Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Essay on Ideology and Hegemony Definitions

Essay on Ideology and Hegemony Definitions


The neutral and general working definition of ideology is a system of beliefs and characteristics of a class or group, which constitutes their group consciousness. Sometimes referred to by Marxists as a false consciousness. Gramsci says this is open to resistance and interpretation.

Marx also states that the ideas of the dominant class or group are promoted as universal but actually work against the interests of inferior groups. (Power and resistance in media lecture)

One of the key features of Marxist theory is the materialist belief that social life determines consciousness. According to this belief, ideological positions are related to class positions, and the dominant ideology in society is the ideology of the elite class. From this view the mass media distribute the dominant ideologies. The reasons being that those who own and control the media are in fact the dominant groups. According to supporters of Marxist political economy the mass media conceal the economic basis of class struggle; ‘ideology becomes the route through which struggle is obliterated rather than the site of struggle’ (Curran page 26)

Louis Althusser, a French philosopher of Marxism rejects the notion of ‘false consciousness’ and believes that ideology is the medium through which we should view the world. (Curran page 24)

The operation of ideology in mass media in the West contributes to infrastructure of the capitalist system according to Althusser, the dominant ideology of a certain society i.e. capitalist industry continues the current mode of production within it and the economics of capitalism are not questioned. This is because it is seen as ‘common-sense’ or ‘natural’, therefore it is impossible to be free of ideologies. (Althusser, page 233)


Media and cultural industries such as TV, film, radio, magazines, music, newspapers and the Internet produce a representation of world so we can understand how the world is and why it works. However the media are not uniformly or conspiratorially organised to promote a single sexist or racist conception of the world. They do not just express a unified "ruling class" conception of the world as stated by Marxist philosophers. There are internal contradictions among media representations and narratives about gender and race. Although it is easy to see, even with the contradictions, that certain dominant images and ideas recur and are reinforced, while other images and ideas are marginalised or excluded. Another Marxist theorist, Antonio Gramsci, questions the theory of ideology being put into place purely through ‘false consciousness’. Gramsci felt that dominant ideologies achieve consensus through a process of struggle and negotiations. (Introduction to Film Studies lecture, Laurie Ede)


Antonio Gramsci, an Italian (1891-1937), was a leading Marxist philosopher.

Unlike Althusser he believed that economic connections with ideology were not evident, and insisted that each topic should be studied separately. Gramsci further rejected the ‘materialist’ stance and sought to offer a humanist Marxism, which focussed on human subjectivity. Gramsci used the term 'hegemony' to show the dominance of one social class over another. If a social group can be persuaded to accept the ideology of another group then hegemony is established and the hegemonic group can dominate or control the other group. This indicates the ability of the dominant class to project its own way of seeing the world so that those in the lower classes accept it as ‘common-sense’ and ‘natural’. “Common-sense is the way a subordinate class lives its subordination”. (Geoffrey Nowell-Smith)

However unlike Marx, Gramsci’s key belief is centred on ‘struggle’. “Common-sense is not something rigid and immobile, but is continually transforming itself”. (Gramsci)

According to Gramsci, it is in the interests of those wishing to establish control to gain the consent of those it wishes to control. Gramsci understands hegemony as cultural and ideological, as it is the area in which dominant groups sustain their power through the consent of the lower class groups.

For Gramsci, the origins of hegemony lie within the culture of capitalist institutions, for example mass media, popular culture and the family. In recent years the increasing concentration of financial power within big business has seen all the major mass media enterprises being concentrated into a small number of owners. This way they are readily able to promote consumerism and capitalism as the only way of life. This is also true of the Western ‘Democratic’ system. As politicians can only reach voters by using the mass media controlled by the big businesses, they must adhere to their terms and conditions to receive a favourable review. Therefore the Western political system must be viewed as a hegemony and not in actual fact a democracy.

The media companies are extremely effective at using hegemonic processes to void alternative viewpoints or threats and this certainly includes the ability to void extreme political parties and leaders. Though it is argued all views are never entirely silenced but they are merely reduced to tokenism and patronisation.

However the media are only as powerful as the public allows it to be. A machine created for the people by the people; the media are responsible for delivering messages through areas of interest is how some see it. People who are dragged into a realm of believing and trusting the media are the ones at risk of being dominated and influenced by the values of others. Recent debate such as genetically modified crops or asylum seekers are examples of which the media can strongly influence people’s beliefs. Many people are adamant that genetically modified crops or ‘Frankenstein Foods’ can cause severe problems merely because of media influence, even though there has been no conclusive evidence to prove this.

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