus, the tradition represented in Knowledge and Control (Young. 1971)2 in the U.K. and first articulated in coherent form in Ideology> and Curriculum (Apple, 2019) in the U.S.A. has been widened and deepened, not only in its scope and sophistication but also in the number of ways in which the connections between knowledge and power are interrogated (Apple, 1999 2013a, 2013b).

I noted above that the state clearly regulates the politics of official knowledge. Yet, this recognition needs not to remain at an abstract level but to be instantiated in real instimtions and real examples. In order to see the state’s role in such regulation, it is helpful to think of this as having implications both inside and outside of education. A good way of thinking about this is to focus on what is often the dominant embodiment of the curriculum, the textbook. Unlike many nations in Asia, in the United States, for example, the national government has very little power over the curriculum or even over the dominant curriculum artefact, the standardised grade-level-specific textbook. Instead, a complicated process has evolved in which state textbook adoption committees found largely in the often historically more conservative areas of the South and West have an innnense influence on what gets published and sold for use in most schools throughout the country. Thus, in the United States, much of what teachers teach in the state of Wisconsin, for example, is very strongly influenced by the political and educational tensions and problems of Texas, Florida, and California, because these three states control over 30% of the textbook market. Because of this, publishers will usually not publish textbooks that do not sell in those states with large populations and statewide textbook selection. As I have demonstrated at much greater length elsewhere, this connects what counts as legitimate knowledge to the complex relations among market demands, the internal workings of publishers, social movements and political groups that try to influence the state, the needs of schools and teachers for relevant material, and the dynamics of deskilling and reskilling teachers. Hence, the history of the politics surrounding this can only be understood by placing it in the larger history of capitalist markets, and of the class, gender, religious, and especially racial dynamics that have played such important roles in the struggles over redistribution and recognition in the United States (Apple, 1986, 2014; Apple and Christian-Smith, 1991).

Of course, other nations will have a different configuration of these dynamics, of the relationship between markets and state regulations and demands, and of arguments from various groups to include their knowledge and/or exclude other groups' histories, cultures, and values. We should be clear that this set of dynamics is not only found in the past. The tensions and conflicts involved in the role of the state in policing knowledge for use in schools places the state at the centre of conflicts over what schools should do, over the larger role the state should play in society, and over the formation of social movements against the state itself. This is something to which I shall return later on in this discussion.

Yet, we cannot limit our attention to the political realities inside of education. It is important to focus on how the state regulates not just school knowledge but knowledge in the larger spheres of social life as well. The relationship between the state and the production of “public knowledge" to legitimate policy is clear in the following two historical examples. In England, in the late 1970s to early 1980s, the Thatcher government saw the fight against inflation as a key both to its economic policies and to gaining the support of even larger parts of the citizenry for its policies. The government had to be seen to be successful in its efforts to reduce inflation. By 1983, an official spokesperson proudly proclaimed that the Thatcher government "would be the first in over twenty years to achieve in office a lower average increase in prices than that of its predecessor.” In order to accomplish this aim, a new index of inflation was constructed, one which dropped the cost of mortgage interest payments out of the computational equation. Since Treasury officials had been expressly asked to produce the new index for exactly this purpose, the new measure unsurprisingly consistently showed a lower rate of inflation throughout this period (Evans, 1997, p. 28).

In the United States, there is an even more powerful example of the ways race and class work in the production and regulation of official knowledge. This again has to do with goverumentally produced statistics. Throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, official unemployment rates in the United States were consistently lower than those in many Western European countries. Government officials and economic pundits argued that this was due to the “lighter hand” of government regulation and a low, and falling, rate of unionisation in the United States compared to Europe. The argument was that in these European nations unionisation kept wages artificially high, since unionisation and government social programmes actually depressed employment. Thus, the welfare state needed to be radically changed; the govermnent had to withdraw not only from its regulatory interventions but also from its provision of other welfare services. Only the minimalist state in both the economy and social welfare would keep unemployment low (Katz, 2001, p. 16). As we know, the vision of such a minimalist state lies behind the proposals in education to mrn schools over to the competitive forces of the market.

