“Playing the edge ball at the Ping Pong Table”: Ideological Work Under Hegemonic Power
Ideology, a coherent set of dominant ideas that manifest field’s power relations, is particularly resistant to change. We use a historical case study— the Ford Foundation’s grantmaking in China promoting human rights-based change (1979-2013)—to examine how organizations advance an alternative ideology despite elites’ hegemonic power. Contexts such as the party-state of China illustrate how elites maintain dominance through coercive and ideological control—key components of hegemonic power. We show that Ford promoted human rights via a path of mutual co-optation with Chinese elites, and the process of advancing the alternative ideology through mutual co-optation involved “playing the edge ball”: cultivating a privileged space inside the party-state (which enabled the play), empowering sub-elite actors (which prepared actors for the play), and resourcing sub-elites’ embeddedness in the party-state (through which the edge ball was played across issue domains). We contribute to new institutional theory by developing a theorized account of when and how the alternative ideology can be advanced under hegemonic power (without revolution or regime change). Especially we highlight the role of sub-elite actors in eroding hegemonic power, and we discuss the intended and unintended consequences of making change from a “privileged space” and through mutual co-optation.