Social Responsibility of Intellectuals in Building Counter‐Hegemonies Issa Shivji

Intellectuals pride themselves as producers of knowledge.  They  are  also articulators  of  ideologies,  a role  they  do  not  normally  acknowledge. Respectable universities worth the name call themselves sites of knowledge production. I say “respectable”  because  these  days  many  neo‐liberalised universities  have abandoned  the  role  of  knowledge  production  in  favour  of packaging  disparate information  and  branding  their  “products”  (students)  to make  them saleable  on the  market.  That is a story for another day.  Today I don’t want to talk about packaging factories.    Today  I  want  to  address those  intellectuals  who  still consider  themselves  producers  of  knowledge rather  than  assembly  line supervisors of packaging industries.

In  a  capitalist  society  divided  into  classes  you  have  broadly  two  types  of intellectuals.  There  are  those  who produce  rationalizations,  justifications  and mystifications  to  maintain  and  reproduce  the  status  quo  of inequality  and inequity in favour of capital.  These are the producers and purveyors of what we call hegemonic ideologies.  Then  there  are  those  who  question  and  challenge dominant  knowledge  and  try  to  demystify  and debunk  hegemonic  forms of knowledge and ideologies. Some go further to produce and articulate alternative forms  of  knowledge  and ideologies  to  propel  the  struggle  of  the  ruled,  the oppressed  and  the  downtrodden.  They are involved in constructing counter hegemonies. Thus there is a battle of ideas. One of the foremost sites of the battle of ideas is the University. Battle of ideas precedes battle at the barricades.

Hegemony by definition means acceptance of an ideology voluntarily, by consent as opposed to, by coercion.  It  was  Gramsci’s  great  insight  that  the  bourgeoisie rule  by  mobilising  consent  through its ideological  apparatuses, both in the state (for example, courts) but – and this is important to note – also in civil society, for example, institutions of education, media, CSOs, art, literature etc. The wheels of ideological apparatuses are always churning.  They generate and refurbish hegemonic ideologies and make it the ‘common sense’ of the time. During normal  times,  therefore,  the  coercion  of  the  bourgeois  state  does  not  appear  on  the  surface.  It is there – but always in the background.  This is the case in normal times.  What  happens  in  times  of  crisis  –  in  times  when  the  underlying  capitalist  system itself is in the crisis of reproducing itself? It is the crisis that interests me most because, I believe, we are currently in such a crisis of the global imperialist‐capitalist system.  I  will  not  go  into  the  details  of  the  economics  of  the  crisis because I want to focus more on its ideological expressions.

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