International Gramsci Society Newsletter
Number 1 (March, 1992): 22-28 < prev | toc | next >  

University Courses: Studying Gramsci

In many universities Gramsci continues to attract the attention of faculty members and students specializing in various disciplines. Courses are being designed and taught which are devoted entirely to an examination of Gramsci's work or in which Gramsci's ideas and categories figure very prominently. In Spring, 1990, John Cammett gave one in the Department of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; during this very semester (Spring, 1992), Kate Crehan is giving another in the Anthropology Department of the New School in New York. Descriptions of such courses are being sought for publication in the Newsletter. Members of the IGS may also wish to contribute their reflections on the general topic of Gramsci's presence in pedagogicalacademic contexts. It would likewise be interesting to hear from students who are writing doctoral theses which deal with Cramsci.

A. Professor Herbert Reid of the Political Science Department at the University of Kentucky (U.S.A.) has taught a number of courses dealing with Gramsci's ideas. The following is a description of a seminar he conducted during the Fall semester of 1990.

Seminar in Contemporary Political Theory: Antonio Gramsci and Anglo-American Ideas.

This course will focus on and take as its point of departure the political thought of Antonio Gramsci, especially as reflected in his famous prison notebooks. This Italian Marxist helped to found the Communist party in Italy. Yet, he is widely regarded as "the greatest of western Marxists," to use Tom Nairn's words. In short, he took up Leninism but went beyond it to contribute to a critical, democratic tradition of socialist theory that sometimes is called Western Marxism. His significance in this context lies in his unique attempt to develop a philosophy of praxis out of a philosophy of history. Nairn, nevertheless, stresses the national context of Gramsci's political theory and his confrontation with the "Italian catastrophe." Yet, Nairn's skepticism about what can be distilled out of his work "as abstract political theory or revolutionary strategy" is leavened by the counsel to follow "Gramsci's example within one's own society, [END PAGE 22] employing the innumerable clues and inspirations of the Prison Notebooks to do so." This key problematic of the Gramsci legacy is one of the questions lo be explored in this seminar. The current work of American theorists such as Aronowitz, Boggs, Boyle, Cocks, Epstein, and Evans offers one milieu illustrating the Gramsci reception in the English-speaking world which is, as Geoff Eley has put it, "one of the more remarkable intellectual phenomena of the 1970s.

Three or four areas of the influence of Gramscian ideas in the past 20 years will be of chief concern. There has been a rethinking of socialist political theories and strategies including some particularly interesting ideas about democracy and the problem of "transition"; about the new social movements and the problem of "class"; and about intellectuals and the problem of "professionalism." We have seen the development of a critical cultural studies movement with new theories of media and mass communication based upon a recognition of Gramsci's concept of hegemony as "one of the major turning points in Marxist cultural theory" (Williams). In the AngloAmerican context, the current work of Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, George Lipsitz, and Todd Gitlin is exemplary and blends interestingly with another sphere of Gramscian influence, the field of "social history." Eugene Genovese has been joined by a number of scholars including Alan Dawley, Jackson Lears, and Leon Fink to promote a rethinking of American history forging new analyses of class, gender, labor, community, and culture. In all of these areas, controversy and debate have abounded, for orthodox notions such as class and culture have not lacked defense from opposite poles of the ideological spectrum. While these polemics will have our attention, more interest will be given to the possibility of Gramsci's contribution to a new post-Marxist theory oriented in terms of socialist pluralism, ecology, feminism, and related concerns. Our aim will be to evaluate the claim of two political theorists (Piccone & Cavalcanti) that Gramsci "provides one of the few meaningful models on the basis of which the emancipatory heritage of marxism can be reconstituted and politically articulated."

Required Texts:

1. Antonio Gramsci AN ANTONIO GRAMSCI READER edited by David Forgacs (Schocken pbk).

2. Photocopy Set of Assigned Articles (about 25) [END PAGE 23]

3. Anne Showstack Sassoon, CRAMSCI'S POLITICS, 2nd ed. (U. of Minnesota pbk, 1987).

4. Anne Showstack Sassoon, Editor, APPROACHES TO GRAMSCI (Writers & Readers pbk, dist. by Norton).

5. Joan Cocks, THE OPPOSITIONAL IMAGINATION: Feminism, Critique, and Political Theory (Routledge pbk).

6. Raymond Williams, MARXISM AND LITERATURE (Oxford U.P. pbk).

7. Ernesto Laclau & Chantal Mouffe, HEGEMONY AND SOCIALIST STRATEGY: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics (Verso pbk).

Recommended Texts:

