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Andrew Carnegie and the Discourse of Cultural Hegemony

  • Alun Munslow (a1)

Can cultural change be explained as a function of discourse? A discourse is any language territory, whether a mode of thinking, talking or writing, which presupposes shared assumptions between its producer and consumer. This means that the relationship between language and ideology is dependent upon the nature of a particular discourse. This paper offers comments on this question with reference to the formation of the post-bellum American business culture and its ideology by examining the written works of one of its leading exponents, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Working from the assumption that this business culture was serving the interests of a new ruling group at the expense of subordinate Populist-Producer ones, does an evaluation of the business-man's discourse reveal how it helped create that ideological domination? Both Hayden White and Michel Foucault have claimed that culture can be explored by reference to the primary figurative modes of discourse, particularly the tropes of metonymy and synecdoche. Basic to this rhetorical approach to cultural formation is its assumption that ideology is a function of discourse, even though White, the most devoted practitioner of the theory of the poetic foundation of cultural practices, recognises Foucault's insight that discourse resides in the world and is bound up with property ownership, power and the imposition of force. Assuming that power is embedded in a dominant social formation, business spokesmen like Carnegie, working to maintain the authority of a particular class, did so through a range of discursive cultural practices that contended with others for dominance. In the Gramscian model of cultural change Andrew Carnegie was an organic intellectual in as much as he functioned according to the interests of the new fundamental class of the wealthy industrial bourgeoisie.

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David Montgomery , The Fall of the House of Labor: The Workplace, the State, and American Labor Activism, 1865–1965 (New York, 1987)

T. J.Jackson Lears , “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities,” The American Historical Review, 90, 3 (06, 1985), 569–70

Richard J. Ellis and Alun Munslow , “Narrative, Myth and the Turner Thesis,” Journal of American Culture, 9, 2, (1986), 926.

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Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
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