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Building a Gramsci-Foucault Axis of Democracy
By Jean-Paul Gagnon Posted in Book Chapter, Democracy on March 2, 2021 0 Comments 38 min read
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Building a Gramsci-Foucault Axis of Democracy

[This book chapter, originally published in David Kreps’ Gramsci and Foucault: A Reassessment, offers a consideration of democratic citizenship built from comparing and contrasting Gramsci’s works with Foucault’s. I remember the writing and editing process for this being an enjoyable one; especially good was reading the other chapters in the book. I learned much from them.]


This chapter is a work of comparisons and contrasts. It aims to meet the need for carefully built conciliatory ontologies from works within the corpuses of Gramscian and Foucauldian thought. This chapter explores how Gramsci and Foucault thought of democracy. For me it appears that both had interesting things to say about the individual. Her behaviour as a citizen, her role as a member of society, and the expectations that she must fill are focuses. And they led me to build the argument that Gramscian and Foucauldian theory support a democracy focused on citizen-experts who actively resist power.

As Kreps captured so eloquently in his introduction to this volume, when the existing commentary on the confluence of Gramsci and Foucault is summarized we are given three options. The first two options can be presented as follows: Gramsci is right and Foucault is wrong or vice versa. It looks to be clear at this stage of critical social theory that this ostensibly antimonious contrast has not, in the nascent moments of the twenty-first century, met with its expected grounds.

We are left then, once more as Kreps described, with a third option. He asks
for us to analyse Gramsci and Foucault for union. This last and novel option
is transcendental to the extent that it seeks not to dispel the existing Gramsci–Foucault antagony as there is some utility therein.1 Gramsci and Foucault are, for instance, not the only ones in contestation with each other. There are numerous similar contestatory pairings such as between Gramsci and Norberto Bobbio; Foucault and Gilles Deleuze or Foucault and Jean-Paul Sartre. These sometimes artificially constructed antagonisms are useful for advancing debates and putting ideas into relief.

As Schulzke made obvious in this volume, it is in the way that we frame the
differences between these two thinkers that the commonalities permitting union emerge. That is why this chapter builds two distinct, if only tenuous, conceptions of democracy. They are each built on what are arguably to be the most relevant selections from the corpus of works from Gramsci and Foucault. This has its difficulties. How do we understand ‘the corpus’ of one particular thinker? And how do we categorize what is most relevant? Although there are numerous ways to answer these questions, the method I use is to first collect works written for example by Foucault and then analyse them for objects relating to the parameters associated with the ontology of basic democracy (Gagnon 2010, 2013, 2014). Examples include how the demos is bounded, the way the sovereignty of a demos is described, and the portrayal of a distinct teleology of a demos. Not all works from Gramsci or Foucault are used because some of them meet the needs of this argument more than others. This method of selecting works is endemic to grounded theory analysis (Charmaz 2006) as the selection of the works is in itself explanatory of what is included and excluded.

The ‘why’ in this method, however, needs an explanation. As will come to
be seen further below, especially in the works listed under both Gramsci and Foucault at the end of this chapter, I focus on their writings about politics, culture, discourse, hegemony and the individual. This is the case because those works have data within them that can be constructed as objects to use for further analysis that will be conducted to achieve the aims of this chapter. That is why those works areincluded and all other primary works excluded.

This selection of the primary works is then followed by a programmatic
investigation of literature written for example about Foucault’s contributions to democracy. I have explicitly sought out works on Gramsci and/or Foucault and democracy. By collating my opinion formed during the analysis of primary documents with opinions stemming from secondary documents, it is possible to then construct a conception of democracy.

Once the construction of Gramsci and Foucault’s conceptions of democracy is complete, a discussion takes place comparing and contrasting them. In Table 5.1 found nearer the end of this chapter, the clear differences, uncertain differences or commonalities, and clear commonalities between Gramscian democracy and Foucauldian democracy are presented. This leads to a discussion of a prominent and possibly normative desire on the part of both thinkers: individuals, should they expect to have or resist power, must develop expertise in political knowledge. This applies to the level of the individual (Foucault) and to the level of the group, association, class (Gramsci) or ethnicity and nation (Mann 2004).

