Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


A fast-paced novel of conjecture and surprises



core definition

Ideology is a system of ideas, beleifs, ideals and principles that guide the social, cultural political and economic functioning of a society.

explanatory context


Ideology is, for example, more than a political party programme, it is closer to the set of values, concepts, ideals that underlie the manifesto. Similarly, ideology has been equated with myth but, again, ideology underlies myth, in essensce a myth is the manifestation of part of an ideological system.

Ideology is the means by which the sets of social relations operating in a social system are legitimiated.


Ideology as an analytic tool presupposes the world is made up of oppressive structures with one group or class dominant over the other(s). This presupposition is the ontological grounding of ideology as a critical concept. Originally, ideology was seen in the context of class struggle. (Most contemporary Western ideologies are still based on worker-owner, proletarain-bourgoisie dichotomies).


Ideology refers to the sets of ideas that reflect class ideas and legitimate class oppression. In more recent analyses, ideology has been conceived of in the context of other forms of oppression, notably gender oppression and racial oppression, and is a key element of (some) feminist and black perspectives.


Ideology is a concept which is crucial for critical social research although of less concern to positivism. Indeed, there are various conservative claims that the twentieth century represents the end of ideology.


'Ideology' has not been easily translated into English and has been more or less absent from U.S. sociology. Terms like 'norm', 'values' and 'central value system' have been used instead, although these lack any critical element.


Ideology, as a concept has a long history but it developed its current usage as an analytic and critical tool in the work of Marx and has been an important feature of Marxism. Marx suggested that ideology is present from the moment that social relations take on a hierarchical form.


There are, arguably, two approaches to a Marxist analysis of ideology, the 'positive' and the 'negative' view of ideology (These relate to the way ideology operates and are not value judgements about the value of ideology as a concept). The designation of positive and negative derives from J. Larrain's (1979) analysis and should not be confused with Althusser's analysis. Althusser, in effect, switches the labels round.


Marx proposed a negative view while most major Marxist theorists since Lenin have developed varieties of a positive view.

See below for an analysis of Marx's concept of ideology by Jorge Larrain (1982)




Positive view of ideology

Ideology in its positive sense tends to relate ideology closely to Weltanschauung (world view), notably class based world views (as in Lukacs' thesis of working class consciousness). A dominant world view is seen as hegemonic and it serves to distort perception through various mechanisms embodied in education, religion, the media and so on, in order to conceal the real nature of the relations of production underlying class differences. Ideology thus serves to hide the interests of dominated groups from themselves.


In the simplest version of this positive approach ideology has been taken as synonomous with false consciousness. However, the positive approach as such does not equate ideology with false consciousness. Arguably, a (class-based) world view does not necessarily involve false consciousness.


The positive view of ideology renders enormous power to ideology, or to the manufacturers and dissipators of ideology


Ideology is distorting in this view but provides no basis for critique. The positive view of ideology effectively ignores a grounding in social relations and emerges as a seemingly self-evident abstraction. Supposedly materialist, this view of ideology espouses idealism and encumbers analysis of knowledge production by inserting an idealist screen between social milieu and knowledge production.


This positive approach tends to run into problems in overcoming the Kantian dualism.




Negative view of ideology

The negative meaning of ideology is fundamentally opposed to a reduction of ideology to false consciousness. Further, the negative view is opposed to a Weltanschauung (positive) view of ideology because the negative view argues that ideas cannot be detached from the material conditions of their production. The implication is that ideology can only be affected by changes in the material base (infrastructure). The negative view sees ideology as not simply a procedure by which reality is distorted, but one in which ideology is dialectically related to the nature of social relations and serves not to distort or hide that relationship but to reify class differences as intrinsic and natural.


The negative meaning of ideology provides a criticist frame and essentially, the negative view of ideology is the only one adequate for materialist critical assessment.


Ideology, conceived of negatively inheres in thought which itself is dialectically related to praxis. The potential for establishing the basis of ideology and its manifestations is present in a negative view.


