Political Sense and Sensibility

Gramsci to Bourdieu
  • Patrick McGee


In many ways, the idea for this project comes from the forty-eighth note in Antonio Gramsci’s third prison notebook, which was written in 1930.1 Under the heading “Spontaneity and Conscious Leadership,” eventually the note was published in a collection of notes titled The Modern Prince.2 In it, Gramsci associates spontaneity with feeling shaped by common sense, and he attributes such feeling to the masses. Feeling is spontaneous only in the sense that it has not been produced by a systematic educational process and does not express itself through a specialized language. Gramsci defines common sense as the popular understanding of the world, though he insists that such an understanding should not be confused with a concept like instinct. In this note, Gramsci poses the question of whether theory and common sense are in opposition to one another. By implication, though he never formulates the problem in exactly these terms, he poses the same question about the relation between abstract meaning and feeling, or between sense and sensibility. He understands the spontaneous feelings of the masses to be the direct expression of common sense, but since no feeling can be known or communicated without the use of language (or without some kind of verbal or physical gesture, which is its own kind of language), then the real distinction here must be between a use of language that is specialized and abstract and a use of language that is ordinary and saturated with feeling.


Common Sense Cultural Capital Good Sense Ordinary Language Academic Field 
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© Patrick McGee 2009

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  • Patrick McGee

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