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The Limits of Sociological Marxism?

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AbstractWithin the agenda of historical-materialist theory and practice Sociological Marxism has delivered a compelling perspective on how to explore and link the analysis of civil society, the state, and the economy within an explicit focus on class exploitation, emancipation, and rich ethnography. This article situates a major analysis of state formation, the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the growth of a broader Islamist movement in Turkey within the main current of Sociological Marxism. It does so in order to critically examine the rather bold revision of the theory of hegemony at the heart of Cihan Tuğal’s Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism, which posits the separate interaction of political society, civil society and the state in theorising hegemonic politics in Turkey. My contention is that the revision of hegemony that this analysis offers and its state-theoretical commitments are deeply problematic due to the reliance on what I term ‘ontological exteriority’, meaning the treatment of state, civil society and the economy as always-already separate spheres. The focus of the critique then moves toward highlighting a frustrating lack of direct engagement with Antonio Gramsci’s writings in this disquisition on hegemony and passive revolution, which has important political consequences. While praise for certain aspects of ethnographic and spatial analysis is raised, it is argued that any account of the reordering of hegemony and the restructuring of spatial-temporal contexts of capital accumulation through conditions of passive revolution also needs to draw from a more sophisticated state theory, a direct reading of Gramsci, and broader scalar analysis of spatial relations and uneven development under capitalism.

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