Ideology

Karl Marx defined ideology as a set of ideas and beliefs that are manipulative and convincing on the surface level, but are not actually true - what he called false consciousness.

Ideology Ideology

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Table of contents

    Does ideology always mean false consciousness?

    • We will discuss the definition of ideology and how different theorists have understood the concept.
    • Then, we will give some examples of ideologies.
    • Finally, we will discuss the difference between religion, ideology, and science.

    The meaning of ideology

    First, let's look at a definition of ideology.

    Ideology usually refers to a set of ideas, values, and a world-view. Ideology can shape the thoughts and actions of individuals and wider society. It has an influence on social structures, economics, and politics.

    What are the functions of ideology?

    Karl Marx created this concept to explain how the ruling class justifies their elite status through the sociocultural beliefs they spread in society. As we mentioned, for Marx, ideology meant a set of ideas and beliefs that seemed true and convincing on the surface but was not actually true - this is what he called false consciousness.

    Since his conception, the term has evolved and changed. Now, it does not have to have a negative connotation.

    Ideology in sociology

    Ideology continues to mean a sense of false consciousness in sociological research. Scholars of the sociology of knowledge, such as Max Weber and Karl Mannheim, used ideology to refer to manipulative, partly true philosophies and sets of beliefs. Their critics often pointed out that, according to their explanations, the sociology of knowledge would constitute an ideology as well.

    Let's look at some of the leading theorists of ideology to explore this idea further.

    Ideology and Karl Marx

    Karl Marx viewed society as being divided into two groups: the oppressor (the ruling class) and the oppressed (the working class).

    According to his concept of the base and superstructure, the lower class is first exploited through its role in generating profits in the modes of production (the base). Then, working-class people are manipulated into thinking that their conditions in society are natural and in their interest. This happens through institutions in the superstructure e.g. education, religion, cultural institutions, and the media.

    It is this ideological illusion that prevents the working class from gaining class consciousness and starting a revolution.

    Ideology, Karl Marx, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Karl Marx argued that ideology created false consciousness.

    Marx's perspective on ideology is also called the dominant ideology thesis.

    Karl Popper was critical of Marx's views on ideology, pointing out that they are impossible to study scientifically. No one can definitively claim that a worker's degree of satisfaction with their circumstances is the result of false consciousness and not other, perhaps more personal factors.

    Ideology and Antonio Gramsci

    Gramsci came up with the concept of cultural hegemony.

    According to this theory, there is always one culture that overpowers all the others in society, becoming the mainstream culture. Gramsci saw ideology as even more manipulative and powerful in terms of creating consciousness than Marx.

    Social and educational institutions spread concepts, values, and beliefs that silence and to a certain extent comfort the lower classes, making them obedient workers in a social system that fully serves the interest of the ruling class.

    Ideology and Karl Mannheim

    Mannheim saw all world-views and belief systems as one-sided, representing the opinions and experiences of only one particular social group or class. He differentiated between two types of belief systems, one he called ideological thought and the other utopian thought.

    Ideological thought refers to the conservative belief system of the ruling classes and privileged groups, while utopian thought refers to the views of the lower classes and underprivileged groups who want social change.

    Mannheim argued that individuals, especially followers of both these belief systems, must be lifted from their social groups. They should work together on issues faced in society by creating a total world-view that kept everybody's interests in mind.

    Gender ideology and feminism

    The dominant ideology thesis is shared by many feminists. Feminist sociologists argue that patriarchal ideology prevents women from taking dominant roles in society, resulting in gender inequality in many areas of life.

    Pauline Marks (1979) recorded that male scientists and doctors justified women's exclusion from education and work by stating that it would be a distraction from, and a potential disadvantage for, women's 'true' vocation - to become mothers.

    Many religions claim that women are inferior to men. For instance, Catholicism blames all women for Eve's sin, and many cultures see menstruation as a sign of female impurity.

    Examples of ideologies

    • The three major political ideologies in contemporary Britain are liberalism, conservatism, and socialism.

    • In the United States, four of the most dominant political ideologies are liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, and populism.

    • Josef Stalin's regime in the 20th century Soviet Union was based on totalitarian ideology.

    Every ideology mentioned has its unique approach to rights and law, duties, and liberties within a society.

    Characteristics of ideologies on the Right:

    • Nationalism
    • Authority
    • Hierarchy
    • Traditionalism

    Characteristics of ideologies on the Left:

    • Freedom
    • Equality
    • Reform
    • Internationalism

    Characteristics of ideologies in the Centre:

    • Centrist ideology highlights the positive points of both Right and Left ideologies and tries to find a midpoint between them. It usually strives to keep the balance between the extremes of the Right and the Left.

    While ideology is often referred to using political terms, it can also represent economic views (such as Keynesianism), philosophical views (such as Positivism), scientific views (such as Darwinism), and so on.

    Ideology and religion are both considered belief systems. Both are concerned with questions of truth and aim to describe the ideal conduct for either individuals or society.

    Ideology, Religious painting, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Religion, like ideology, is a belief system.

    One major difference between ideology and religion is that ideologies do not typically view reality in divine or supernatural terms, nor is ideology typically concerned with the goings-on before birth or after death.

    Individuals belonging to a certain religion may ascribe their views to faith and revelation, while people subscribing to a certain ideology are likely to cite a particular theory or philosophy.