The negative view draws no simplistic connection between science and ideology. Science may be ideological if it is the legitimation of a system of domination. Ideology, then, cannot be overcome by a critique of ideas based on a 'scientific method'. Rather, ideology inheres in thought and can only be destroyed through praxis which changes the material basis of the production of ideas.


While the negative view implies that ideas change only when material conditions change, it is important to realise that the operation of ideology, as process, is also dialectical. Ideology, inhering in social relationships is both informed by, and informs, the nature of these relationships. A penetration of ideology, and thus the possibility of ideology critique is therefore possible if one addresses the interrelationship between ideology and practice, thereby going beyond surface appearances.


A dialectical critique can partially transcend the superficial appearances of ideas. Indeed, such a critique is an intrinsic element of any material change in the structure of social relations. It is therefore incorrect to assume that a negative view of ideology restricts critique to a post hoc analysis in the wake of revolutionary change in the material base. Ideology is locked into practice and material change and ideological critique are interdependent.


Similarly, it is mistaken to assume that changes in material conditions will effect changes in ideology in any deterministic way. That is, ideology should not be simply linked to material conditions even if there is a relative dependence such that ideological superstructure depends on the material base in the last resort, while, at any moment, acting through its superstructural agencies in a relatively independent fashion.


This negative sense implies no methodical process of critique. However, this does not rule out the possibility of ideological critique outside revolutionary praxis. While the negative view implies that ideas change only when material conditions change, it is important to realise that the operation of ideology, as process, is also dialectical. Thus, a modified negative view of ideology would argue for a transcendental critique of ideas.


Ideology critique

Ideology is it an important concept for critical social research because ideology serves to obscure the 'true material reality' and must be transcended/critiqued if revolutionary social practice can be achieved.


'True material reality' here refers not to self-evident surface appearances but to relations (usually of production) that are obscured by social totalities. The notion of ideology as obscuring relations of production implies that it is a kind of screen that can be removed or transcended.


The possibility of transcending ideology depends upon what is taken as ideology.


If one adopts a positive view of ideology, such as Lukacs, then ideology is framed as false consciousness, which can be engaged and transcended. Lukacs, for example, sees ideology as class consciousness. Bourgeois ideology is bourgeois class consciousness, which is foisted on the proletariat. It obscures their real conditions, aspirations etc. The development of a class consciousness among the non-dominant class is a route to radical social change. (Proletariat class consciousness would not be ideology (i.e. false consciousness) because there would be no need for a proletarian consciousness to obscure the nature of productive relations).


The kind of approach, which sees ideology as false consciousness, has been criticised as being idealist as it tends to disengage ideology from the material infrastructure. (Contrary to the materialist view, then, this approach allows for the possibility of ideology existing in a sort of vacuum).


If one adopts the Marxian/negative view, ideology is all pervasive and grounded in the material relations of production. Then revealing the nature of ideology is difficult. Essentially, the procedure in this case is to identify the essence of social relations (in detail) and separate this essence from structural forms.


Marx's method involved a process of deconstruction and reconstruction, both structural and historical, undertaken dialectically. The identification of a 'fundamentsal unit' (e.g. commodification in his analysis of capitalism), which is determined via a critical engagement with the apparent forms of capitalism. Capitalism is not reduced to commodification, rather this is used as a vehicle to deconstruct capitalism and then reconstruct it as it 'really is'. The problem of how one knows whether it really is, or whether one has not simply replaced one ideology by another cannot be answered in those terms. What is involved is a critical process that seeks to get beyond the surface appearances of (in Marx's case) capitalism. It is a dynamic critique tied to practice.


For an analyis of ideology critique and critical social research see Harvey (1986), 'Ideology Critique: The ‘Chicago School’ as a case study' and Harvey (1983), 'Methodological problems of ideology critique'.

Visual ideology

Hadjinicolaou (1978) developed the notion of ideology in relation to art history. Art history, for Hadjinicolaou, is one of the last outposts of reaction. It is imbued with bourgeois ideology. Hadjinicolaou wants to redefine art history's subject matter and introduce into the theory of art history the ideas of class struggle and ideology.

