Gramsci alert!

This one is going out to all the Gramsci fans out there — I’ve never been a fan, or even understood the appeal of — this thinker, but nevertheless I am teaching him soon in my graduate theory class. SO… if you have to assign people 75 pages of Gramsci (or Raymond William, since most of what people think of as ‘Gramsci’ is ‘Raymond Williams interpreting Gramsci’) what would it be? This is really out of my speciality.



Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at

17 thoughts on “Gramsci alert!

  1. It’s hard to find a text of Gramsci’s in my experience, because so much of it is hobbled together by later editors. A piece I found useful in grad school and which has a bunch of the key ideas (e.g., common sense, gradations of intellectual labor, etc.) but is refracted through an editor/interpreter is:

    John Fulton, “Religion and Politics in Gramsci: An Introduction” Sociological Analysis 48:3 (1987), 197-216.

    Good luck!

  2. Just teach Williams’ _Marxism and Literature_. It’s short and it’s a helluva lot easier to understand than Gramsci’s notebooks.

  3. Gramsci’s “The Modern Prince” is an excellent essay/work, a Machiavellia-inspired analysis of the state, hegemony, and the intelligentsia. See the edition “The Modern Prince and Other Writings,” which includes his well-known “The Southern Question,” on poverty and ‘the South’.

  4. I don’t much care for William’s take on Gramsci. I think Mutually occluded’s suggestion of the Modern Prince collection (especially the Southern Question) is a good one. Its very hard to pick just a few pages of Gramsci since his prison notebooks are so scattered. Also, it serves the purpose of emphasizing the political-historical grounding of Gramsci which I think gets lost in Williams emphasis on “culture.”

    The introductions to each section of “Selections from the Prison Notebook” do a solid job and are worth assigning as if they were a single article (together with the book intro).

    My favorite secondary source on Gramsci is:

    Salamini, Leonardo. 1981. The Sociology of Political Praxis. London, UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

    I think this is the single best general introduction to Gramsci that I’ve read. Very readable too.

    If you had more time I’d also recommend:

    Ives, Peter. 2004. Gramsci’s Politics of Language: Engaging the Bakhtin Circle and the Frankfurt School. Toronto: Univ of Toronto Press.

    I’m writing a piece about this book at the very moment…

    And this one might also be appropriate for your class:

    Crehan, Kate. 2002. Gramsci, Culture and Anthropology. University of California Press.

  5. From the title of the post, I originally thought you were alerting people to the fact that huge chunks of Gramsci’s writings have been pulled from the internet. From

    “All the texts listed below have been published with the kind permission of the translator/copyright holder. However, Lawrence & Wishart, who have published collections of translations by Quintin Hoare, the most prolific Gramsci translator, claim that Hoare gave the MIA permission in contravention of his contract with them, and consequently, in January 2008, Lawrence & Wishart requested the M.I.A. to withdraw the Hoare translations. The Marxists Internet Archive always strives to work in a spirit of cooperation with publishers, so as a result, only those translations done by Mitchell Abidor and M Carley under the Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) licence, for are provided below.”

  6. The Kate Crehan volume (mentioned in Kerim’s post above) is the only commentator I’ve read on Gramsci. It’s been a while, but I remember it being an approachable text. She has quite a lot on critiquing Williams, who she argues has bequeathed an easily grasped but not very nuanced anthropological idea of Gramsci which she refers to as “Gramsci-Lite”. It might work as a contrast – extract from Williams, counter extract from Crehan etc?

  7. I would go with Stuart Hall as a model for what it might look like. Also I’ve been using a piece by Tony Bennett:

    Bennett, Tony (1981.) Antonio Gramsci. In Culture, Ideology and Social Process: A Reader. Tony Bennett, Graham Martin, Colin Mercer, and Janet Woollacott, eds. Pp. 191-218. London: Batsford.

  8. So basically while Gramsci has inspired others, his own work is more or less indigestible, and those inspired by him pretty much take liberties with his thought?

