Essay Preview: Ideology
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Initially, the term ideology meant the study of ideas, but the term soon came to acquire negative overtones. Ideology in its modern sense means not the study of ideas, but rather a set of ideas, beliefs and values about the way that the social world works, and also about the way the world should work. We therefore might expect the term ideology to be fairly neutral. However the term is generally used with negative connotations. Ideology is seen as negative and susceptible of critical analysis. It is seen as illusory, in particular as it serves to conceal the class divisions in society. Ideology therefore serves to maintain relations of domination. In Marxs own writings, this was conceived of almost exclusively as conflict between social classes. In later writings, the investigation of domination was often extended to include relations of domination between the sexes, ethnic groups, and dominant and subordinate nations e.t.c. From the idea that ideology serves the interests of one social class in dominating another, it follows that the Marxist concept of ideology is not neutral and Marxist critics often talk about the dominant ideology.
Not all conceptions of ideology necessarily construe ideologies as negative or illusory. Lenin, for example, had a fairly neutral conception of ideology; proletarian ideology was not illusory and was an important positive weapon in the proletariats struggle against the bourgeoisie.
Alternatively, Mannheim conceived of ideology as a sort of sociology of knowledge, which would involve the study of systems of thought and ideas in relation to the socio-historical context within which they are situated.
Summarizing, the Marxist conception is that there is a dominant ideology which is established and mobilized by the dominant class to establish and maintain relations of domination between itself and subordinate classes.