Social Mobility, Cultural Hegemony, and the Social Web

Cultural Hegemony represents a Marxist philosophy that one social class among many rules over the others to prop itself up.

Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another, e.g. the ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm; they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only really benefiting the ruling class.

The weakness of such thinking is that there is no social mobility, and that individuals and organizations didn’t work sufficiently to earn their wealth and position.

Administrators of Social Web Networks are a Ruling Class

There is merit in comparing social web business structures to cultural hegemony. The driving design purpose and intent of the networks is to maximize profits from an exponentially growing or ubiquitous user base, not to optimize distributed communication for groups.

Brad Burnham compares web services to governments, and I don’t think he’s far off in his analogy. Private property (a leased or owned web server) currently gives corporations the right to deny service to anyone at any time with little cause. Isolation is their justice system’s penal enforcement. These networks tax their citizens attention to profit, in exchange for connectivity. Commoditization of social networks will drive this taxation to zero, forcing businesses to compete on value delivered to each member (smarter use of shared info, in a way that’s sensitive to member privacy).

The technical development and scale of such networks has been proven by several large existing social networks: Friendster, Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, & Open Source simulacrum, Identica, Cliqset. But not everyone can build and host such large social networks, so efforts have been made to encourage distributed social web options. But even in open source distributed systems data formats must be described and supported by the software, which is controlled by a small organization (social class) who’s interests may diverge from members of the network. Cross compatibility may bind the creative hands of divergent designers. If you want to share data (read/write) on social network X you have to play by their rules.

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  • iamronen

    couldn't microformats ( ) provide an open-standard solution for information structuring, presentation and exchange?

  • Mark Essel

    Yes, I think they could. Thanks for dropping the link Ronen.

    A new startup that Fred Wilson's investing in may have some interesting solutions to freelancing/job matching. At least I hope so for my friends that are looking for work.

  • iamronen

    yeah I saw that … had some thoughts on trying to make contact to see if I could help … it's a kind of company that touches many people's lives … a lot of opportunity when it comes to peronsal realization, freedom and purpose …

    I've used some of the existing alternatives and they were mediocre and unimaginative …. so maybe workmarket can make a difference!

    Why did you bring this up?

  • Mark Essel

    Did you mention you were looking for some work or am I confusing you with one of my many other friends?

    I happened to be looking at the post the moment I was responding.

  • Leland

    About this service… I think true distributed “free” and “open” networks are not made very often because there has to be some sort of payback for investors and for the group of developers that maintain and create the system. With an open and free system, it is very difficult to have enough control to serve ads or make a profit/business model.

  • Leland

    Mark, this article is very true. To add to your ideas, I think if people look deeper into most social systems that we have created in our lives, there is ALWAYS a social hegemony.

    Social hegemony seems to be the way that humans end up organizing themselves. Going from virtual worlds, to game worlds, to relationships and real-life, pretty much every social system is founded on a social hegemony.

    In WOW we have the developers at the top, with customer service reps, GM's and admins under that, followed by the elite gamers, and then everyone else.

    In a relationship we have the husband at the top of the tree followed by the wife, then grandparents, then children.

    In a corporation we have the CEO followed by board of directors and etc..

    In politics we have the same thing.

    In the general population we have rich and connected people above everyone else.

    For the entirety of human history we have been organizing ourselves in this way… there must be good reasons. Perhaps it all comes down to the fact that in our society power transfers down through the generations, giving the progeny of a wealthy man more power then they would have otherwise. Just look at how many hundreds of years monarchies ruled the world.

    Good? Bad? I wonder if there is a book that talks about social mobility and hegemony in human society. :)

    Edit: here's a book that can shed some light “″

  • iamronen

    we'd have to go into a conversation about “work” for me to answer that clearly :)

    I think that given the obvious connotation of work my answer would be no I am not :)

    But I am so grateful you are thinking of me :)