Clarifying Explanations and Justifications

The overarching ontology framing this chapter needs attention before we can proceed to building the Gramscian conception of democracy. It has to do with post-foundationalism2 and the thematic uncertainty underlying this work. The expression of Foucault and Gramsci as axis of democracy can only be foundational to the extent of the works drawn upon as well as the systematics behind my argumentation and method. Because of that, each step taken in the argumentation of this chapter has been as careful, capacious, meek and inclusive as possible.

This chapter contributes to the literature that uses Gramsci and Foucault to
make theoretical inroads for the study of democracy. There are few if any works that are solely devoted to seeing what democratic theory might emerge through an in-depth study of Gramscian and Foucauldian primary documents.

Some might find my work convincing but it is not, in my understanding, possible nor desirable to come to a positivist and deterministic (rather than heuristic and tenuous) conclusion on the matter. To get to that point it is necessary for many other individuals to run the same gamut which may offer through meta-analysis a convergence point of contingent conclusions. Or, through fictional metaphor by looking at all of the dozens or hundreds of different paintings about Gramsci and Foucault, the thousands of visiting audience members in the gallery will be able to come to some conclusion over the most common themes across all of the paintings. At the exit, each individual is asked: ‘what do you think were the most common attributes between all the paintings?’ The median from the aggregate of their opinions will be some type of convergence point. In that convergence we might then find an agreeable foundation for the subject at hand that is less parochial, less subjective, and this possibly more ‘true’ – at least in the way we contemporaneously understand ‘truth’.

Democracy as Class Power

Gramsci’s works offer numerous points of entry into building a conception of democracy. A synthesis across dominant themes that I have constructed as objects is sought out in a selected Gramscian corpus. In Search of the Educational Principle (Gramsci 1965), Religion: A Movement and an Ideology (Gramsci 2001a) and Economic Trends and Development (Gramsci 2001) together offer descriptions about a type of bounded citizenry. Although Gramsci does not use the word ‘demos’, it appears that he had been picturing a type of tiered proletarian society that we might reasonably call a communist demos. Coutinho’s (2000) argument on Gramsci’s ‘priority of the public’ supports this view. So too do Nun and Cartier (1986: 224) and Landy (1990). The way Comment (1967: 75) highlights how Gramsci tried to relate the factory as the equivalent of the electoral place for the bourgeois also aides in understanding the communist demos that Gramsci framed in his works.

In Towards a New Leading Group (Gramsci 1978b), The New Orientation
(Gramsci 1978c), and Towards the Communist Party (Gramsci 1977c) we see that the proletariat is meant to seize power from the bourgeois, aristocrats and their state. This shows that for Gramsci it is only the worker or labourer who holds legitimate power. He or she is the moral agent that should come to occupy different roles in governance. Government would be through the Communist Party. Sovereignty is his or hers to claim and exercise ostensibly within the framework of the Italian Communist Party. Landy (1990: 156), Mouffe (1079), Sassoon (1987) abd Coutinho (2000) back this point. Landy (1990: 178) for example convincingly demonstrates that Bobbio saw the problematics between Gramsci’s sovereignty of the group as it appears to be in confluict with certain theories of democracy which emphasize the sovereignty of the individual. This is a tension that Gramsci resolves in his discussion of the future.

[From The Prison Notebooks] I do not think it is correct to say that the
physiocrats merely represented the interests of agriculture; they represented the bourgeoisie, which was at an advanced stage of development and was the organizing force of a far more complex future society than the one they lived in – they certainly did not represent mercantilism and the guild system, etc. Historically, the physiocrats did in fact represent the break with the guild system and the expansion of capitalist economic activity into the countryside; theirs was the ‘language’ of the time, an unmediated expression of the contrast between city and country.

