Brief Overview

An ideology is a set of beliefs, aims and ideas, especially in politics. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things, as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies, or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society. The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer change in society through a normative thought process. Ideologies are systems of abstract thought (as opposed to mere ideation) applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought.

Formal Definition

According to Bob Hodge's article in the Semiotic Encyclopedia Online, Ideology "identifies a unitary object that incorporates complex sets of meanings with the social agents and processes that produced them. No other term captures this object as well as ‘ideology’

Detailed Description

Karl Marx proposed an economic base/superstructure model of society. The base refers to the means of production of society. The superstructure is formed on top of the base, and comprises that society's ideology, as well as its legal system, political system, and religions. For Marx, the base determines the superstructure. Because the ruling class controls the society's means of production, the superstructure of society, including its ideology, will be determined according to what is in the ruling class's best interests. Therefore the ideology of a society is of enormous importance since it confuses the alienated groups and can create 'false consciousness' such as the fetishism of commodities. Critics of the Marxist approach feel that it attributes too much importance to economic factors in influencing society. The ideologies of the dominant class of a society (dominant ideology) are proposed to all members of that society in order to make the ruling class' interests appear to be the interests of all. György Lukács describes this as a projection of the class consciousness of the ruling class, while Antonio Gramsci advances the theory of cultural hegemony to explain why people in the working-class can have a false conception of their own interests. The dominant forms of ideology in capitalism are (in chronological order): -classical liberalism -modern liberalism -social democracy -neo-liberalism and they correspond to the stages of development of capitalism: -extensive stage -intensive stage -contemporary capitalism (or late capitalism, or current crisis) The Marxist view of ideology as an instrument of social reproduction has been an important touchstone for the sociology of knowledge and theorists such as Karl Mannheim, Daniel Bell, and Jürgen Habermas, amongst many others. However, Mannheim attempted to move beyond what he saw as the 'total' but 'special' Marxist conception of ideology to a 'general' and 'total' conception which acknowledged that all ideologies resulted from social life (including Marxism). Pierre Bourdieu extensively developed this idea.

Recommended Reading

Eagleton, Terry (1991) Ideology. An introduction, Verso

Hawkes, David (2003) Ideology (2nd ed.), Routledge,

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