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ENGL201 Ideology

Imagine if everything you thought and felt had been placed there by someone else, and did not truly
belong to you.

Karl Marx

Born 1818- 1883

German philosopher historian and political economist who wrote the ground-breaking work Capital

Marx argues that human society progresses through class struggle. In the 19th century a conflict had
arisen between the bourgeoisie – the property-owing class who control the means of economic
production – and the proletariat – the workers who provide the labour for production.

For Marx, the conflict between the interests of the two classes would ultimately result in the
collapse of capitalism and the emergence of a classless society based on collective ownership:

In his writings on ideology marx confronts the question of why the losers of these class struggles
consent to being subjected to this kind of society

E&M p 39:

The ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it. The
ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relations

The people who run society economically also get to decide what ideas will dominated in that
society and those ideas will inevitably reflect their interests and values.

Marx on Ideology

Ideology is a form of false consciousness. It is a false set of view or opinions we have about the
nature of the world

We believe that these views are universally true – natural, obvious, ‘the way things are’

For marx, they are actually the expression of the interests of the dominant economic group and
serve to maintain and consolidate their power.


The Great Chain of Being

- Created in the feudal period where the ruling class was the aristocracy
- This was the dominant idea of that era, where the universe is a chain linked together to form
a hierarchy
- Also controls social classes
o It is natural for servants and peasants to obey the nobility that they work for

Capitalism and the Work Ethic

- Work is good for you and you should devote yourself to your work
- How convenient that a society run by capitalists should develop an idea that work is good for
you and it would be shameful not to work to the best of your ability

Louis Althusser

One of the most famous philosophers of the 1950s/60s


Eminent French Marxist philosopher and a major influence on many of the thinkers on this course:
Foucault, Derrida

He is the author of many books including For Marx (1965) and Reading Capital (1968)

In his work Althusser tries to reread Marxism in the light of the contemporary movements of his own
time like psychoanalysis and structuralism

When Marx was writing Capital, he was convinced revolution was going to happen any day. By the
time Althusser comes along, 100 years later, Marxists are still waiting for this revolution.

If ideology is just false consciousness, then why hasn’t society woken up to true consciousness yet?

- It’s slightly more complex than false consciousness

In althusser’s analysis ideology omerates on a much deeper level – psychologically politically and
socially – than marx recognises

Ideology is not a set of conscious opinions or views that are in error and can be corrected. In his
view, ideology isn’t something that only one class possesses – everyone has an ideology

What is represented in ideology is not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of
individuals, but the imaginary relation fo those individuals to the real relations in which they live
(e&m p44)

Ideological State Apparatuses

A distinguishes between repressive and ideological state apparatuses

RSAs are the traditional public institutions of the state: Government, Army, Police, Courts, Prisons.
They maintain control through repression and the threat of coercion
ISAs are largely private, seemingly a-political institutions: the Family, the School, the Church, culture.
They maintain control through ideology and the manufacturing of consent.

For A, the ISAs do not repress us, but produce a certain kind of subject who accepts their position
within society and does not question it. In a sense, the ISAs mean that repression is unnecessary –
we never disobey or transgress in the first place.


“I shall then suggest that ideology ‘acts’ or ‘functions’ in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among
the individuals … by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or hailing, and
which can be imagined along the lines of the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing:
‘Hey, you there!’.

Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street, the hailed individual
will turn around. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a
subject. Why? Because he has recognised that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him …” E&M p47

Slavoj Zizek

One of the most famous and controversial public intellectuals in the world today

He is the author of many books including The Sublime Object of Ideology (1986) and, more recently
In Defence of Lost Causes (2011)

In his early work TSOOI3

He takes further A’s insight on ideology

- It isn’t possible to step outside ideology into true consciousness because it is reliant on a
deep-seated unconscious desire for a stable sense of selfhood, identity and our relation to
the world.
- For Z, this means that again there is no opposition between ideology and reality: what we
experience as ‘the real world’ will always be shaped by ideoloy – we would not be able to
tell the difference

E&M p71-2 – Zizek on ideology

An ideology really succeeds when even the facts which at first sight contradict it start to function as
arguments in its favour

Ideology no longer operates on the level of ideas, but on the level of practice.

For modern subjects it is not a question of ‘they do not know it, but they are doing it’ as ‘they know
it, but they are doing it anyway’. In other words, we do not have to believe in ideology for it to work
– we merely have to believe that we have no choice but to go along with it.

In his reading, the dominant type of the ideological subject today is not the naïve or the dreamer but
the cynic.
Is it possible to get outside ideology (as marx argues) or are we always inside it (as A and Z argue)

What role does literature play in the construction of ideology? To what extent can we read literary
and filmic texts ideologically?