(Gramsci 2007, Notebook 13, §13)

Is it too far of a stretch to think that Gramsci might have thought that the proletarian vanguard could have made a break with the capitalist system and moved into a social democratic system in the future? After reading his works it seems that the process would have evolved from an initial forced collective behaviour by the Communist Party to something more democratic.

It is mostly in Gramsci’s writings on education, politics, language and culture (see Politics and Culture (Gramsci 1985a), Language, Linguistics and Folklore (Gramsci 1985b), and Popular Literature (Gramsci 1985c)) that he elaborates on the importance for the proletariat to be in command of this form of communication. They must communicate their awareness, their mutual education, and their normative desires to each other to achieve awareness and ascend to a higher culture. Morera (1990: 24), Nun (1987) and Nun and Cartier (1986: 202) support this argument. For the latter, the authors offer insight into Gramsci’s ostensible role for political communication: it needed to change ‘common sense’ in the proletariat so as to make the collective the power-holders and not the subjects of the bourgeois. This emphasis on communication and education looks to be the forced measure Gramsci thought was needed to break from capitalism. Hill (2007: 135, 165, 199) is also useful in backing this point. Communication was the foundation for ‘neohumanstic reform’ through democracy.

Gramsci’s code for this break from capitalism comes mainly in the rejection of the existing state, the international order of relations, and in his discussions on the role of the politburo (or party leadership). Leaders must and can only be decided by the proletarian mass – once the mass has of course ascended to Gramsci’s conception of ‘higher culture’. Nevertheless, there is mention of leadership before the proletariat’s cultural ascendency which was needed to force education and political communication. See Religion: A Movement and an Ideology (Gramsci 2001a) and Towards a New Leading Group (Gramsci 1978b) for more. Fonte’s (2000: 50) argument that Gramsci saw the Modern Prince (Gramsci 1992b) as the Communist
Party itself is helpful. But it seems to cancel out the idea of a leadership decided by the demos. As can be seen across much of his primary works, Gramsci writes that the proletariat mush first be made ‘aware’ and can then act in ‘democracy’. Leadership then seems to be modelled on a type of democratic centralism that incorporates both democratic and autocratic elements. That view is supported by Gramsci’s writings on the structure of the Communist Party which in itself is a mixture of the two.

It is, for me, clear in Socialism and Fascism (Gramsci 1978a) as well as in
Soviets in Italy (Gramsci 1968) that law or the expression of hegemony is only permitted from the proletarian demos and, more precisely, its governing bodies (such as the party leadership. Nun and Cartier (1986: 224) suggest Gramsci was building is view of legal legitimacy from Rousseau. Law must come from the popular will. It would first have to come from the ‘aware’ and then come from the ‘aware’ proletarian mass through the party leadership.

Gramsci discusses, at least implicitly, through his writings on the Communist Party and the justifications for proletarian emancipation the need for the worker mass to have homogenous visions for the future. It might be argued that this is the removal of class, economic and militaristic oppression. See Science, Logic and Translatability, (Gramsci 2001b) The Philosophy of Benedetto Croce (Gramsci 2001c) and Bordiga’s Polemic (Gramsci 1977b) as Gramsci discusses teleology to some lengths across these works. I argue that Nun and Cartier (1986: 204) and Fonte (2000: 51) are in agreement with my observation. Whilst Nun and Cartier rely on evidence from the Quaderni, Fonte makes my point in a discussion of G.W.F. Hegel, Richard Rorty, Walt Whitman and John Dewey whose roles in his work are built on a Gramscian foundation.

The discussion above leads to Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony (Mouffe 1979 is central here). Gramsci’s appropriation of Hegelian or Crocean (possibly Nietzschean, see Emden 2005; Katsafanas 2005 for more) thought about the power of consciousness and its expression through language to meet Marxist aims was new for the then European intellectual climate. By having experts change culture through making the individuals composing the proletariat aware of bourgeois and aristocratic dominance, social transformation would, in Gramsci’s thinking, occur. To my contemporaries reading this, that may seem rather undemocratic. Gramsci argued that the demos deserved democracy but first had to realize that they needed democracy for their emancipation. The path to this awareness for Gramsci is in some ways autocratic: (forced?) education, specific or different literature, and overall control by experts in the communist vanguard or party leadership would lead to democracy.

