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Neo-Gramscianism applies a critical theory approach to the study of International Relations (IR) and the Global Political Economy (GPE) that explores the interface of ideas, institutions and material capabilities as they shape the specific contours of the state formation. The theory is heavily influenced by the writings of Antonio Gramsci.

Neo-Gramscianism analyzes how the particular constellation of social forces, the state and the dominant ideational configuration define and sustain world orders. In this sense, the neo-gramscian approach breaks the decades-old stalemate between the so-called realist schools of thought, and the liberal theories by historicizing the very theoretical foundations of the two streams as part of a particular world order, and finding the interlocking relationship between agency and structure. Furthermore, Karl Polanyi, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Niccolò Machiavelli, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno and Michel Foucault are cited as major sources within the Critical theory of International Relations.

Origins of the neo-gramscian perspective

The beginning of the neo-gramscian perspective can be traced to York Universitymarker professor emeritus, Robert W. Cox's article "Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory", in Millennium 10 (1981) 2, and "Gramsci, Hegemony and International Relations: An Essay in Method", published in Millennium 12 (1983) 2. In his 1981 article, Cox demands a critical study of IR, as opposed to the usual "problem-solving" theories, which do not interrogate the origin, nature and development of historical structures, but accept for example that states and the (supposedly) "anarchic" relationships between them as Kantian Dinge an sich.

However Cox disavows the label Neo-Gramscian despite the fact that in a follow-up article, he showed how Gramsci's thought can be used to analyze power structures within the GPE. Particularly Gramsci's concept of hegemony, vastly different from the realists' conception of hegemony, appears fruitful. Gramsci's state theory, his conception of "historic blocs" – dominant configurations of material capabilities, ideologies and institutions as determining frames for individual and collective action – and of élites acting as "organic intellectuals" forging historic blocs, is also deemed useful.

The Neo-Gramscian approach has also been developed along somewhat different lines by Cox's colleague, Stephen Gill, distinguished research professor of political science at York Universitymarker in Torontomarker. Gill contributed to showing how the elite Trilateral Commission acted as an "organic intellectual", forging the (currently hegemonic) ideology of neoliberalism and the so-called "Washington Consensus" and later in relation to the globalization of power and resistance in his book "Power and Resistance in the New World Order" (Palgrave 2003). Outside of North America, the so-called "Amsterdam School" around Kees Van Der Pijl and Henk Overbeek (at Free University of Amsterdammarker) and individual researchers in Germanymarker, notably in Düsseldorfmarker, Kasselmarker and Marburgmarker as well as at the Centre for Global Political Economy at the University of Sussexmarker in the UK, and other parts of the world, have adopted the neo-Gramscian critical method.

Basics of the neo-Gramscian perspective

Theoretical Approach

In the mainstream approaches to international or global political economy the ontological centrality of the state is not in question. In contrast, Neo-Gramscianism, using an approach which Henk Overbeek calls transnational historical materialism, "identifies state formation and interstate politics as moments of the transnational dynamics of capital accumulation and class formation". It contrasts with the positivism and social constructivist approaches of mainstream perspectives through "a rejection of the separation between subject and object... and the adoption of a dialectic understanding of reality as a dynamic totality and as a unity of opposites."


The neo-Gramscian view of hegemony is distinct from the realist view of hegemony. Realists view hegemony as the "predominant power of a state (or a group of states)." Gramscians look at hegemony in terms of class relations. A class is considered hegemonic if it has legitimized its dominance through institutions and concessions. When a class has established dominance in this way, as well as in the formal political structural of a state, then it constitutes a historic bloc. Neo-Gramscians argue that, because of globalisation, a neoliberal transnational historic bloc exists or is coming into existence.


A counterhegemony refers to an alternate normative interpretation of the functioning of social, economic, and political institutions. If a counterhegemony grows large enough it is able to subsume and replace the historic bloc it was born in. Neo-Gramscians use the Machiavellian terms war of position and war of movement to explain how this is possible. In a war of position a counterhegemonic movement attempts, through persuasion or propaganda, to increase the number of people who share its view on the hegemonic order; in a war of movement the counterhegemonic tendencies which have grown large enough overthrow, violently or democratically, the current hegemony and establish themselves as a new historic bloc.


Neo-Gramscian analysis has been criticized on a number of grounds. Some argue that neo-Gramscians, like other Marxists, put so much emphasis on the failings of capitalism (being the current hegemonic order) that they fail to see the problems with alternative systems.


  1. [Henk Overbeek, Transnational Historical Materialism in Global Political Economy: Contemporary Theories (ed. Ronan Palan), Routledge: 2000, pg. 168-9.]
  2. [Henk Overbeek, Transnational Historical Materialism in Global Political Economy: Contemporary Theories (ed. Ronan Palan), Routledge: 2000, pg. 168-9.]
  3. [Theodore H. Cohen, Global Political Economy: Theory and Practice, Pearson: 2005, pg. 130-131.]
  4. [Theodore H. Cohen, Global Political Economy: Theory and Practice, Pearson: 2005, pg. 131.]

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