Cultural Studies Terms/Ideology

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Basic Definition:
A set of ideas, values, and beliefs that is accepted by a society, a class, or some other socially significant group of people. This value system supports a series of norms, or definitions of acceptable behavior. Ideology therefore exerts significant influence over the individuals living within a society. Once the population has accepted an ideology, individuals will act according to the ideology's norms, or risk facing disciplinary measures.

Theoretical Variations
Marx focused on the controlling function of ideology. A capitalist system benefits those groups who control the means of production. In such a system, there is a threat of revolt from those whom the system oppresses. The dominant class uses ideology to neutralize this threat. Using its control over the means of information dissemination (e.g. in the media), the dominant class can impose its own ideology on the larger population. This ideology naturalizes the power structure of the existing system. In other words, it suggests that the existing system is the best possible system for all of the members of society (if not the only possible system). The coercion (which can be both overt/physical or covert/subconscious) by which the dominant class gains acceptance for its ideology is called ideological domination. Although the term ideology predates Marx, Marx's use of the term seems to have imbued it with some powerful and persistent connotations. Chief among these is the concept that ideology does not connote any set of values held by a group of people, but rather a system of beliefs held by the dominant class and inflicted upon the oppressed classes. Such a framework makes it difficult to analyze the constant power struggles that go on in a society for control of the value system.

To remedy this deficiency, Gramsci introduced the closely related concept of hegemony, which basically describes the situation in which a particular ideology has gained complete acceptance within a social group. The distinction made in the Stuart Hall text book is that hegemony is basically ideology without the Marxist connotation of a fixed system imposed by a dominant group (i.e. government). Hegemony is open to negotiation, or the constant power struggle between different social groups. As a theoretical concept, hegemony therefore allows for the investigation of this power struggle as it occurs in various media forms and other social sites.

Hegemony and the aspect of power also link ideology to Foucault's concept of power/knowledge. Knowledge consists of a system of meaning that is accepted by a group of people. Those who can control the system of meanings have power over the values of society and therefore the norms that regulate behavior (and even thought) according to these values. Different discourses struggle for control over the system of meaning and the power that comes with this control. In this way, a discourse is very similar to an ideology, in that it is a system of beliefs and practices. However, as with hegemony, discourse does not contain the overtone of "coming from the dominant class" that the term ideology has.

External links:

Summary Ideology

Wikipedia Ideology

Wikipedia Marx

Wikipedia Gramsci