By Halili Hasan from Indonesia

August 7, 2015

Amidst the very confusing contextual developments of democracy and social change in various parts of the world, it is necessary to develop a critical response, in particular, towards established opinions, thoughts, ideas, and even social and political systems. Moreover, democracy and social change hold some contradictions, ambiguities, paradoxes and double-standards. In this context, some experts offer sharp analytical tools to respond to the advancement of social change and democracy, and to challenge the threats in the public arena as well. 

A very challenging issue in terms of the social arena is hegemony, a situation in which one group is dominated by another, with or without tools of violence. The ideas which are dictated by the dominant group towards the dominated group would be perceived as normal in a moral, intellectual, and cultural sense (Dominic Strinati, 1995). In that way, the control and domination is exercised not in the form of violence, but instead, seemingly by means of agreement of society who are captured, either consciously or not. According to Gramsci (1971), hegemony works in two phases, domination and direction. In his view, domination is performed through tools of power, for example, schools, media, capital, and state institutions. In dominated circumstances, society will be directed to conform to the power of the ruling class. Opposing, or even contending the dominant class would be regarded as abuse in term of morality or labelled as  ignorance within society, and at times also muffled by utilizing tools of violence.

In a theoretical context, the balance of such utilization of power is challenged by counter hegemony. We need to theorize beyond the idea of a monolithic public sphere and recognize the existence of counter publics as sites where critical oppositional discourses are developed (Palczewski, 2001). While Gramsci offered theoretical means of understanding counter hegemony through the role of the intellectuals— by means of re-engineering educational institutions, Palczewski (2001) and Todd F. McDorman (2001) analyze the “counter-hegemonic”  through more contextual movements in the realms of technological advancements and social change. Hence  counter hegemony would convert to the form of cyber movement, virtual movement, and virtual counter publics or what is called the New Social Movement. These movements turn to several issues, i.e. anti-globalization, anti-capitalism, pro-LGBT, anti-infrastructure construction, anti-development, etc.

These rich insights were elaborated comprehensively by Ram Kakarala, Professor of Politics from Azim Premji University, India, on the 10th day/ class of Democracy and Social Change.  During his lecture, Ram used quite distinctive methods compared to  other lecturers of democracy and politics in the broader field of study. He avoided “what” questions and “right” methods. He attempted hard to understand “useful ways” of linking democracy and social change, and asked us what “universal values” in a diverse world mean? As a professor of politics, Ram approached democracy and social change from the perspective of what he called the “pluralism effect”, and by asking  “why” and “how” questions as a way to construct genealogies, and also by understanding “methods” and “means” as opposed to the history, sociology and politics.

The process of attaining the objectives of the lecture was carried out by a lot of reflection about issues of democracy and social change, also through movie screenings, of a movie with a very complicated plot and story line and also a very dark shade movie. The participants enjoyed and discussed the movies, i.e. “Ahayla” and “Haider”. The movies encouraged the participants to connect democracy and social change to pluralism by means of a critical approach and linking it to counter hegemony.


Halili Hasan is associate researcher of the SETARA Institute in Jakarta, Indonesia and lecturer of human rights education in Law and Citizenship Education Department, Faculty of Social Sciences, Yogyakarta State University. Halili is Madurese currently living in Yogyakarta, a most outstanding city of education and culture in Indonesia.