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MC51006B Key Debates in Media Studies
Week 4 Ideology

•  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...
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