The term ‘ideology’ has a long history. It was formulated by Antoine Louis Claude Destutt in 1796. The phrase is a combination of two words. The two are ‘idea’ and ‘logy’ (Zizek 53). Destutt used the term to refer to one feature of his science of ideas. In the process, the French enlightenment aristocrat delineated three major aspects. They include ideology, logic, and general grammar. To this end, he considered ideology to be the most generic term between the three.
Many scholars who came after Destutt refined his work. One of them is Louise Althusser. Althusser formulated a materialistic notion of ideology. The idea explains a unique discourse referred to as lacunar. In addition, Althusser considers this concept as one which lacks a history of its own. As such, he describes Ideology as an imaginary assemblage. It is a pure dream formed by the diurnal residues of the positive aspects of reality (Althusser 172).
Defining an Ideology
A number of scholars provide varying definitions of this concept. However, many agree that an ideology is a form of a conscious or an unconscious belief. The conviction forms the basis of an individual’s actions, expectations, and goals in life (Rehmann 109). It can be, among others, political, sociological, economic, or philosophical. It defines the various aspects of the individual’s life.
Characteristics of Ideologies
People from different parts of the world have varying perspectives towards things. As a result, ideologies vary from one person to the other and from one society to another. Consequently, variety is one of the major attributes of these concepts. Another characteristic is complexity. Different belief systems carry varying weights in the society (Rehmann 113). For example, an individual may regard political ideologies as more important than religious beliefs. As a result, some ideologies are simple, while others are complex. The Marxist approach is one example of a complex political and economic ideology.
It is noted that ideologies are flexible in nature. Elaborate ones, such as religious belief systems, offer answers to almost all questions related to faith (Zizek 156). For example, the Catholic Catechism explains nearly every imaginable topic in relation to Christianity and life in general. The reason is because it has thousands of pages containing different beliefs. In addition, the believers are denied the opportunity to interpret the faith at a personal level. On the contrary, libertarianism and other schools of thought allow people to make personal choices.
Another characteristic of an ideology is consistency. At times, the ideas forming a certain belief system may be in conflict with those provided in another (Althusser 200). Consistency comes into play given that in spite of these discrepancies, the different ideologies hold. Views held by individuals with regards to various aspects of the society change over time. A case in point is Italian fascism. The person credited with this belief system was initially a communist. He was never troubled by the fact that his ideology was extremely anticommunist (Althusser 200).
Examples of Ideologies
The modern society is characterized by different types of ideologies. They range from economic to political, religious, social, and cultural ideas. Each of them explains a specific facet of human existence.
They are a set of ideals, doctrines, and symbols that dictate how citizens in a particular state should operate (Rehmann 110). The main reason for the existence of these sets of beliefs is the need to establish and maintain social order. The ideologies focus on how power is shared and used among different parties in the society. The principles focus on different aspects of a socio-political existence. They touch on education, criminal law, environment, healthcare, and trade. Generally, political ideologies have two major elements (Rehmann 115). The two are goals and methods.
The belief system differs from economic theories. The reason is because in most cases, an ideology is both normative and explanatory. It dictates the manner in which an economy operates. On its part, a theory generates precise explanatory models (Rehmann 95). Despite the distinction, the two concepts are interrelated. The relationship results from the fact that ideologies are used to manipulate methodologies and theories used in economic analyses.
Cultural and Social Ideologies
Social and cultural ideologies deal with the environment and other issues affecting the society (Zizek 129). A social facet, such as racial discrimination, is largely associated with issues affecting the living conditions of people of a particular race. The effects brought about by this social construction include prejudice and divisions among groups from different ethnic backgrounds. On its part, feminism advocates for equality with regards to women. The groups behind these campaigns believe that women should have economic, social, and political privileges that are similar to those enjoyed by men in the society.
All religions are made up of ideologies of varying beliefs and practices. Some believers tend to follow their doctrines strictly. Others are more liberal and only abide by the rules they consider to be significant. The reason why all religions are considered as ideologies is because most believers do not tolerate the existence of other groups with different beliefs and views. In addition, some individuals from certain faiths consider their understanding of the scriptures to be more accurate compared to that of others (Rehmann 86).
Ideologies and Schooling
It is possible to illustrate the way ideologies shape people’s lives through considering the way capitalism (as one of the political and economic ideologies) affects schooling (Rehmann 17). The basis of Capitalist approach is the struggle for resources and classes differentiation. This has a number of impacts on schooling.
First, there is a certain divide as schools are private and public, they are more and less prestigious and so on. In Capitalist societies, it is believed that a person who has more resources can and should benefit from these resources. Education is one of these benefits. Thus, privileged groups have a wider access to high-quality schooling while people with scarce resources have to get more affordable education, which is often characterized by low quality. Of course, this leads to a greater divide in the society as young people who have gained better education can get better jobs and more resources (money). The class division persists and, in the course of time, it becomes more distinct as children of underprivileged groups remain within the boundaries of their class.
It is possible to trace other forms of the effects of the Capitalist ideology. Hence, in many cases, education is also based on the principle of the conflict. Students often compete and this competition is not confined to sports games. Students try to get better scores to get more benefits and, eventually, to enter a better college. Parents and educators make children share the idea of competitiveness. Children are taught to struggle to get more resources (for example, grades) to succeed in their studies and their lives.
This is a result of the ideology shared by people in many countries. Adults see the way the society operates and they want to make their children prepared to live in such societies. Clearly, education is a way to make young generations fit to be a part of the society and, hence, education usually follows the principles existing in this or that country.
Interestingly, educational establishments are also constantly competing with each other. They struggle for resources as well. These resources are students (and often their parents’ money) and funding from various organizations. Admittedly, there are attempts to make educational establishments cooperate and focus on development of the educational system of the country. However, these attempts often fail, as the system simply does not work that way. The conflict and division remain primary principles that govern in the sphere of schooling.
It is possible to add that even curriculum is often a subject of change due to the influence of the Capitalist approach as well as other ideologies. Thus, various groups such as feminists or ethnic minorities enter the struggle for their resources (larger representation in the society). Hence, new courses and new opportunities for different groups appear.
An Ideology is a view of the world. It is a classification of attitudes, beliefs, and values held by individuals and groups. Generally, different cultures have varying ideologies, which dictate how the society should function. However, some ideological inclinations are dominant across all societies in the world. They include those promoted by important social institutions, such as education, religious, government, law, and media. Thus, the contemporary US education (as well as education in many other countries) is based on major principles of Capitalism. Conflict and class division still persist in the system of education.
People have not understood whether this ideology is harmful or beneficial for education and the society as a whole. However, many people have acknowledged that this ideology can pose threats to effective development of the society as many talented individuals often lack for resources to become an active member of the society. It is clear that the debate on this issue will be quite lasting.
Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, London: Verso, 2014. Print.
Rehmann, Jan. Theories of Ideology: The Powers of Alienation and Subjection, Chicago: Haymarket, 2014. Print.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso, 2009. Print.