He begins by asserting the Marxist idea that the history of all hitherto existing societies has been the history of class struggle. How does this class struggle affect the production of pictures? Central to his answer is the notion of ideology. This notion he transfers directly to art as visual ideologies but begins by a more general view of ideology derived from Poulantzas (1974) and Althusser (1969).

Specifically, Hadjinicolaou reiterates the Althusserian view of the superstructural nature of ideologies embedded in diverse ideological state apparatuses.

'Just as people take part in economic and politial activity, so they take part in religious, moral, aesthetic and philosophical activities and their ideology is the relatively coherent system of ideas, values and beliefs that they develop.' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 9)


The structure of the ideological level derives from the system of society' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 10)

Hadjinicolaou reasserts Althusser's idea that ideology constitutes an imaginary distortion of relations of production:

'In fact, people express in their ideology not their actual relation to their situation in life but the way in which they see this relation - which implies a dual relation to reality, one real and one imagined.' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 9)


'expresses the inevitable coalescence of their actual and their imagined relation to the true conditions of their existence. In ideology, the actual relationship is determined by the imagined relationship, which expresses a will, a hope or a nostalgia, rather than describes a reality.' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 9).

Hadjinicolaou thus holds a view of ideology as illusory and of its social function to provide people with a motive for continuing the practical activities that support that structure. [Isn't this close to the Feuerbachian view Althusser objects to?] Hadjinicolaou concurs that ideology is 'invisible' in the sense that its internal workings are not apparent and that, following Althusser, the function of ideology (as opposed to science) is to hide the true nature of class relations through the construction of a plausible perspective on life.

Ideology, then, inheres in all ideas, in all aspects of a 'way of life' of a particular society. Effectively, for Hadjinicolaou, like Althusser, ideology is in the service of the ruling class. Ideology has as a general function to conceal contradictions and its positive character is essentially making class struggle appear to be one without opponents. In its positive role, ideology perpetuates an idea of the unity of mankind and a positive worldview.

Hadjinicolaou, therefore, refers to positive ideology to refer to ideologies of this affirmative type and to critical ideology for those openly opposed to class practices and ideologies, (usually ruling-class ideologies). Hadjinicolaou accepts, then, the idea that ideology resides in ideological state apparatuses, that these are underpinned by a dominant/ruling ideology. However, this is not evident

'the role of ideology consists not just in concealing the economic level, but also in obscuring the dominant role which might be played by another level, and the actual fact of its dominance.' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 13).

Hadjinicolaou's particular concern is to tackle the problem of the production of pictures and its relation to ideology. This leads him to an analysis of aesthetic ideologies via a general history of class struggle. As he says, it is a difficult task, requiring enormous work, to show that a historically specific pictorial ideological form, for example, a religious ideological form, belongs to the ideology of the same social class. (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 13)

Hadjinicolaou's mode of analysis is via visual ideology. Visual ideology is not apparent in painting any more than ideology is apparent in 'life'. Neither social classes, nor the struggle between them appear as such in painting. (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 15). Indeed, Hadjinicolaou attacks vulgar Marxist analysis of art (which seems to include every other Marxist besides Antal, himself and a few unnamed Germans) for concentrating on art that has an explicit class content. The tendency to reify 'realism' and to allocate art to progressive or reactionary slots, on the basis of a current assessment of their content, is banal for Hadjinicolaou. All art he says, must be analysed in its own historical milieu. To convert visual ideology into political ideology as vulgar Marxists do, is abhorrent to Hadjinicolaou. (See Hadjinicolaou, 1978, chapter 5).

For Hadjinicolaou, then, visual ideology does not manifest itself in pictures simply through content: i.e., one cannot detach a 'true' aesthetics of form from the 'ideological' component of content. The manner or style of a painting (both form and content) 'contains' ideology.

Before analysing visual ideology, Hadjinicolaou dispenses with three views of art history, namely art history as a history of artists, as a history of civilization and as history of works of art.

The first presumes a simple identity between an artist and his work, the second assumes link between 'art' and the 'general spirit' of a society and the third assumes a linear development of painting as an evolution of style. All three approaches ignore social class struggle, the relationship between painting and the social group, of the relation of the artist to social class ideologies. [The second, at least, is also utopian historicism]. Finally, Hadjinicolaou, argues that the point of view of the artist is not enough to reveal ideology in painting. First, such a view is just one of many commentaries and must itself be ideological. Second, once cannot presume a unified ideology of the artist. Third, there is no need for the visual ideology to re-present the political ideology of an artist, for example, Balzac.


