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Ideology & Hegemony

Tutorial 3

Patrick Sharbaugh

on 22 December 2011

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Transcript of Ideology & Hegemony

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas; the class which is the ruling material force in society is its ruling intellectual force." In other words, because those in power control the way things are organised, they also control the institutions (political, legal, educational, religious, the media) that influence how people think. Marx attempted to understand why exploited ‘workers’ throughout history (including slaves, serfs, the industrial working class in the 19th century) did not revolt against their conditions, and why society and culture in general seem to accept such inequalities as normal. The modern concept of ideology begins with the writings of Karl Marx, a German political theorist, historian and economist who inspired many of the ideas of ‘Marxism’. So when society is organised around any ideological system, the dominant political parties and laws support it, mainstream education and religion teach that it is ‘right,’ and most culture makes it seem a ‘normal’ way to organise things. Marxism argues that such ideologies are ‘false’ ideas that trick those at the bottom into accepting things as they are. For example, he said, RELIGION is like a drug that helps to stop the working class from understanding their exploitation by filling their heads full of ‘false’ ideas or consciousness. What questions does an ideological analysis require that we ask of the text?
What natural-seeming cultural assumptions exist in the text?
What power relations in society might underlie such assumptions?
What is made obscure by these assumptions? Ideologies are ‘false’ ideas that become ‘naturalised’ and support those in power. What Marx called “false consciousness” is the end product of the process of hegemony. Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci tried to understand why people were attracted to fascism. He developed a theory of ideology called HEGEMONY. According to Gramsci, hegemony is the ruling class’s domination through ideology and the shaping of popular consent. Hegemony unites persuasion from above with consent from below. Ideologies therefore are like a pair of glasses through which we experience the world, our place in it, and every media text we encounter. “Common sense’ is the way a subordinate class lives out its subordination.” -A. Gramsci Take slavery, for example. Many media texts celebrate ideologically specific notions of beauty (thin, youthful, pale skin, etc.) and femininity. We also see the ideology of consumerism and the commodification of body shape in texts like this one. But these notions of beauty, sexiness and even feminity are socially manufactured ideologies, specific to particular cultures and moments in history Why does a photograph of public nudity seem so strange? Because it clashes with what we understand as 'natural,' 'proper,' and 'right.' It's ideologically alien to us. That's why an advertisement like this makes sense to us. We share a common ideology with its creators that public nudity is forbidden. Here we understand the meaning of this text through the use of many ideologies:
Our shared understanding of 'beauty'
The agreed-upon sexual nature of nudity (even the suggestion of nudity)
Ideological definitions of feminity
An ideology that defines men as sexual creatures whose desire for a femme fatal can overwhelm them under any circumstances What ideological meaning do we take from these texts to understand what a 'woman' is? Dominated classes participate in their domination, as hegemony enters into everything people do and think of as natural, ‘common sense’ — including what is news, as well as playing, working, believing, and knowing. Hegemony is secured when those who control the dominant institutions impress their semiotic definitions upon the ruled. The dominant class controls ideological space and limits what is thinkable in society.
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