However, as Michael Katz (2001) reminded us. in opposition to this story, official unemployment rates in the United States appeared lower only because the statistics did not include the extremely large numbers of people who are incarcerated in prisons and jails, the majority of whom are poor and are persons of colour. (This disgraceful rate of incarceration continues to this day.) Factoring this in means at minimum that the measured unemployment rate here must be at least 2% higher. Thus, the production of official data by the state not only produces an economic reality that is decidedly "unreal,” but also makes invisible the hundreds of thousands of identifiable people whose lives and realities are expunged from the records of the classed and raced effects of the economy. In many ways, therefore, the state is a "factory” that produces statistics, some of which are more accurate than others; almost always there are (sometimes hidden) interests and assumptions behind the questions being asked and the modes of interpretation being used. We would need to think about these tendencies in countries with increasingly large populations of guest workers, such as Singapore or South Korea. What about "domestic workers” who are most often from other nations? Are they counted in official data on employment, health care, etc., or are they made invisible?3

This situation of making realities invisible - what I have called elsewhere the creation of an epistemological fog - has become even more pronounced in the United States (Apple, 2013a). Economic advisors to the Trump government have recently declared that the war on poverty is "largely over and a success” (Tank- ersley and Sanger-Katz, 2018, p. 1). Thus, the claim is that there is no more need for substantive govermnent assistance to those who are in fact seriously impoverished. These are not neutral claims. They are ideological decisions and the data used to support them are highly politicised, with the interpretations given to them being more than a little contentious and inaccurate. At the same time, although the rate fluctuates, income inequality in the United States, England, and elsewhere in many nations of the West (as well as in China and in other parts of Asia) has actually been getting worse not better over recent decades. This is especially the case as the strength of labour unions in a number of nations has declined. These growing inequalities are especially the case for minoritised groups (Dynar- ski, 2018).

These examples point us to something I mentioned when I spoke about the politics of state textbook adoption policies - the fact that the state is classed, gendered, raced, and often religious. It is often profoundly tied to international population mobility as well. Populations move because of crises - and what counts as

"national cultures” and "important knowledge” can be and often are changed in the process. In terms of national religious forms, think of the Hindutva movement in India and in parts of the Indian diaspora. In terms of national cultures, think of South Korea and the increasingly large population of "guest workers” from other Asian nations (see Kang, 2014).

These dynamics are not "add-ons” but are part of the very constitution of the state. It is not as if there are government policies on the economy or on education, the justice system, and welfare, and then there are additional policies on, say, race and ethnicity. Rather, state policies and structures are fundamentally structured along "raced” lines, as they are on classed and gendered lines and increasingly now along religious lines as well (see, e.g., Fraser, 1997; Mills, 1997; Arnot, David, and Weiner, 1999; Arnot & Dillabough, 2000; Apple, 2006). Think, for example, of the current cuts in funding for health care, early childhood education, and childcare in the United States and other Western nations and who benefits from them - and then compare them with the recent massive funding increases for defence and the military. Or think about the increasing concerns about levelling the field of preschool education here in Singapore to make its provision more equal. The gendered and classed divisions embodied in these funding priorities speak to the relations between what counts as state responsibility and what counts as "private.”4 By instituting such cuts in places like the United States and elsewhere in a way that constructs a reality around the discourse of "TINA” ("there is no alternative”), the state tells us what reality actually is, what is true and what is not. This process of truth creation is very powerful.

Yet the state produces "truth” in more general ways as well. Take, for example, the current emphasis on the importance of markets and on the “new managerialism” (Clarke and Newman, 1997; Apple, 2006; Ball, 2012) in many government policies and practices that I pointed to earlier. In these emphases, "private” is necessarily good and "public” is necessarily bad. Foucault was not inaccurate when he urged us to not think of, say, neo-liberal or liberal versions of the market as “ideologies or truth claims.” Instead, we need to think of them as discourses that help produce things like markets, the "rational” and economising individual, and the world as made up of competitive relations.