    From a functionalist perspective, ideology is similar to religion, as it provides a lens through which certain groups view the world. It offers individuals with similar beliefs a shared sense of belonging.

    From the Marxist and feminist perspectives, religion itself can be considered ideological because religion supports powerful groups in society. To Marxists, religion creates a false consciousness: the powerful groups in society use it to lead less powerful groups through a deceptive set of beliefs.

    From the feminist perspective, religion and science can both be considered ideological because each has been used to define women as inferior.

    Ideology of religion

    Religion is a set of beliefs. There is no universal definition of religion, but most religious beliefs are faith-based, as opposed to secular or scientific beliefs. Commonly, these beliefs explain the cause and purpose of the universe and include a moral code intended to guide human conduct.

    Check out our explanation of Belief Systems for more information on these topics.

    Sociological theories of religion

    Let's look at an overview of some sociological theories of religion.

    Functionalist theory of religion

    According to functionalism, religion contributes to social solidarity and integration and adds value to people's lives. It helps people cope with stress and gives their lives meaning.

    Marxist theory of religion

    Marxists see religion as a way of maintaining class divisions and oppressing the proletariat. They think it stops people from clearly comprehending their class situations. Marxists think religion serves capitalism in two ways:

    • It allows the ruling class (capitalists) to oppress people.

    • It softens the blow of oppression for the working class.

    Neo-Marxist theory of religion

    This theory proposes that rather than being a conservative force, as Marx claims, religion can be a force for radical social change. Otto Maduro has spearheaded this approach, stating that because most religions are independent of state control, they can be a force for change.

    Feminist theory of religion

    Feminist theorists tend to be critical of religion because of its patriarchal foundations. Simone de Beauvoir argued in the 1950s that religion reinforces gender roles within the household, and traps women in the domestic side of family life.

    Postmodernist theory of religion

    Postmodernists believe other theories of religion are outdated, and that society is changing; religion is changing alongside. Jean-François Lyotard states that religion has become very personal due to all the complexities of our modern society. He also thinks that religion is becoming increasingly influenced by science, leading to new-age religious movements.

    Ideology of science

    Science is an open belief system characterised by observation and the rigorous testing of hypotheses. There is no universal definition of science, but it is considered an objective pursuit of knowledge through experimental methods.

    One distinguishing characteristic of science is that it is cumulative; science aims to improve our understanding of the world by building on the discoveries of previous scientists.

    Despite the wealth of knowledge that has been produced through scientific means because science itself is constantly evolving, it is not a sacred or absolute truth. As Karl Popper pointed out, the ability of science to improve our understanding of the world is the direct result of the discarding of claims which are proven to be false through the scientific process.

    Within sociology, scientific belief is considered to be a product of rationalisation. After the start of the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution in the early to mid-1500s, scientific knowledge grew rapidly. Robert K. Merton argued that scientific thought developed as rapidly as it did over the last few centuries due to support from institutions such as economic and military establishments.

    Merton identified the CUDOS norms - a set of norms that form the principles of the pursuit of scientific knowledge. These are outlined below:

    • Communism: Scientific knowledge is not private property and is shared with the community.

    • Universalism: All scientists are equal; the knowledge they produce is subject to universal and objective criteria rather than any of their personal attributes.

    • Disinterestedness: Scientists are committed to making discoveries for discovery's sake. They publish their findings, accept that their claims will be verified by others, and do not seek personal gain.

    • Organised scepticism: All scientific knowledge should be challenged before it is accepted.

    Ideology - Key takeaways

    • Ideology, religion, and science are all examples of belief systems.

    • Ideology usually refers to a set of ideas, values, and a world-view. Ideology can shape the thoughts and actions of individuals and wider society. It has an influence on social structures, economics, and politics.

    • The concept of ideology was first created by Karl Marx. Now, ideology continues to mean a sense of false consciousness in sociological research.

    • Religions are faith-based belief systems that include a code of moral conduct. Unlike ideological or scientific beliefs, the concerns of religious beliefs commonly extend to the afterlife.

    • Science is an open and cumulative pursuit of knowledge based on objective reasoning and experimental methods. Some theorists argue that science is a closed system because it is developed within a paradigm.

    Ideology Ideology
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Ideology

    What are the different types of ideologies?

    • Political ideologies
    • Social ideologies
    • Epistemological ideologies
    • Religious ideologies

    What is gender ideology?

    Gender ideology refers to one's understanding of their gender.

    What are the 3 features of ideology?

    Ideology usually refers to a set of ideas, values, and a world-view. Ideology can shape the thoughts and actions of individuals and wider society. It has an influence on social structures, economics, and politics.

    What are the different types of political ideologies?

    Three major political ideologies in contemporary Britain are liberalism, conservatism, and socialism. In the United States, four of the most dominant political ideologies are liberalism, conservatism, libertarianism, and populism. The regime of Josef Stalin in the 20th century in the USSR was based on a totalitarian ideology.

    What is the meaning of ideology?

    Ideology usually refers to a set of ideas, values, and a worldview. Ideology can shape the thoughts and actions of individuals and wider society. It has an influence on social structure, economics, and politics. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Religion's basis is faith. True or false?

    What did William Bainbridge argue?

    Which of the following did Merton (1973) claim?

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