An understanding of 'ideology' is important for many reasons, not least because it offers you a way to deepen your insights into the ways in which language works to create meaning, and thus a way to increase your exam marks. But knowing more about what ideology is and how it operates on all of our minds is useful because it is such a deeply pervasive thing. None of us can escape our society's ideologies. None of us is free to think entirely for oursleves. Ideological thinking is part of being a member of a society, and a part of being human - and it has on occasions led societies to make disastrous decisions, ones that have impacted the lives of millions. When our thoughts are not our own, we really ought to know this, and to know whose thoughts they really are. An understanding of ideology will give you this information and, as they say: information is power.

 

Ideology

Such an analysis will reveal the most subtle of detail in a text, detail that even the writer might not have been aware of.  The techniques you're about to discover can be applied easily to the majority of texts you'll be studying, whether for English Language, English Literature or Media Studies.

What is an ideology?

An ideology is an idea - but not a personal and individual idea such as, 'I have an idea what Laura would like for her birthday'; for an idea to be labelled as an ideology, it must be one that is a part of and helps to form a culture, society or group's 'world-view'; it will be one of the very many shared ideas we hold to such as, 'I have a right to choose what I do with my life' or 'All people have a right to be treated equally' and so on. Sadly, many of these views are not so innocent; at least they were not so in less enlightened times especially. It is good to think that today we are truly liberated and enlightened; but that's not the case, of course. Society still holds to many ideologies that create injustice and which lead to the belief in negative stereotypes.

 

Together, these many ideologies create our 'system of beliefs' (some call this our world view or overall 'mind set'. It is the ideologies we share as a society and culture - often called dominant or prevailing ideologies - that mould and shape our ways of thinking about society, the world and its peoples.

a) we hold to these beliefs unthinkingly and usually unquestioningly; but their origin isn't with ourselves; it's always with another person or group. This means that we find ourselves implicitly trusting, often unquestioningly, in another's ideas.

b) we follow the beliefs unthinkingly because we see them as being too obvious to question, as common sense or as being a natural way to think. They create a world-view that suggests to us something akin to "this may not be a perfect  world but it's the best possible of all worlds". The views seem rational and enlightened. But an examination of the ideologies of the past will soon reveal they aren't always either of those things; so why should today's ideologies be safe and enlightened? The truth is, naturally enough, that they are not, at least not always.

 

02-02-2019