Yet such discourses do something else as well. They make such "things” as objects of government practices and they do so through government practices (Slater and Tonkiss, 2001. Ball, 2013). Bourdieu (1998), as well, points to the fact that neo-liberalism is what might be called a "strong discourse.” It has the means of "making itself true” because it orients "the economic choices of those who dominate economic relationships ... [and is then] converted into a plan of political action” (Slater and Tonkiss, 2001, p. 194). Thus, neo-liberalism, which is usually seen as an attack on and a rolling back of the state, is not at all like this in practice. Rather, it represents a powerful approach to economic governance. It is remarkably statist in orientation, with the state “steering at a distance” and employing policy instruments and legislation to create, secure, and control market structures and relations, instead of simply "freeing” them (Slater and Tonkiss, 2001, p. 140). Thus, the discourse of markets and managerialism has indeed become "strong” and has helped to structure the terrain upon which a large amount of educational policy and practice stands. In the process, there are profound changes in education. Schooling becomes a private good, not a public one. Consumerism becomes the dominant mark of official policy in many nations (Ball, 2008, 2012).

This also has profound effects on what knowledge is seen as legitimate, as official. In this way, the state participates not only in an epistemological fog but just as importantly in what is best seen as an epistemological war, one in which the knowledge and identities linked to specific definitions of economic needs are unquestioningly valued more highly than other forms of knowing. Thus, education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields is seen as of critical importance while other forms of knowing are reduced to ancillary positions or forced to defend their funding and teaching in schools by making what are at times strained connections to their role in supporting STEM subjects.5 The implications of this are also visible in what counts as evidence in evaluating curriculum, teachers, and entire school systems. Good and bad are limited to a truncated fixation on numbers, often used in reductive ways, and these representations count more than the complex lived experiences of the teachers, students, and communities and the multiplicity of their voices and needs (Leys, 2003; Davis, 2006).

Yet, as we know, this reduction of experience to specific and limited kinds of "data” can never be a complete description of what counts as important knowledge. This is very visible internationally in the examples of residual and vibrant historical and lived cultural traditions that are often defended against neo-liberal agendas. The multiple historical and emerging cultural traditions and new definitions of "needs” that exist in nations such as Singapore and elsewhere can and do act as barriers to the pressures to "economise” knowledge forms. Once again, then, the curriculum is always a site of conflict and compromise within the state and between the state and cultural and political movements outside it.

Having said all of this about the role of the state in creating legitimate knowledge and in producing truth inside and outside of schools, however, there is a danger in focusing our attention on only “official knowledge.” This can cause us to ignore the realities of popular knowledge and popular culture. To do so would be a very real error because popular knowledge is crucial in the formation and legitimation both of identities and of what counts as "real” knowledge. Indeed, popular knowledge serves as the constitutive outside that makes other knowledge be called legitimate. The ability of dominant groups and the state to say that something is real knowledge is contingent on something else being defined as merely popular. For this very reason, the popular itself is actually closely linked to the state in often unseen ways and, hence, cannot be ignored (Willis, 1990). There are indeed close and clear relations between the history of colonial understandings and how formerly colonised peoples and lands are known both in popular culture and in educational materials - and these inter-relations are themselves connected to histories of race and gender distinctions.

The importance of “popular knowledge” and how it is employed in the curriculum in sensitive and responsive ways is a crucial topic that I cannot discuss in depth here. But it can be seen in the tradition of "popular science” in certain educational movements in India, in the ways in which thematic curricula based on community-based knowledge are cooperatively built in Porto Alegre in Brazil, in the incorporation of hip hop as a guiding principle in curricular construction in the United States, and similar. (See for example Emdeu, 2010; Apple, 2013a; Ernden and Adjapong, 2018). This is worthy of considerably more attention.

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