This evidence mkes it difficult to reconcile Gramsci with certain conceptions of democracy (e.g. most democracies from the liberal typology). However, there are democratic elements to Gramscian thought and these are the ones I focus on. Even though Gramsci’s political ethology is not the same as mine in this chapter (because Foucault is interpreted and synthesized with Gramsci) it is not unreasonable or improper to borrow insights that Gramsci gives about democracy in order to build a Gramscian conception of democracy.

To understand this position further we must first look at how Gramsci appears to bind the demos – or in his case, the proletariat as democratic hegemon. Analysis of Situations/Relations of Force (1980) outlines one boundary: it is clear therein that Gramsci saw the world as a place of nation-states that operate a network of international power. This was not in favour of the proletariat but rather, as seen in later works (the 1939–45 blocs), a place for the domination or indoctrination of individuals regarding one capitalist (notably unfriendly to the socialist) system. However, the transnationalism of the proletariat can take this situation and make it into its own system of force.

That binary between the proletariat as demos and the state, inclusive of nations and their international relations, is useful. It helps us to understand that Gramsci contrasted the demos with the bourgeois and aristocratic oppressors backed by militarism, spin and capital. It reveals a demos bounded by a conception of class and not necessarily restricted by state or national borders. Gramsci appears to have had little sympathy for the more hawkish Italian partisan communists as their emphasis on violence reflected he brutality of nascent fascism in Italy as well as Europe more widely. It was about ‘class war’ and not ‘violent war’. Aside from the fact that destroying the Italian bourgeois or aristocrats would have been highly improbable, it still appears that this was an option not at least readily tabled by Gramsci. His focus was on culture, and not violence, as a definer of hegemony.

Landy (1979: 158-9) brings a strong point to this discussion. Gramsci was for most of his writing years in anxiety over (i) how to unlock the potential for
workers to effect social change and (ii) how to defy not only Italian but the more perfidious sort of European fascism. For the latter, this is especially obvious in his Quaderni del Carcere or Prison Notebooks (1992a). For the former, a lot of attention is given to this question possibly due to his entrepreneurial role in helping to establish the Italian Communist Party. For the reasons of needing to be practical and politically effective, Gramsci had to grapple with hegemony. It is his cleverness and willingness to engage with contemporaries (Nun 1986: 199) that led to his arguments for culture and language as being the frames of hegemony enacted by the unknowing consent of the workers. The solution for Gramsci and one that I still think is convincing in method today (apart from its autocratic leanings), was or is creating awareness in the proletariat through education and expert leadership.

As can be seen in what the literature appears to have configured as Gramsci’s ‘cultural writings’ (see, for example, Gramsci 1985 and 2001) he places great emphasis on the need for communication as a means to empowering the demos. Language, journalism and literature shape the contours of culture and thus structure power relations. Here there is certainly agreement with Foucault, but more on that later. This may help to explain why Gramsci places as much importance as he does on the proletariat realizing itself (awareness), educating itself (not being educated through the bourgeois system), and enacting itself (not being influenced by
power through dominant bourgeois culture). By either seizing communication or denying communication from the bourgeois or aristocracy, the proletarian demos logically gains hegemony.

There are difficulties in the way Gramsci contemporaneously framed the demos. For him, it was about mass. There are few instances where he gives a philosophy of the self as a dialectic in relation to the proletariat. For example, in Towards the Communist Party (1977c) or The Young Socialist (1977a) there is that sense of dialectic between individual and institution or individual and the self (for the latter especially in The Young Socialist (1977a)). There is too the sense that these writings are at the same time normative and personal but still looking at the individual from above. In other words it is about what the individual should be doing to strengthen the hegemony of the proletariat.