  9. Not at all Rex. If you take the time to read the best Gramsci analysis you will find broad consensus about much of what he had to say, although the nature of the publication of his work into English has been an inhibiting factor. However it is true that it is hard to select 75 pages which distills his thought – but I think that is true of most important thinkers. In fact, I’d argue that there is probably more agreement as to the general thrust of Gramsci’s argument than there is for other thinkers, such as Freud, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, etc.

  10. “it is true that it is hard to select 75 pages which distills his thought – but I think that is true of most important thinkers.”

    *cough* communist manifesto *cough* politics as a vocation *cough*… it seems to me that Marx, Durkheim, and Weber each consciously produced 75 page works designed to do exactly that, or at least try to approximate the complexity of their arguments in about that amount of space.

    It sounds like Gramsci suffers from a bit of what O’Farrell says Foucault suffers from — there is quite a bit of difference between the historical reception and use of Gramsci by scholars, on the one hand, and the technical historical literature on Gramsci on the other? I think it is telling that Gramsci is a theorist who, like Palm Olive, you must soak in, while simultaneously it sounds like the vast majority of ‘Gramsci-inspired’ work that scholars do is actually ‘Gramsci as filtered through this or that secondary source’. But whatever — I’m not particularly sympathetic to his work and perhaps that is what is coming through here…

  11. I personally think the Communist Manifesto is a horrible choice for teaching Marx… although perhaps the section in Capital on commodity fetishism might pass muster.

  12. Or the first big chunk of German Ideology. The point is just that you can give someone a reasonable overview of Marx as a thinker by having them actually READ MARX, which appears not to be true of Gramsci.

  13. Yeah, but that’s hardly his fault, is it? Dude was in prison or dying or dead between 35 and 46.

  14. Rex, you might take a look at Selections from Cultural Writings. will let you peek at the table of contents.

    It’s true Gramsci never wrote anything self-contained and pithy like the Manifesto or Politics as a Vocation, but everyone knows you’re not even in the game with Marx until you’ve read the 18th Brumaire, the Grundrisse, and at least vol. 1 of Capital (not to mention Hegel’s Logic, if you listen to Lenin). And what kind of Weber is it without Science as a Vocation, Protestant Ethic or Economy and Society? Eh.

    Gramsci was a journalist, so there’s a lot of local daily crap with gold nuggets here and there. Then he was a party guy and pretty busy with party stuff. Then the Fascists sent him to prison and he got a chance to write about everything he always wanted to write about, but he got sick and died and never had a chance to pull it all together. Plus he was at heart a pretty good ethnographer so a lot of what he wrote is actually really minute observations of apparent trivia with only rare and brief but brilliant excursions into conceptual linkage and generalization.

    The Cultural Writings are good because they’d show your students him doing this, and it’s a good thing for them to learn how to do; and it’s not obviously bogged down with a lot of the communist politics that are so remote to them. Yet they’re really about the microphysics of cultural power, of course, aka hegemony.

    If you want to tie in with the subaltern studies line you could always use The Southern Question, which is mostly completed, pretty brief, and comes in a nicely edited standalone volume.

  15. Come to think of it, it might be helpful to us to know why you’re unsympathetic to Gramsci given that you admit having little exposure to his thought. What “Gramsci” is that, then? If you can’t fix this about yourself, would it be possible to not poison your students on him with your seal of disapproval? Or maybe best just to leave him off the syllabus? I’m just sayin’.

  16. We read Crehan’s book, and parts of the prison diaries for my MA theory class (as well as some Williams). I thought Crehan’s book was really excellent at interpreting his work, it had lots of primary source examples as well. Crehan really brought it alive for me, and I had no formal background in marxist thought.

  17. I would teach Gramsci with reference to ‘New Times’ which was a Marxism Today project from October 1988 – – which will show the complexity of Gramscis’s view in the hands of modern readers. You can then dip in through the Note Books, Cultural Writings and the Little Prince as you take a look at ‘eopochal’ shift in the world, its politics etc.

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