Visual ideology is the translation given to 'ideologie imagee' and is visual in the sense of what is seen, not in the sense of the faculty of sight. [Ideology of the image] Visual ideology, for Hadjinicolaou is a term to be used instead of style. It is more analytic. Based on a definition derived from Antal (1948) that locates style in social classes, Hadjinicolaou offers the following definition of visual ideology:

'the way in which the formal and thematic elements of a picture are combined on each specific occasion. This combination is a particular form of the overall ideology of a social class' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p 94).

He goes on:

Visual ideology cannot be deduced from an overall class ideology, but each presupposes the existence of the other, and any specific research into the one throws light on the other. To define a visual ideology contributes to the knowledge of a historically specific class ideology; and the definition of an overall class ideology (reached through knowledge of the literary, aesthetic, religious, political economic and other ideologies of the class) plays an important role in understanding the visual ideology of that same class'. (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 96).

However this [dialectical] circular situation does not alter the fact that visual ideology will be principally ascertained via analysis of the production of pictures. {NB visual ideology relates to groups, there is no visual ideology of the artist nor are there national or regional visual ideologies. Visual ideology transcends the individual but is not constrained by regional boundaries. There are predominant tendencies, hence, for example, visual ideology of the Venetian Republic but not Venetian visual ideology}. (Examples, Hadjinicolaou (1978) pp 104-108) Visual ideology can be positive or critical for Hadjinicolaou.

Positive visual ideology implies no contradiction between the visual ideology of a work and the types of ideology to which some elements of the picture refer—to the extent that positive visual ideology may actually glorify particular, for example, religious and political ideologies (as in allegorical painting). Critical visual ideology implies that a work's visual ideology exerts a critical function in regard to other non-visual kinds of ideologies—some elements of which are to be found in the work. Criticism is carried out through the treatment of the work's subject.

Hadjinicolaou (1978) on interpretation

The hermeneutic idea that interpretation is not simply rediscovery or reconstitution of a latent meaning but is an active pursuit that adds something to the reality to which the interpreted object belongs must take account of ideology of both the genesis and interpretive stages (historical moments).


Rather than interpretation being 'recreation through perception' (Sedlmayr, 1958, p. 89) Hadjinicolaou agrees with Machery (1966, p. 14) that interpretation adds something, and, in so doing, sets up an irrecoverable distance between moment (context) of genesis and of interpretation. (The empiricist temptation is to believe that advances in learning will reduce the gap between subject and the knowledge of it. Practical understanding attempts a description and translation, to 'absorb the unknown into the given' (Machery, 1966, p. 14: quoted in Hadjinicolaou (1978, p 140). Conversely, this empiricist view tries to reduce everything to a single point in which 'truth makes its appearance', thus reducing learning to an 'instantaneous flash' that leaves reality unchanged. Given this notion of understanding, Hadjinicolaou argues that a theory of explanation not of understanding is required. Machery provides Hadjinicolaou's position:

Having rejected the mythology of understanding, to explain is then to recognise in a work the type of necessity which determines it, and which can certainly not be reduced to a single meaning (Machery, 1966, p 96).

To explain a work is to show that, regardless of appearances, it does not exist on its own, but on the contrary, quite literally bears the marks of a specific absence which is also the key to its identity, [i.e. its historical context]. A work has no meaning except that which is the outcome of a tension between several incompatible meanings. Hadjinicolaou points to the usefulness in art history of semiological concepts like 'sign', 'signified', 'signifier', particularly in combating the old distinction between form and content and thereby aiding in the analytic work aimed to 'relate visual ideology to other types of ideology' (Hadjinicolaou, 1978, p. 144) However, visual ideology is not to be confused with the notion of a verbal message.

Ideology and media

A major area of sociological enquiry in which ideology is a central conceptual tool is the analysis of mass media. There are a several traditions that address the nature of media representations and all of them (apart from content analysis) address the issue of ideological representation.


