Maslow is dead. Long live Gramsci. Oh, he’s dead too. In the literal sense. But he’s going to become a lot more well-known thanks to a new President Obama and savvy marketers searching for social media models.

Who? Antonio Gramsci, a Socialist – Marxist scholar who proposed that capitalism maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion, but also ideologically through a hegemonic culture.

A What? Hegemony means that a diverse culture can be ruled or dominated by one group or class, that everyday practices and shared beliefs provide the foundation for complex systems of domination.

In a hegemonic culture, according to Gramsci, the values of the bourgeoisie become the defacto values of the society. For example, in last century the rise of traditional media in America has been dominated by college-educated liberal arts majors whose perspective of life is very different than, say the working class (in Gramsci’s Marxist terms). Yet, his theory goes that the working-class will define their own values, ignoring the bourgeoisie thus evolving American society into a consensus culture where the murky middle reigns.

Nowhere is the murky middle more evident than during elections. Obama won the clear majority of electoral votes (364) yet he only managed slightly more than half the popular vote (53%). Or, his brand did not convince 46% of Americans. We arrived at a consensus, driven by the aforementioned traditional media rather than voting for someone who we individually felt represented us.

Maslow’s sharp focus on individual needs worked for the ‘me’ generation of 20th century Americans who, for the most part, had grown up in a world where their basic needs (food, water, shelter) had been met but their ‘self-esteem’ needs of belonging, recognition and appreciation could be manipulated by marketers and exploited by HR departments.

Gramsci’s philosophy works better than Maslow for understanding the intrinsic motivations for the Millenial Generation, formerly known as Gen Y. Community-minded, they love to collaborate and are using social media to blur the boundaries between work and play.  With 80 million Millenials out there, most with Twitter accounts, Facebook, Flickr, iphones and IM, they are (re)creating our culture, political legacy and values.

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