Overall, Gramsci’s theory of democracy is predicated on formulating the demos as the working mass separate to capitalist culture and its bourgeois acolytes. We know today that words like ‘the people’, ‘mass’ and ‘the proletariat’ are myths. But they were not myths it seems for Gramsci as generalizing individuals in this way was common across most political spectrums in Europe during the early twentieth century. There are nevertheless nuances that deserve attention. The hierarchies and different roles in the Communist Party as well as working class
organizations could play a role in how Gramsci viewed the demos. My portrayal of the Gramscian demos is not a homogeneous mass but rather a collection of workers inhabiting different, changeable roles.

Gramsci places sovereignty in this demos. He tries to figure out ways of
exercising this sovereignty or even shifting it from illegitimate locales like the bourgeois state to his demos. That is where Gramscian praxes become most apparent: it is the need to realize this theoretical condition that drives Gramsci towards a ‘democratic’ stump regarding education, communication, and, eventually, leadership. This one way of constructing Gramsci’s democracy culminates in the belief of the expert intellectual. This type of person is aware of hegemony. She is enlightened with philosophy, and through that controls or affects culture and thus power. It is Gramsci’s desire for workers to have such power as this, collectively, will then lead to the Gestalt switch that he was after. No longer would the bourgeois, or capitalism, or the state monopolize the power of norm setting. Power would be the sole prerogative of the expert proletarian demos. This is one way of explaining what Gramsci’s ‘higher culture’ may have been.

It is here specifically that a major contrast appears between Gramscian and Foucauldian hegemony. Foucault, as will be seen in the next section below, rejects the proletariat and the view that sees politics as only the struggle between classes. Hegemon is the individual – all else is dominance over the individual being human.

Democracy as Person Power

In comparison to Gramsci, Foucault’s writing is much more nuanced regarding democracy. It may even be argued that democracy was not really part of Foucault’s intellectual mandate. And this is reflected in the secondary literature. Although there is a substantive body of literature on Foucault’s contributions to liberal democracy there is still far more writing available on Gramsci and democracy than there is on Foucault and democracy. Indeed, aside from liberal theory, Foucault seems to only be linked to radical conceptions of democracy.

It is mainly in the conception of biopolitics that Foucault builds throughout
his three (and almost four) volumes of The History of Sexuality (Foucault 1978) that we can construct some idea of citizenship. Boundaries of ‘we’ are also discussed in Kant on Enlightenment and Revolution (Foucault 1986). Biebricher (2007: 235-6) supports this point with his discussion of Foucault’s ‘resisting individuals’.

I argue that Foucault is both suspicious of the sovereignty of reason and
desirous to have sovereignty more dispersed among heterogeneous individuals in Madness and Civilization (Foucault 1988). This is elaborated further in Society Must be Defended (Foucault 2003) where we see, especially in relation to biopower, Foucault’s refutation of socialism due to its abuses of the individual. Olssen (2002: 486) supports this point in his argument that Foucault wanted a balance between the power of the individual and the power of society. Foucault leaned more towards the complexity and difference inherent in the human being and her history when arguing how this constructs layered societies.

The Subject and Power (Foucault 1982) offers insights into the function of communication: it is both an actant and changer of existing power. This is elaborated upon in Orders of Discourse (Foucault 1971: 3). Walter (2008: 537-8) supports this point in his critique of mainly John Dryzek and Iris Marion Young’s conception of deliberative democracy. Expert knowledge often determines the ontology of communication in any given society.

The Subject and Power (Foucault 1982) offers insights into Foucault’s
conception of leadership. It (leadership) was not something decided by the
demos as the demos is populated by subjects. We may argue then that he sees the demos selecting leadership in a way that avoids subjectifying the human being. The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969, especially page 176) plays a central role here too. Biebricher (2007) and Olssen (2002) are in support of this point. Schrift (2000:155) is also important especially his discussion of how Mouffe and Lacau’s conception of radical democracy synthesizes with Foucault’s unfinished project of the ‘hermeneutic of the self’. Schrift’s discussion points to the need for leadership to be fluid dynamic and non-dominant in the autocratic and totalitarian sense.