Various methodologies have been developed in this area, notably semiology, iconology, and hermeneutics.



analytical review

Cardiff University (undated) provides a selection of unsourced quotes, on the critique of ideology, under the heading Slavoj Žižek and the Critique of Ideology, including:

‘The function of ideology is not to offer us a point of escape from our reality but to offer us the social reality itself as an escape’

‘The fundamental level of ideology is not of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itself. And at this level, we are of course far from being a post-ideological society. Cynical distance is just one way – one of many ways – to blind ourselves to the structuring power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironic distance, we are still doing them’

‘The form of consciousness that fits late-capitalist “post-ideological” society – the cynical, “sober” attitude that advocates liberal “openness” in the matter of “opinions” (everybody is free to believe whatever she or he wants; this concerns only his or her privacy), disregards pathetic ideological phrases, and follows only utilitarian and/or hedonistic motivations – stricto sensu remains an ideological attitude: it involves a series of ideological presuppositions (on the relationship between “values” and “real life”, on personal freedom, etc.) that are necessary for the reproduction of existing social relations’ (2009) under the heading 'Dominant Ideology' states;

The term dominant ideology means the principal ideas, values and morals in a given society. It is a particular version of reality but only one of a number of possible versions. These ideas may, however, be so well-established that members of society believe them to be naturally given and beyond question. It is possible for different ideologies to exist within a given society different versions of reality but they lack the persuasive power and generalized acceptance enjoyed by the dominant ideology.

Marxist sociologists have pointed out that ideologies are rarely neutral, and serve to justify and support the interests of a powerful social group over less-powerful groups. The dominant ideology thesis asserts that working-class subordination in capitalist societies is largely the outcome of the cultural dominance achieved by the capitalist class. For Marx, the ruling ideas in a given society are always the ideas of the ruling social group. Feminist sociologists make a similar point, but starting from a different premise.

Sociologists such as Abercrombie criticize the dominant ideology thesis, arguing that its proponents overestimate the extent to which different groups are integrated into the dominant culture, and underestimate the extent to which different groups can generate ideas which run counter to dominant ideologies


The McGraw-Hill (2004) Sociological Theory site Glossary defines ideology as:

An intricate web of beliefs about reality and social life that is institutionalized as public knowledge and disseminated throughout society so effectively that it becomes taken-for-granted knowledge for all social groups. For Marx, ideology always served the interests of the ruling class. For Mannheim, ideology refers to those ideas that emerge from specific sectors of the social world and are therefore inherently limited, one-sided, and distorted.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines ideology as:

Shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify and support the interests of a particular group or organizations.


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Dominant ideology: A set of cultural beliefs and practices that helps to maintain powerful social, economic, and political interests.


In the context of discussing globalisation, Tommaso Durante (2017) writes:

With the term 'visual-ideology' this study understands a particular socio-historical system of mixed-media formations, the visual regime of representation and signification that provides frameworks and narratives that ideologically orient and guide people's practices in everyday life. What is more, these particular types of images contribute to constructing people's ...common sense of the 'global'.  Thus, it can be argued that, beyond the modern geopolitical hierarchy of scales, globalization can be better understood and investigated by taking due account of its elaborately grounded visual-ideological dimension.

associated issues

Jorge Larrain on Marx's concept of ideology

In ‘On the Character of Ideology: Marx and the Present Debate in Britain’, (Larrain 1982) he states that it is the purpose of this article to clarify and reassess Marx’s original concept of ideology. Althusser has had a major effect on Marxist theory, especially in ideological analysis, and particularly in Britain where critiques of ideology tend to be not directly concerned with Marx's writings but with Althusser's (see, for example, Laclau (1977), Hirst (1977) and Coward and Ellis (1977)). Most of this kind of commentary tends to propose a dualism in ideological critique with Lukacs providing the ‘bete noire’ of historicist interpretation, which conflicts radically with structuralist interpretation.

