(un)common ground

a commonplace book

A Helpful Guide to: Ideology, Discourse, Hegemony




Definitions of Ideology

  • A mistaken interpretation of how the world actually is
  • A body of ideas characteristic of a particular social group or class
  • Ideas that help to legitimate a dominant political power
  • False ideas that help to legitimate a dominant political power
  • The conjuncture of discourse and power

Ideology and Economic Systems (derived from a Marxist framework):

  • Any society must reproduce its conditions of production. 
    • This includes thematerial conditions as well as the social conditions.
  • The capitalist economic system must also reproduce—via culture—the ideological conditions for its continuance; in particular the belief in private property, a class system, and the importance of consumption.
  • These beliefs are the “ruling ideas that serve the interests of the ruling class.”
  • Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) are institutions that produce these ideological conditions.  Examples include schools, churches, political parties, and mass media outlets.


(from Stuart Hall “The West and the Rest: Discourse and Power,” In Stuart Hall and Bam Gieben, eds., Formations of Modernity, pp. 275-332)


  • A discourse is a group of statements which provide a language for talking about – i.e., a way of representing – a particular kind of knowledge about a topic. When statements about a topic are made within a particular discourse, the discourse makes it possible to construct the topic in a certain way. It also limits the other ways in which the topic can be constructed…
  • Discourse it is not based on the conventional distinction between thought and action, language and practice. Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language.
  • A ‘discursive practice’ is both a form of communication and the act of producing meaning. 
  • Since all social practices entail meaning, all practices have a discursive aspect. So discourse enters into and influences all social practices…

The relationship between ‘discourse’ and ‘ideology’

  • A discourse is similar to what sociologists call an ‘ideology’: a set of statements of beliefs which produce knowledge that serves the interests of a particular group or class.
  • Why, then, use ‘discourse’ rather than ‘ideology’? One reason which Michel Foucault gives is that ideology is based on a distinction between true statements about the world (science) and false statements (ideology), and the belief that the facts about the world help us to decide between true and false statements. But Foucault argues that statements about the social, political, or moral world are rarely ever simply true or false; and ‘the facts’ do not enable us to decide definitively about their truth or falsehood, partly because ‘facts’ can be construed in different ways. The very language we use to describe the so-called facts interferes in this process of finally deciding what is true and what is false.


More specifically…

  • Language is not transparent.
  • Language—not necessarily reality—makes meaning possible, and it is the means by which we give meaning to the world.
  • Since our experience of reality is mediated and structured by language the things what is experience as ‘natural’ are actually constructed by language itself (to varying degrees).
  • Language is a social and therefore ideological; it ‘speaks’ us.
  • This is why Louis Althusser describes ideology as a system of representations, or more precisely, he says: “ideology is a (re)presentation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.”


Ideology and Subjectivity:

·      Our consciousness is a product of language and ideology.

·      Ideology interpellates or ‘hails’ individuals as subjects.

·      Cultural texts position us as subjects; they reinforce or sometimes create a specific perspective, worldview or disposition




·      Hegemony is the manufacture of consent, and it is a best described as a process that is common in countries with democratic governments (non-authoritarian).

·      Hegemonic blocs are groups and/or institutions that exercise social leadership.

·      These blocs must gain consent from “the people.” Therefore, they must legitimate their position of social dominance.

·      A dominant class or bloc must articulate (i.e. both link and express) its own interest with the interests of other (subordinate or subaltern) social groups.

·      Hegemonic power is maintained by a combination of coercion and consent.

·      Hegemony implies that social power is always unstable and is defined by perpetual struggle.

·      Hegemonic power is never guaranteed and must be won and maintained (this is the function of ideology)


A Helpful Guide to: Ideology, Discourse, Hegemony

N.B. There are yet more definitions of each of these terms… but this isn’t a bad starting point.


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This entry was posted on December 1, 2015 by and tagged , , , .
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