Across Madness and Civilization (1988), The Birth of the Clinic (1963),
and The Order of Things (1966), especially in the dualism of the self (body/
self), I argue that law has to come not entirely from outside but also from within the person. See also Spaces of Security (1978a) Alternatives to the Prison (2009), and The Archaeology of Knowledge(19060). Walter’s (2000; 534) discussion of Dryzek’s critique of legal expertise helps to make this point. But it also helps to highlight the resistance that Foucault had to being foundational. Anyone can be an expert so long as they have power within discourse through knowledge which was Dyrzek’s point.

I think that for Foucault the only certainty is resistance to power. The heterotopy of the ‘resisting individual’ appears to be the teleology of his conception of democracy if one existed. It is in the Orders of Discourse (Foucault 1971: 7-8) that this point is made clear. Foucault himself is expressing the tension between the individual resisting power and the institution establishing the dominance of power over the individual for the individual to be subject within. Although Weymans (2009) supports the point in his discussion of Marcel Gauchet and Gladys Swain’s result showing that individuals were resisting in asylums during French
‘modernity’, I needed to leave the secondary literature to further back this point. Grant (2010), Wisnewski (2000) as well as Yates and Hiles (2010) can together make the point that the ‘resistant self’ is a constant in Foucauldian teleology.

Before moving into the summative description of Foucauldian democracy, it
would be good to discuss his first three books: Madness and Civilization (1988), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), and The Order of Things (1966). Foucault delivers a useful heuristic for thinking about the individual (down-up) and the mostly illegitimate hegemon (top-down). In Madness and Civilization for example and his later positions on the anti-psychiatric movements of the ’50s and ’60s onwards, mental illness is not considered a fabrication: it is possibly there as a medically determined condition. But the individual being labelled as ‘mad’ or ‘ill’ too has the freedom not to be punished because of, for example, a lack of conformity to supposed rational culture. So on the one hand there is technocratic medical advance with its own legitimate hegemony but on the other hand there is also the advance of the rights of the individual to not be forced into ‘treatment’ or ‘confinement’. In short, this foundation for Foucault’s biopolitics and reflects the balance that Olssen (2008) opined was present in the way Foucault saw the critical or resistant self in relation to societies.

This foundation is revelatory to the extent that it is also in some sense a treatise for the emancipation of the self. I interpret it as a call for the explosion of the heterotopy of individuals in contestation to how Foucault saw modernity and its logos of false uniformity and order. That position does not deviate much from Dahl’s (1089) pluralism, Keane’s (2009) pluriverse, or Latour’s (1993) hybrids3 (also Haraway’s (1991) cyborgs) which points to Foucauldian democracy as something capacious, inclusive, and complex. In the Order of Things (1966) it is especially clear, in his placement of the individual, that Foucault is speaking to discourse framed by historicism as the structural determinant of power.

Foucault does not readily give a boundary to a demos. But this does not
mean that we cannot construct a conception of a Foucauldian democracy. In
his work on governmentality and biopolitics it is possible to see that the demos is fabricated by the state. Although Foucault does not argue this, I feel that his critique leads us to the view that for the individual to exist this must happen outside of hegemonic structures. These include the institutions of the state or the cultures of reason superimposed over individuals or that individuals impose over themselves. Togetherness, in the sense of individuals forming associations, led to an exponential increase in the power of biopolitics from down-up. But these will invariably form different discursive power relations and possibly – only rarely – an actual majority derived from the heteropy of power formed when people associate through the affinity of choice.