Larrain argues that, contrary to the simple dualistic view, there are alternative ways of constructing a critique of ideology that emerge when Marx’s writings are analysed. The return to Marx's writings is, for Larrain, a necessary first step, but, he admits, the task is not just a matter of a correct exegesis of Marx's work, the conflict between structuralism and historicism strikes deeper than that covered by Marx's analysis.

Larrain suggests that Laclau and others have added to the debate, but that, in trusting to Althusser's interpretation of Marx have tended to ignore the work Marx did on ideology and have been content to consider it an historicist deviation. This has introduced a series of misunderstandings and confusions about the content and scope of the concept of ideology and of Marx's contribution to the analysis of ideology.

Ideology as a negative and critical concept

Marx's concept of ideology is negative in the sense that it refers to distortion. Marx moves from the view that ‘in all ideology men and their circumstances seem upside down’ (Marx and Engels, 1970, p. 47) to ‘The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract ideological conceptions of its spokesmen’ (Marx and Engels, 1974, Vol 1., p. 352).

This contrasts with the more usual meaning of ideology, derived from Lenin's formulation, which has the positive connotation of a worldview of classes and parties.

Larrain sees this distinction as important for two reasons. First, the negative view of ideology is able to discriminate between different forms of knowledge whereas the positive view takes ideology as a general notion ‘applicable to all the intellectual production of all classes and parties of any period’.

The negative view of ideology does raise problems of revelation or confrontation.

At one level, Mannheim accuses Marxism of failing to be self-critical. Larrain agrees in principle but sees the criticism as put by Mannheim as misconstruing the negative nature of ideology. Mannheim, Larrain argues, seems to identify ideology (in its negative sense) with the social determination of knowledge. Thus all standpoints are limited and partial because they are determined. Marx accepted the determination of his own thought, what he did not do was to equate the negative character of ideology with determination. Therefore, not all theories, although determined, were ideological.

In the German Ideology Marx seems to suggest that science can oppose ideology. Williams (1977) argues, however, that an ideology/science distinction requires that the two forms of knowledge are knowable and can be differentiated. Williams says that such a distinction is made impossible by the a priori assumption of a ‘positive’ method, which leads to a circular argument/demonstration or a partisan claim that one view is, by definition unbiased.

Larrain argues that Marx (in his ‘claim to positive science’) was not dogmatic nor did he acclaim dogmatism in the guise of science. However, that, to Larrain, is not the same as saying that it is impossible to know the difference between ideology and science. This relativist objection raises far more fundamental questions. To tackle this problem, Larrain first makes clear two points. Marx does not equate the opposition between ideology and science with the opposition between error and truth. However, any negative view of ideology must imply the possibility of a non-ideological point of view. And, at the time of writing German Ideology, Marx had a limited [empiricist] view of science as grounded in a self-evident material reality, which could simply be ‘turned to’ for empirical validation. Only later did he introduce the distinction between the phenomenal forms of existence and the essential or inner relations of material reality. Such a view of material reality demands a more sophisticated concept of science that penetrates these appearances through abstraction.

The problem is not so much that a distinction cannot be guaranteed, even given the [dialectical, reconstruction-deconstruction methodology embodied in the] abstractive process, but that to search for guarantees of scientificity is self-defeating in that the alternative is relativism and scepticism, which are contradictory ‘insofar as they implicitly postulate the absolute truth of their own positions’ (Larrain, 1982, p 8). In short, Larrain sees no reason for Marx's theory to provide a guarantee that no other theory/approach can.

Larrain turns to a more fundamental problem of conceiving of ideology in a negative sense, that of ideology as false consciousness. Althusser and his followers have concentrated their critique on the notion of ideology as false and ideology as consciousness. With regard the latter, Althusser notes that ideology is a system of representations but they are (usually) not conscious.


‘They are usually images and occasionally concepts, but it is above all as structures that they impose on the vast majority of men, not via their “consciousness”. Ideology is therefore independent of individual subjectivity, it is an objective level of social reality. Because of this, “ideology is not real or spiritual” (Hirst 1977, p. 27) but is material. It is not the subject that produces ideas, but it is rather ideology that produces the subject.’ (Larrain, 1982, p.8)

In short, ideology, for Althusserians is a ‘practice producing subjects’ (Mouffe, 1979, p. 171), that is, ‘producing certain meanings and necessitating certain subjects as their supports’ (Coward and Ellis, 1977, p. 67).

