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MC51006B Key Debates in Media Studies
Week 4 Ideology

Introduction
•  What does it mean to describe something as ‘ideological’? •  Can this help us to understand media power and effects?

Defining ‘ideology’
•  ‘No one has yet come up with a single adequate definition of ideology’ (Eagleton 1991: 1) •  ‘The term ‘ideology’ has a whole range of useful meanings, not all of which are compatible with each other’ (Eagleton 1991: 1)

Destutt de Tracy 1754-1836

Defining ‘ideology’
•  A set of ideas or beliefs? •  Not usually a single idea or thought, but a system of ideas •  Ideas that have some coherence or underlying rationale?

Defining ‘ideology’
•  Can be used in a neutral way •  E.g. ‘a body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class’ (Eagleton 1991: 2) •  But it is more often used pejoratively? •  Can imply ‘distorted’ thinking

Ideology and power
•  Not just random ideas, but ideas that have effects •  Ideologies are seen as conflicting •  Ideology as a site of struggle, e.g. a ‘clash of ideologies’ (clash of civilizations?) •  Ideology as the attempt to impose a set of beliefs on others?

Georg Hegel 1770-1831

How is ideology supposed to work?

•  For many early philosophers (e.g. Hegel), ideas shaped reality •  Ideas come first, and reality follows on •  Marx’s innovation was to turn this formulation on its head…

Karl Marx 1818-1883

Ideology and economic power
•  Material reality, and specifically economic reality, shapes ideas, NOT the other way around •  Our social and economic position determines the beliefs and ideas we are likely to hold?

Ideology and economic power
•  ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control… over the means of mental production’ Marx, The German Ideology (1845: 176).

Ideology and economic power
•  ‘The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness and therefore think… Insofar as they rule as a class… [they] rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age’ Marx, The German Ideology (1845: 176).

Ideology and false consciousness

•  Concept of ‘ruling ideas’: people encouraged to see the world from perspective of ruling class interests? •  Working class suffers a kind of ‘false consciousness’?

Antonio Gramsci 1891-1937

Ideology, culture and struggle
•  Gramsci: ideological battles are not ‘won’ or ‘lost’ - there is a constant struggle •  Temporary moments of stability, when those who are subject to dominant powers ‘consent’ to a particular set-up •  Role of ‘common sense’ in this

Ideology, culture and struggle
•  But this ‘hegemony’ (temporary stability/ consent) may be challenged by ‘counterhegemonic’ practices •  An influential perspective, taken up by many Cultural Studies and Media theorists? •  Popular culture as a site of constant struggle

Ideology and class interests
•  ‘A dominant power may legitimate itself by promoting beliefs and values congenial to it; naturalizing and universalizing such beliefs so as to render them self-evident… denigrating ideas which might challenge it; excluding rival forms of thought… and obscuring social reality in ways convenient to itself. Such mystification… frequently takes the form of masking or suppressing social conflicts’ (Eagleton 1991: 5-6)

Louis Althusser 1918-1990

Althusser on ideology
•  Ideology not just words and ‘representations’ •  It is a ‘lived relation’, a way of organizing daily life •  ‘Ideological State Apparatuses’ (ISAs), e.g. schools, the nuclear family, churches •  These ‘hail’ or ‘interpellate’ us, causing us to see ourselves in a particular way •  Ideology is something we live and experience

Ideological...
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