Posted by: Johan Normark | January 28, 2011

Žižek on the ideological hegemonies of patriarchy and multiculturalism

In his book Living in the End Times (2010), Slavoj Žižek says that hegemonies often are presented as minority positions. They are defenses against what is considered to be the hegemonic positions. The celebration of minorities and marginals is in fact the predominant majority position. The contemporary focus on minorities and marginals in archaeology, anthropology, etc. takes the form of queer studies, postcolonial theory, etc. Seldom do proponents of these theoretical standpoints reflect on the fact that they are the ones with the predominant majority position at universities.  A biological interpretation of gender relations would be severely criticized for being evidence of a “natural” scientific and ethnocentric interpretation based in a patriarchal hegemony when it is in fact the social constructionists who hold the hegemonic ideology in the social and humanist sciences.

Hence, Žižek points out the leftist cultural theorists who criticize patriarchy for being the hegemonic position, when, in fact, the critique of patriarchal “phallogocentrism” became the focus at the very moment when it lost its hegemonic role. He says that “the critical claim that patriarchal ideology continues to be the hegemonic ideology is the form of the hegemonic ideology of our times” (p 50). Hence, when the Swedish leftist and feminist politician Gudrun Schyman claimed that Sweden has the same patriarchal structure as the Talibans that mainly reflected a her hegemonic ideological position that had very little to do with reality.

Another hegemonic ideology that prevails is that multiculturalism is the hegemony, an idea that the Sweden Democrats utilized in the last Swedish election. Žižek quotes Sara Ahmed who says that “the hegemonic position is that liberal multiculturalism is the hegemony. This is why the current monocultural political agenda functions as a kind of retrospective defense against multiculturalism. The explicit argument of New Labour [The Sweden Democrats in Sweden’s case] is that multiculturalism went “too far”: we gave the other “too much” respect, we celebrated difference “too much,” such that multiculturalism is read as the cause of segregation, riots and even terrorism” (p 49). In fact Ahmed claims that “multiculturalism is a fantasy which conceals forms of racism, violence and inequality” (p 44).  

The beliefs in the hegemonic positions of patriarchy and multiculturalism do not describe the reality of the social relations that we observe. The world is far too complex to single out one hegemonic ideology and even to single out ideology itself as the social glue. I believe a return to materialist and realist issues once again will be beneficial once we escape the bonds of ideology. Hence, I am also of the opinion that the concepts of culture and gender must be destroyed.

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