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  • Gramsci's Common Sense: Inequality and Its Narratives by Kate Crehan
  • Claudio Sopranzetti
Kate Crehan, Gramsci's Common Sense: Inequality and Its Narratives. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 222 pp.

Anthropological engagements with Antonio Gramsci in the English language have fallen into three main streams. The first—most prominent in Euro American circles—emerged from Raymond Williams's (1977, 1985) work and was further developed by Jean and John Comaroff (1985, 1991). Rarely engaging with Gramsci's own writings and interpreting his work through the lens of Bourdieu, this school addresses almost exclusively Gramsci's conception of hegemony and often stresses its systematic, stable, and naturalized features. The second tradition, at the core of post-colonial studies, is rooted in South Asian historiography, especially the work of Ranajit Guha (1983, 1998) and Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000). Most interested in Gramsci's theorizations of subalternity and the relation between civil and political society, this school is prominently represented in the work of Partha Chatterjee. Finally, the third tradition—much less popular and praised—originated in the writings of William Roseberry (1994) and Gavin Smith (1991). Differently from the previous two, this school stresses Gramsci's role as a political commentator and activist rather than as a social theorist. It also recovers the protean, incomplete, and mercurial nature of Gramsci's analysis, not just in relation to hegemony but also in his analysis of intellectuals and subalterns.

Kate Crehan's 2002 book, Gramsci, Culture, and Anthropology, revived this third tradition and showed her as one of its most authoritative voices. Her new text, Gramsci's Common Sense, marks its highpoint, mixing erudite and careful theoretical analysis with illuminating application of Gramsci's concepts to a study of contemporary social movements. Much like the three traditions, however, Crehan strikingly does not engage, or [End Page 1277] even acknowledge, the long history of Italian anthropological debates with Gramsci and in so doing falls short of her own call for contextual analysis. As a result, the book provides significant insights and tools for English-speaking anthropologists, political commentators, and activists, but regrettably does not bridge them with local engagements of Gramscian analysis.

Besides these limitations, unfortunately common in English anthropological engagements with Gramsci, the text is first and foremost a remarkable exercise of intellectual prowess, one that reveals the usefulness of careful historical and textual engagement for both academic and political analysis—notwithstanding the fallacious nature of this distinction. Addressing this double audience, Gramsci's Common Sense is divided in two parts. In the first, the author maps out the landscape of Gramsci's thought, in particular the concepts of subalternity, intellectuals, and common sense. In the second, she addresses the contemporary relevance of these concepts through an analysis of Adam Smith as a bourgeois organic intellectual and of the American Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street in relation to an ongoing struggle over the definition of common sense in the United States.

In the first part of the book, Crehan provides one of the most comprehensive and thorough analyses of Gramsci's thought available in English. As in her previous book, she never forgets—as many others have done—that hegemony and power for Gramsci are always moored to questions of inequality, class, and political–economic relations, as well as to specific and contextual political projects. Her analysis manages to provide an accessible introduction to the Italian theorist while acknowledging and rendering the fragmented and tentative nature of his writings, his voracious curiosity, and his continuous dialogue with other contemporary commentators, thinkers, and political activists. Recovering fragments of these conversations and redeeming Gramsci from the clutches of simplistic readings, Crehan does an enormous service to anthropological theory.

In the first three chapters, Crehan analyzes the concepts of subaltern, intellectuals, and common sense, and, in Gramscian tradition, reveals their subtleties by juxtaposing them to other dominant interpretations. In Chapter 1, she opposes Gramsci's conception of subalternity to Spivak's and Scott's readings (Spivak 1988, Scott 1990) and stresses the collective and knowledge-producing nature of the subalterns for the Italian theorist. In Chapter 2, she defends the centrality of Gramsci's conception of organic intellectuals, themselves the product of class relations and...