Althusserians argue also, that ideology is not a distorted representation of reality. Such a view is incorrect because ideology represents ‘men’s lived relation to their conditions of existence and not directly those conditions’ (Larrain, 1982, p. 9) and besides, how can anything that has effects be false? Ideology cannot, then be simply illusory nor can it be related to a subjective intention.

Larrain argues that there are three problematics with this view of ideology as identified with an objective level of social reality

1. Ideology is made co-extensive with what has become labelled the ideological superstructure.

2. Ideology conceived exclusively as an objective instance introduces a dualism between subject and object.

3. Ideology is constructed as material and independent of consciousness.

related areas

See also


class consciousness

false consciousness




Researching the Real World section

Researching the Real World section

Critical Social Research section 1.6


Antal, F., 1948, Floretine Painting and its Social Background, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Cardiff University, undated, Slavoj Žižek and the Critique of Ideology available at, accessed 24 January 2013, page not available 22 December 2016.

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016., 2009, Dominant Ideology, available at, accessed 24 January 2013, still available 5 June 2019.

Hadjinicolaou, N., 1978, Art History and Class Struggle, London, Pluto.

Larrain, J., 1979, The Concept of Ideology, London, Hutchinson University Library.

Larrain, J., 1982 ‘On the Character of Ideology: Marx and the Present Debate in Britain’, Theory, Culture & Society, 1, pp. 5–22.

Machery, P., 1966, Pour une Theorie de la Production Litteraire, Paris, Maspero.

McGraw-Hill, 2004, Sociological Theory: Glossary , available at, accessed 14 May 2013, page not available 15 December 2016.

Sedlmayr, H., 1958, Kunst und Wahrheit, Hamburg, Rowolt.


Further references from the 15 years of fierce debate about ideology


Abercrombie, N. et al., 1980, The Dominant Ideology Thesis, London, Allen & Unwin.

Althusser, L., 1971, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, London New Left Books.

Bell, D., 1962, The End of Ideology: On the exhaustion of political ideas in the fifties, revised edition, New York, Free Press.

Centre For Contemporary Cultural Studies, 1978, On Ideology, London, Hutchinson.

Dittberner, J.L., 1979, The End of Ideology and American Social Thought: 1930–1960, London, UMI Research Press.

Donald, J., & Hall, S., (Eds.), 1985, Politics and Ideology, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

Durante, T., 2017, 'A visual ideology of globalization?', Globa-e 10(4), available at, accessed 27 September 2018, still available 5 June 2019.

Eyerman, R., 1986, False Consciousness and Ideology in Marxist Theory.

Feuer, L., 1975, Ideology and the Ideologists, Oxford.

Gouldner, A.W., 1976, The Dialectic of Ideology & Technology: The origins, grammar and future of ideology, London, Macmillan.

Griffin, S., 1982, 'The Way of All Ideology', Signs, 7, p. 641.

Hall, S. et al. (Eds.), 1980, Culture, Media, Language, London, Hutchinson.

Hirst, P., 1977, On Law and Ideology, London, Macmillan.

Horowitz, I.L., 1977, Ideology and Utopia in the United States 1956-1976, New York, Oxford University Press.

Larrain, J., 1983, Marxism and Ideology, London, Macmillan.

Lichtheim, G., 1974, The Concept of Ideology and Other Essays.

McLellan, D., 1986, Ideology, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

Mepham, J., & Ruben, D-H. (Eds.), 1980, Issues in Marxist Philosophy: Vol 3: Epistemology, Science and Ideology, Brighton, Harvester.

O'Sullivan, N. (Ed.), 1989, The Structure of Modern Ideology: Critical Perspectives on Political and Social Theory, Gloucester, Edward Elgar.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, 'not found' 1 June 2019.

Smith, D.E., 1975, 'An analysis of ideological structures and how women are excluded', Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 12, pp 353-69.

Thompson, J. B., 1984, Studies in the Theory of Ideology, London, Polity.

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