Ideology Theory and the Birmingham School: A Critical Assessment

Ms. Ariane Fischer Pasternak
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Scholars writing on and in that field of inquiry that is generally called ideology theory tend to agree that the concept of ideology has undergone an inordinate amount of historical mutations since its origin 200 years ago. One of the peculiarities that has characterized the 'career' of this concept is the gradual inflation that has turned a relatively specific term into a general, all-purpose equivalent of terms such as 'discourse', 'power-knowledge', 'collective beliefs and practices', 'perspective seeing', and even 'culture'. Terry Eagleton has argued that this inflation has resulted in a "politically toothless" concept of ideology. Agreeing with this judgment, I want to show that ideology's explosion/implosion is largely due to changes in how power has been theorized in the last few decades.

In this paper, I examine the historical shift of 'ideology' from 19th century locations in the German, post-Hegelian, materialist debates about the politics of philosophy and critique to locations in more contemporary approaches to the 'relative autonomy of culture', so-called non-reductionist accounts of hegemony, and 'anti-elitist' (non-epistemological) notions of experience and resistance. I will argue that the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies did much to contribute to the development of an inflated and eventually empty concept of ideology and that, if ideology is to become a useful concept once again, we must grapple with the legacy of this particular brand of post-Marxism.

The work of Raymond Williams, Jorge Larrain, and Stuart Hall will be the focal point of this investigation into how ideology's fate was bound up with Anglo-American challenges to politically salient concepts such as 'true consciousness', Truth, mystification, and identity. Cultural Studies' analyses of popular and working class culture as subversive practices and expressions of conflict have added valuable insights to our understanding of social reproduction and change. However, I maintain that today, as we struggle to come to grips with what has come to be called Empire and its violent regimes of homogenization through fictitious differences (the equivalences produced by an imperialistic commodity capitalism), we need to rethink 'ideology' as a matter of politics rather than culture and that we need to rework quasi-idealist theories in favor of more strictly materialist approaches to power and ideology.

Keywords: Ideology Theory, Cultural Studies, Birmingham School, Marxism and Post-Marxism
Stream: Philosophy, Ethics, Consciousness
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Stuart Hall and the Concept of Ideology

Ms. Ariane Fischer Pasternak

Graduate student, Human Sciences, George Washington University

Ref: H05P0311