For Foucault, one type of sovereignty exists in the nation-state and its institutions (see Security, Territory, Population 1977) but that it is not the sole legitimator of power. There is a heterotopy of power which is expressed in the way Foucault explores the self, others, and governing institutions. That, under this logical frame, supports the argument that the individual might be viewed as the only legitimate sovereign in Foucauldian democracy. Then there is the exercise of sovereignty which is fundamentally based on the act of complex, heterogeneous individuals
resisting not only the power of state, institutions or nature, but also the power of each other and themselves. This is one reason why ‘Marxists’ have typically attacked Foucault because they mistakenly placed his thinking as supportive of liberal understandings of democracy that uphold the capitalist bourgeois system. Foucault, in my opinion, supports nothing other than the emancipation of the self and the fundamental distrust of power. Open and inclusive critique free of violence democratizes discourse and, through that, dilutes power.

The position on the self, summarized above, is the foundation for Foucault’s
thoughts on political communication, law, leadership and long-term societal
goals. As Foucault argued in The Subject and Power (1982: 780-82), his works to that date were not predicated on studying power but rather the resistance if not contradiction to power. Taking note that this was written but two years before his death it is striking that the democracy literature is not more emphatic about this point. Indeed, the focus on resistance is relegated to radicalism in politics and the protest against the few dominant contemporary forms of democracy in practice. This is not a bad thing, but it is limiting. The act of the self in contradiction if not dialectic to the power of the state-prescribed conception of the ‘citizen’ might in itself be a recipe for future democratic change. Although this point will be contentious, Foucault’s ‘resisting self’ could be looked for by democratic theorists in re-readings of history to come up with a new theory of democracy in action across time and space: the theory of resistance democracy.

Discussion – Expert Democracy?

Throughout the evidence and discussion presented in the two earlier sections of this chapter, where Gramscian and Foucauldian conceptions of democracy are constructed, there has been both commonality and difference between the two thinkers. Following the method used by Mann (2004) to make heuristic-based arguments clearer I have in Table 5.1 categorized ‘clear difference’, ‘uncertain difference or commonality’, and ‘clear commonality’ between Gramsci and Foucault.

Both agree that language or discourse is a determiner of hegemony in the given society that uses this discourse. History as shaped by discourse and discourse as shaped by history is a circular device of some use to both thinkers. Culture, as a container of power, also seems to be a point of agreement between the two thinkers although it is clear that they differ on first order principles. For Gramsci, culture is the determiner of discourse whereas for Foucault it appears that discourse is the determiner of culture. To me the symbiosis is apparent: discourse and culture affect each other. They might even be one and the same as culture can be the expression of discourse which means that a change in discourse can affect culture.

In The Order of Things (Foucault 1966) it becomes instantaneously clear that Gramsci’s work on culture and Foucault’s work on episteme are commensurable. They both speak to the possibility of a paradigm shift in human societies. Foucault describes these changes throughout his studies of medical and scientific history. Epistemological shifts happened in history. They can happen again. It then follows that Gramsci was not incorrect in his thinking that changing culture through education, language and literature (i.e. popular discourse) was possible. It still is possible.

As can be seen in Table 5.1, Gramsci and Foucault substantively differ in their first order arguments as well as moral philosophies. And although my ultimate argument built from Gramscian and Foucauldian thought – that citizen experts are needed – was given at the beginning of this chapter, it was by no means a fait accompli when research for this work was undertaken. Indeed, it was of significant surprise to find the agreements between the two thinkers that permitted me to build this axis of democracy: the axis of expert-citizens and resistance to power.

Conclusion – Paths Leading Elsewhere

It pays to note that Gramsci was an advocate of a ‘democratic road to socialism’ (Morera 1990: 23). This was a position formed probably due to his distaste for fascism and its version of the ‘dictatorship of the people’. Although Gramsci does not explicitly detail his conception(s) of democracy, he has left enough for the convergence to form through numerous contingent readings by others of his writings. When collating my readings of Gramsci’s primary works with the arguments formed in the secondary works, the synthesis seems to support a compassionate, equitable but inescapably foundational and thus flawed conception of democracy. Democracy was the route for Gramsci to attain the emancipation of the working masses. It flew in the face of the need to recognize that Marx and Lenin were not right about everything and the party leadership would not be able to meet his utopian vision of benevolent expertise. Nevertheless,
although democracy was a means to an end for Gramsci, his heuristics were
contemporaneously important to counter fascism. When taken with the required amount of salt as post-foundationalists do, many of his normative and more equitable desires are still of importance today.

