“Assume the position”! Of Gramsci, “transitions” and how someday our modern prince may come (but too late)

tl:dr – Two academics have written a good “here’s how Tony Gramsci can fill in some of the major gaps in the MLP and maybe make it useful” article. On the downside, it’s probably only particularly accessible to folks who know their Gramscia and their sustainability transitions stuff.

The article is called

“Regime resistance and accommodation: Toward a neo-Gramscian perspective on energy transitions” and here’s a screengrab with the abstract (the bit at the top of most academic articles – acts as a summary/”should I bother reading this” kinda thing.

So, let’s tabloidise that.

Transition scholars are increasingly addressing questions of power and politics in their explanations of the direction and form of sustainability transitions.

[We used to think you could get from here to utopia with some policy briefs. Fifteen years later we went, “oh, yeah, capitalism.”]

Drawing on insights from neo-Gramscian scholarship to enhance the conceptualisation of power in sustainability transitions, we develop a theoretical account of how combinations of incumbent actor resistance and accommodation contribute to regime stability and change.

[That Italian Marxist guy Gramsci was a mensch. We channel him to think about how the rich stay rich, conceding here and there on trivial points so they don’t provoke mobs with pitchforks and burning torches too big for their goons to control.]

We use this to understand how incumbent firms and their industry organisations contribute to the (re)production of a socio-technical regime by drawing on material, institutional and discursive forms of power to execute strategies of resistance and accommodation.

[Big businesses and their equivalent of trades unions stay on top with money, capturing the state (buying politicians and policymakers) and propaganda of varying types. The Italian Marxist mensch spotted all this all those years ago.]

This helps embellish understandings not only of the nature of the power of specific incumbent actors tied to a particular regime, but also of the operation of incumbency as a deeper system of power.

[The game is rigged, y’all. The how of that rigging is worth knowing about.]

We apply a neo-Gramscian lens to the multi-level perspective on socio-technical transitions: a lens comprised of multiple interrelated concepts, including hegemony, historical bloc, integral state, war of position, passive revolution and trasformismo, whose contributions we outline in turn.

Hegemony – [weaponised “common sense” so people don’t see the water they’re swimming/drowning in.]

Historical bloc –  [those who have got the hegemony on their side]

War of position – [corralling your side to fight the other side.] (but see also Egan 2014 on military metaphors)

Passive revolution – [the hegemonic bastards absorbing critique and critics, assimilating them. See also co-optation.]

Trasformismo – [crippling the proles by bribing and bamboozling future leaders with promises of influence within the rich guys’ tent, and stealing their ideas/concepts and rendering them meaningless.] 

whose contributions we outline in turn.

So, it is a good piece. They point at the end to the fact that they didn’t cover EVERYTHING (common sense/good sense, war of manouevre (though that would be tricky). The major gap – the Modern Prince – who is the actor (or constellation of actors) who can take on the world and win? Who has the intelligence, the stamina, the cunning and the ruthelessness to outfox and slip through the gaps, to splinter the opponents, when always outnumbered, always outgunned? Who indeed.

Climate campaigners need Gramsci, and they need theories of transition/transformation (and also to think about socio-materiality, as well as the socio-technical thing. But no single article can cover everything, obvs.) Two ways in, from popular culture, would be the following

Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, which DOES bring in the military side.

The Wire and D’Angelo and the kings and the pawns

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