Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America (review)
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Reviewed by
Jon Beasley-Murray. Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2010. xxi + 376 pp.

Posthegemony: Political Theory and Latin America is a bold and ambitious polemic against the theoretical foundations of Latin American political and cultural theory. In it, Jon Beasley-Murray challenges what he calls the “ubiquitous common sense” (15) of Latin American cultural studies: hegemony theory, or the idea that “the state maintains its dominance (and that of social and economic elites) thanks to the consent of those it dominates” (x). Beasley-Murray’s book is not merely a revision of hegemony theory or a new account of the workings of ideology, but instead a radical and wholesale rejection of both: there is no hegemony, he argues, “and never has been” (ix). It is not so much that “power is now posthegemonic” (xi) as that “we have always lived in posthegemonic times,” and thus social order was never actually “secured through ideology” (ix). One of the problems Beasley-Murray identifies with the idea of hegemony is thus that it can never account for the vast range of “processes that involve neither consent nor coercion” (x). However, its main problem is that it always “takes the state for granted” (55). Hegemony theory, in other words, is a machine for converting constituent power into constituted power; the politics that it engenders turn out to be an anti-politics that in some form or another folds “the the constituent power of the multitude back on itself” (ix). This, argues Beasley-Murray, is hegemony’s essential problem, which it crucially shares with populism, cultural studies, and civil society theory: all these formulations limit the constituent power that enables them in the first place.

Posthegemony broadly entails a break with Gramscian notions of ideological hegemony and a turn towards Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and Hart and Negri’s version of the multitude. Beasley-Murray carries out his argument over a series of historical case studies: “Argentina 1972,” “Ayacucho 1982,” “Escalón 1989,” and “Chile 1992.” In the first half of Posthegemony, Beasley-Murray suggests that Peronism worked at “an affective register” that was “only later overcoded by ideology” in an effort to resolve the tension between its “structure of feeling” and its “ideological articulation” (64). Beasley-Murray then argues that the same Peronist populism is at the heart of Laclau’s theorization of hegemony—a populism that it cannot explain and ultimately reproduces. Given that Laclau’s idea of hegemony is the “single most influential formulation for the development of cultural studies” (40) Beasley-Murray traces the [End Page 404] “secret history” (25) of cultural studies that reveals its unacknowledged Latin American populist origins. He also finds a “submerged Latin Americanism” in Jean Cohen and Andrew Arato’s civil society theory (89). Indeed, one of the most compelling features of Beasley-Murray’s book is the Latin American genealogy it offers for some for the most globally pervasive theorizations of power and politics.

Populism substitutes “sovereignty for any other conception of power” (56); cultural studies “is oblivious to, and even helps to hide, a recent vast expansion of political and state control” (27); and civil society theory—and the new social movements it encourages—depends on “the state’s protection or legitimation for the spaces [it has] carved out within civil society” (84). Civil society theory in particular, argues Beasley-Murray, “imposes a series of boundaries, drawing on the force of social movements to legitimate political order, but restraining that force at the point at which it might challenge the state” (95). In place of the formulations he repudiates, Beasley-Murray offers a theory of posthegemony that involves first uncovering the constituent power of the multitude that hegemony, cultural studies, and civil society negate, ignore, or contain, and then undoing the related conversions of “affect into emotion, habit into opinion” and “multitude into people” (xx). Posthegemony rereads Latin American history—from Columbus to Chávez—in terms of “the real workings of power and domination” (xii) that “never emerge into discourse” or representation (188) and operate outside ideology or “well below consciousness” (67). Thus Beasley-Murray builds on the Bordieuian concept of habitus to...