Foucault approaches the conclusions of Gramsci from his own points of
departure. My chapter highlights the differences of origins in argumentation between the two thinkers but in the end highlights the view that they seem to come to agreement over empowering the individual (or citizen) with expertise. It was Foucault’s way of questioning the structures and origins of discourses that led to his criticisms of forms of governmentality and dominance. The focus on the complexity of the individual and its societies in his historical as well as contemporaneous works (circa 1960s, ’70s and ’80s) can be established as an emancipation of the self. I am uncertain if Gramsci would have reached this point. Nevertheless, I reason that both support the argument that the individual must have hegemony and must be an expert on the transmutations of power and how it affects human beings.

In the end, the conclusion of this chapter reached in the final row of the last column in Table 5.1 points invariably to an unfinished project affecting the politics of today. From studies into the diffusion of political knowledge (Rapeli 2014 and 2013), or a citizen’s knowledge of politics, and of a practitioner’s (i.e. politician’s or bureaucrat’s) knowledge of normative expectations from political philosophers, it is critically clear that the majority of individuals populating those categories are failing to reach variously constructed bottom parameters.

The Gramsci–Foucault axis of democracy is based on the need for each
individual to have expertise in politics. This I think would today encompass the expectations experts have for democratization, democracy practices, and the way that power within democracy and power exercised by the individuals and associations composing the demos occurs. The two thinkers and my interpretation of their thoughts in this chapter, point to the need for a turn in human knowledge: a turn towards politics, philosophy, social theory, and in the end, knowledge of democracy.


1. Although there are numerous examples to justify this argument, hegemony will be used as it is central to this chapter. It was in the almost combative, and certainly at times heated, debates between ‘who got hegemony right’ that contributions were made toward recognizing the heterogeny of hegemony. It went for example from the analogous condition of ‘one correct’ understanding of power to ‘several correct’ understandings. See Ougaard (1988), Khan (2008) and Grebe (2009) who each argue an ontology of hegemony similar to the one outlined in this note.

2. As defined primarily by Wingenbach (2011: 3-19) and Eckersley (2011), post-foundationalism is a resistance to parochialism, to certainty, and to anthropocentrism. It needs to be inclusive, humble, and embrace complexity.

3. For coverage of Latourian hybridity, see Blok and Jensen (2011)


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Articulations of democracy Boundaries of democracy Breeds of democracy Characterizations of democracy Classifications of democracy Collections of democracy Conceptions of democracy Concepts of democracy Conceptualisations of democracy Conceptualizations of democracy Constructions of democracy Contours of democracy definitions of democracy Delineations of democracy Demarcations of democracy democracy democrat democratic Democratic design Democratic innovation Democratic innovations Democratic Theories democratic theory Democratical democratization descriptions of democracy Designs of democracy Details of democracy Determinations of democracy Divisions of democracy Elucidations of democracy Exemplifications of democracy Explanations of democracy Explications of democracy Expositions of democracy Families of democracy Figures of democracy Formalisations of democracy Formalizations of democracy forms of democracy Frames of democracy Groups of democracy Ideals of democracy Ideas of democracy Ideations of democracy Interpretations of democracy kinds of democracy meanings of democracy Models of democracy Modes of democracy Molds of democracy Moulds of democracy Number of democracy Numbers of democracy Orders of democracy Outlines of democracy Patterns of democracy Profiles of democracy Representations of democracy Schemes of democracy Sets of democracy Sorts of democracy Species of democracy Structures of democracy Styles of democracy Themes of democracy theories of democracy types of democracy varieties of democracy

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