1. Antonio Gramsci, SELECTIONS FROM THE PRISON NOTEBOOKS edited by Q. Hoare & G. Nowell-Smith (International pbk).


Session I

I. T.J. Jackson Lears, "The Concept of Cultural Hegemony..."

2. Alan Dawley, "Workers, Capital, and the State in the Twentieth Century:

3. Herbert Reid, "American Liberalism, Authority, and the Corporate State..."

4. Jackson Lears, "A Matter of Taste: Corporate, cultural Hegemony in a MassConsumption Society"

Session II

1. Sassoon, GRAMSCI'S POLITlCS, preface thru p. 104

2. Forgacs, Ed., GRAMSCI READER, foreword thru p. 185

3. Stuart Hall, "The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism among the Theorists"

4. Ceoff Eley, "Reading Gramsci in English..."

5. Sassoon, "Gramsci's Subversion of the Language of Politics"

Session III

1. Sassoon, GRAMSCI'S POLITICS, pp. 109-231

2. Forgacs, Editor, GRAMSCI READER, 189-402. NOTE: Please make use of the "Glossary of Key Terms" at 420-431

Session IV

1. David Forgacs, "National-Popular: Genealogy of a Concept" [END PAGE 24]

2. Remo Bodei, "Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method"

4. Review key ideas of Gramsci's Prison Notebooks (see III)

Session V

1. Sassoon, GRAMSCI'S POLITICS, pp. 249-281, "Postscript: "The People, Intellectuals, & Specialised Knowledge"

2. Leonardo Salamini, "The Intellectuals and the Dynamics of Historical Blocs"

3. Mark E. Kann, "Political Education and Equality: Gramsci Against 'False Consciousness'"

4. Michael Walzer, "Antonio Gramsci's Commitment"

Session VI

1. Giuseppe Vacca, "Intellectuals and the Marxist Theory of the State," 37-67 in APPROACHES...ed. by Sassoon

2. Sassoon, "Hegemony, War of Position & Political Intervention

3. Guci-Glucksmann, "Hegemony and Consent" and

4. Sassoon, "Passive Revolution and the Politics of Reform," all 3 in APPROACHES TO GRAMSCI, Part II, ed. by Sassoon.

5. Tom Nairn, "Antonu Su Gobbu," pp. 159-179 in APPROACHES...

6. R. Radhakrishnan, "Toward an Effective Intellectual: Foucault or Gramsci?" to be published

Session VII


Note: our focus will be on the Introduction, Part I, and the Conclusion; especially her analysis of Gramsci, Williams, Said, Foucault, and Feminist Theory

Session VIII


Note: we will give particular attention to Parts I and II, "Basic Concepts" and "Cultural Theory."

Session IX

1. Leslie T. Good, "Power, Hegemony, and Communication Theory"

2. Charles Conrad, "Work Songs, Hegemony, and Illusions of Self"

3. George Lipsitz, "The Meaning of Memory: Family, Class, and Ethnicity in Early Network Television" [END PAGE 25]

4. John Tirman, "Doing Time" and Marc Gunther, "Left Almost Shut Out of Political Talk Shows"

5. Peter Madsen, "History and Consciousness: Cultural Studies Between Reification and Hegemony"

6. Articles by Tony Bennett and Stuart Hall, in POPULAR CULTURE AND SOCIAL RELATIONS, preface thru p. 49

Session X

1. John Stephens, "Rethinking the transition to Socialism"

2. Barbara Epstein, "Rethinking Social Movement Theory"

3. Harry Boyte & Sara Evans, "Strategies in Search of America: Cultural Radicalism, Populism, and Democratic Culture"

4. Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, "Recasting Marxism: Hegemony and New Political Movements" (Oct. 1981)

5. Chantal Mouffe, "Hegemony and the Integral State in Gramsci: Towards a New Concept of Politics"

Session XI


Session XII


(NB. Many of the individual essays referred to in this course description could be easily located through J. Cammett's Bibliografia Gramsciana.)

* * *

B. At the University of Urbino: Franco Consiglio and Giorgio Baratta are currently offering a course which is devoted to a detailed analysis of the text of the Quaderni del carcere. Furthermore, three doctoral theses dealing with Gramsci will be presented at the university this year. The thesis by Fabio Frosini is entitled Lo statuto della filosofia nei Quaderni del carcere. The other two theses examine in detail certain Gramscian categories which occupy an especially important place in the Quaderni. The thesis by Elena Maestrelli contains an analysis of "uomo e natura" ("man and nature'), while Mario Rosati's thesis focuses on the term "hegemony."

* * * [END PAGE 26]

C. Professor George Bernstein who is a member of the faculty of the Department of Educational Foundations at Montclair State College in New Jersey (U.S.A.) sent the Newsletter the following reflections on his experience of introducing Gramsci to his students:

The Surprise of Gramsci

I generally teach two graduate courses in which almost all the students are over twenty-five. One of the courses is attended by adults who have taught for many years in what may be described as "a difficult urban setting." The other course is also taken by experienced teachers, but out of the twenty-five to thirty individuals who participate in it there are usually only three or four who work in inner-city schools. Although both groups have had a good deal of personal experience on which to draw for written projects and classroom discussion, they both lack a structured view of education in the United States. This is not said pejoratively. It is simply an objective situation: we tend not to teach in such a way that our students[!]regardless of their age or experience[!]will see the reality of social structures.

I was surprised by the way some of them reacted when introduced to Gramsci's notion of hegemony. I was surprised because a few of them thought that Gramsci was the most genuinely enlightening figure they had come into contact with. Now, on the one hand, it may sometimes be disheartening to speak with, for example, a fifty-year-old teacher with more than twenty-five years of teaching experience who says that he had never thought of looking at school life in structured terms. On the other hand, one might consider it encouraging that a black woman in a Newark school who had never before heard the name Antonio Gramsci should come to me and say that his ideas were the most useful she had ever encountered for helping to explain some aspects of Newark's plight. To me, this experience was and continues to be a confirmation that a Sardinian writing in the 'twenties and 'thirties could be seen as alive and helpful to a middle-aged black teacher who had come to Newark from the South many years ago and begun to live a life as a public school teacher in an increasingly difficult environment. Gramsci was a great surprise to her and to others whom I have taught over the last few years. I think there are still a great many useful surprises in Gramsci. The question is what might be used and how it might be used after one has been surprised. [END PAGE 27]

I have the impression that most people who teach about Gramsci do so with a "broad stroke." In my teaching, however, I think it important to ask whether his ideas have relevance in a very specific, concrete setting. For a number of the teachers with whom I work, the specific, concrete setting is Newark, New Jersey[!]a city beset with all the heartrending problems which have now become characteristic of much of urban America. From my point of view, we have to ask how a teacher who is fifty years old, black and female can find Gramsci relevant to her situation and the plight of the schools. There are signs that Gramsci can help.

George Bernstein

Montclair State College [END PAGE 28]   ^ return to top ^ < prev | toc | next >