To support your privacy rights we have updated our Privacy Statement and Cookie Policy to describe our use and sharing of cookies with our social media, advertising & analytics partners. We recommend that you review the privacy statement here, and follow the instructions to modify your cookie settings to suit your privacy preferences. Continued use of our site confirms your choice to accept our privacy statement & cookie policy and confirms your agreement to the processing of your personal data in line with our policy and your preferences. Read Cookie Policy.


Subvert and Survive: Soft Power and Popular Resistance at the Transcultural Edges of Hegemony

Harry Browne

External Examiner: Professor Natalie Fenton, University of Westminster, UK
Date Awarded: 2017
Harry Browne SEPR graduated thesis 2017


This thesis, in three parts, documents and conceptualises a range of political and cultural activities that either sustain or challenge existing structures of power. It seeks to answer the question: how can we conjoin a Gramscian theoretical framework and the insights of transculturalism to understand and investigate practices of dominance and resistance operating in close cultural and ideological proximity to those they oppose? Drawing upon an understanding that a successful hegemonic discourse, one that earns consent and minimises conflict, must in some sense contain, and thus control, its own opposite, Part 1 of the thesis – divided into three chapters, constituting an overarching critical discussion – elaborates a theoretical framework that is transcultural, a view of culture deeply embedded in politics and resistant to the limits of national boundaries and essentialisms; that understands hegemony both as an account of bourgeois power and a programme for a praxis of popular resistance; and that seeks to develop a politically useful spatial metaphor, or set of metaphors, for locating a set of events and encounters in the hegemonic borderlands. In Part 2, the thesis examines a series of hegemonic ‘soft power’ institutions and actors that achieve success, it is argued, through their adoption of discourses that speak of social justice and responsibility; in Part 3, it examines a set of resistance practices that work in the popular sphere, close to the institutions that they challenge. The previously published chapters in Parts 2 and 3 each address a distinct topic. In Part 2, where the critique of allegedly neutral and liberal institutions is developed, the subject matter includes the following: foundations offering financial support for journalistic work; Ireland’s main elite newspaper, the Irish Times; the role of media in Ireland’s property and financial crisis; media treatment of anti-war groups; European fisheries policy; racial profiling within the Irish immigration regime; and finally Bono, the celebrity humanitarian. In Part 3, a diverse set of resistance practices from the distant and recent past is documented and analysed: Bruce Springsteen’s work since 2005; an Irish-Chartist newspaper published in Leeds in the 1840s; theatrical and cinematic interpretations of Jim Gralton, an Irish socialist activist of the 1930s; direct action against US military aircraft at Shannon Airport; solidarity actions with the Welsh mother and family of Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning; a visit to Gaza with a group of Irish activists; and efforts to tell migrant stories in Ireland in the sphere of popular publishing and media. The thesis proposes that the Deleuzian concept of ‘the line of flight’ and transculturalism’s emphasis on contact zones are analytical tools for developing a renewed understanding of Gramscian hegemony. ‘War of position’, it is argued, is not static but is, rather, a contest over the orientation and delineation of variable and transversal boundaries. The thesis thus offers itself as a purposefully diverse, transdisciplinary body of research practice that exemplifies how such borderlands can be critically explored.