Micro-hegemonies (also written as microhegemonies) is a term developed by Jan Blommaert and Piia Varis to describe the multiple sets of norms that govern the details of social life. The term is part of a descriptive vocabulary for analytically addressing the online-offline forms of sociocultural superdiversity we currently witness, and specifically for accounts of identity work in such contexts.
Micro-hegemonies: a background
In a 2011 paper called "Enough is enough: The heuristics of authenticity in superdiversity", Blommaert & Varis developed an empirical approach to contemporary modes of identity work starting from this assumption: "The robust hegemonies that appeared to characterize Modernity have been traded for a blending within one individual life-project of several micro-hegemonies valid in specific segments of life and behavior, and providing the ‘most logical’ solution (or the ‘truth’) within these segments" (2011: 2). The approach rested on a four-point framework outlined as follows (2011: 3-4):
- Identity discourses and practices can be described as discursive orientations towards sets of features that are seen (or can be seen) as emblematic of particular identities. These features can be manifold and include artefacts, styles, forms of language, places, times, forms of art or aesthetics, ideas and so forth.
- To be more precise, we will invariably encounter specific arrangements or configurations of such potentially emblematic features. The features rarely occur as a random or flexible complex; when they appear they are presented (and oriented towards) as ‘essential’ combinations of features that reflect, bestow and emphasize ‘authenticity’.
- We will inevitably encounter different degrees of fluency in enregistering these discursive orientations. Consequently, identity practices will very often include stratified distinctions between ‘experts’ and ‘novices’, ‘teachers’ and ‘learners’, and ‘degrees’ of authenticity. In this respect, we will see an implicit benchmark being applied: ‘enoughness’. One has to ‘have’ enough of the emblematic features in order to be ratified as an authentic member of an identity category.
- Obviously, these processes involve conflict and contestation, especially revolving around ‘enoughness’ (s/he is not enough of X; or too much of X) as well as about the particular configurations of emblematic features (‘in order to be X, you need to have 1,2,3,4 and 5’ versus ‘you can’t be X without having 6, 7, 8, 9’). And given this essentially contested character, these processes are highly dynamic: configurations of features and criteria of enoughness can be adjusted, reinvented, amended.
This approach rejected - or at least substantially qualified - more established and essentialist notions of identity as being singular, robust and stable, and researchable through the application of a closed set of sociological diacritics such as nationality, gender, age category, religion and so forth. Instead, and as a way of investigating the multiple small identity shifts we perform in online-offline contexts, they focused on the actual features deployed by people in social conduct with others. arguing (a) that such features needed to be ordered in particular normative ways, and (b) that not all features of particular identity categories needed to be deployed, but a particular (and again normative) calibration of them - 'enough' features. Too many features can be seen as 'overdoing it', while deploying not enough features can lead to a failure to be recognized.
Micro-hegemonies is the term used for (a) above: the normative ordering of behavioral details valid as identity emblems in particular circumstances.
Usage of micro-hegemonies
The micro-hegemonies framework has proven a useful tool for investigating the identity cultures of specific small and elastic groups and micropopulations, as e.g. in fandom, lifestyle blogging communities and hipsters. It also made its way in scholarly studies on cultural hybridity, replacing older notions in which people were described as being 'caught between different cultures' by a more accurate view in which people navigate between different sets of norms defining identity constructions, depending on the actual contextual configurations in which they find themselves. The latter element is now known as 'chronotopic identity work': the actual identity work we perceive as normatively controlling specific timespace arrangements in which social life is played out.
Observe that the term micro-hegemonies obviously refers to 'hegemony' as developed by Antonio Gramsci. It adopts from Gramsci the insight that 'soft' forms of cultural-normative power are the key to understanding power regimes in modern societies.