Revealing Hegemony

The visualization State-Machine: Agency demonstrates how designers and artists can combine computation with the practices and forms of information design to produce political expressions by rendering data in new ways. Such artifacts and systems of computational information design can be agonistic because they expose and document patterns of association in the construction, maintenance, and exertion of influence in contemporary society. More specifically, they are engaged in an agonistic tactic that I term revealing hegemony, which draws on the discussions of hegemony throughout the discourse of agonistic pluralism but specifically in the works of political theorists Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (Laclau and Mouffe 2001; Mouffe 2000a, 2000b, 2005a, 2005b).

The concept of hegemony is central to agonistic pluralism. In Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, Laclau and Mouffe (2001) build on the work of Antonio Gramsci (1971) to reassess and redefine the concept of hegemony. For Gramsci, hegemony was a class struggle. In his attempt to understand why communist revolutions had not taken hold more broadly, Gramsci theorized that the ideas of the dominant group, in this case the ruling capitalist class, were absorbed by the workers through social structures, including schools and popular media. These social structures lured workers into supporting the capitalist system and ignoring thoughts or actions that would, from Gramsci 's perspective, serve them better. Thus, the term hegemony broadly describes the way one group develops dominance over another group not by force but by obtaining implicit consent from the subordinate group through social manipulation.

Laclau and Mouffe's work makes two primary contributions to the concept of hegemony. First, they reject the essentialism of Marxist thought present in Gramsci, which defines hegemony from a position of class. Second, they redefine hegemony as an open and flexible discursive strategy. That is, hegemonic practices freely and dynamically bring together histories, ideas, and intentions from a diversity of perspectives into issue- oriented ideologies.

From the perspective of a theory of an agonistic pluralism, hegemony is not a fixed and final state or an effort with a unidirectional vector (from powerful to subordinate). Rather, hegemony is a flexible and vigorous web of related factors, actions, intentions, and objects that are in constant flux, under pressure from and exerting pressure on a multiplicity of positions. This view of hegemony shifts the agonistic effort away from striving to overcome hegemony and toward participating in an ongoing process of exposing and documenting current hegemonic practices so they can be examined and questioned.

Identifying and making hegemonic forces and their means known is vital to the discourses of agonistic pluralism because it helps people discover and label sites and themes of contention in the political landscape. Likewise, the tactic of revealing hegemony through design provides the basis for further agonistic efforts through design or by other means. Revealing hegemony is a tactic of exposing and documenting the forces of influence in society and the means by which social manipulation occurs. Designers and artists can use forms of computational information design to represent and perform the associations and flow of resources between people, organizations, and practices, which structure and exert force in contemporary society. To do so, they use the principal qualities of computation as a medium to produce artifacts and systems that uniquely express and respond to the varied and dynamic structures of contemporary hegemony. Two examples that are examined here are social network visualizations and software extensions.

 
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