Research Blog 7

When thinking about theorists who relate to my case study, Raymond Williams’s discussion of hegemony and resistance first came to mind. In his “Base and superstructure in Marxist cultural theory,” Williams reflects on Gramsci’s work related to hegemony. He states, “we have to emphasize that hegemony is not singular; indeed that its own internal structures are highly complex, and have continually to be renewed, recreated and defended; and by that same token, that they can be continually challenged and in certain respects modified” (135). In other words, hegemony requires constant maintenance by the dominant class or ideology. As a result, there is potential to challenge hegemonic structures because of this weakness. Applying this concept to my case study, the languages of English and Kiswahili serve as hegemonic structures. English was used during British colonial rule to reinforce native inferiority and British dominance. Despite Kenya’s independence in 1963, the Kenyan government has continued to maintain this English hegemony by declaring it the official language of the government. In addition, the education system within Nairobi in particular reflects Williams’s statement that educational institutions work to reproduce hegemony. The Kenyan education system reinforces English hegemony, as all classes in Nairobi schools, besides Kiswahili language class, are taught in English. While English is privileged over Kiswahili, in some cases Kiswahili is reinforced as hegemonic to discourage the use of ethnic languages. As a result, Williams would view Sheng as a form of resistance, likely categorized as alternative and emergent. I believe Sheng is alternative because it is not attempting to reject the use of English or Kiswahili altogether. In fact, embedded in Sheng are both of these languages. Despite Sheng’s incorporation of languages that have long been in use, such as English, Kiswahili, Agikuyu, Luo, and other ethnic languages, I believe it is emergent. This is because these languages have never been used in this manner before, and as a result, Sheng has posed a recent threat to proponents of “proper” English and Kiswahili use.

Williams, Raymond. “Base and superstructure in Marxist cultural theory.” New left review 82 (1973): 3.


Hannah Markey

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