Ideologies are the framework where we structure our ideas, expectations, values, and beliefs. They are mental constructions that allow us to interpret the world. They help to comprehend how the world works -or how it should- in order to reach our goals and expectations. Ideologies act as filters through which we view and evaluate what happens around us. They are based on our own assumptions to find answers to political, economic, social, or any other human development.
We may be aware of those preconceptions or we may not. In other words, we may know we are following an ideology or may think we don’t have one. In reality, we all have them. Our surrounding universe is so complicated that we need to simplify it, somehow. We need to tie ourselves to them to navigate our everyday lives and make sense of reality.
Because they are based on conjectures that govern our emotions and our thoughts they are, according to Sundelin (15), inherently conflictual. With our ideologies, we hope to realize our expectations and to protect our interests, which places us in a competing position with the other’s reality.
Historically, the concept of ideology has been one of complicated ramifications. Inevitably, as humans, we try to accomplish our objectives and visions so we have used our ideologies as our justifications to the establishment of systems. Systems that might create social tensions and dominance hierarchies. Here is where the role of social theory becomes important. Social theory is, as its name states, theory. It is an intellectualization. It engulfs reflective ways to deal with a wide range of human issues. It represents the effort to rationalize human life, not from an individual perspective but to reflect critically on the nature of society and its problems.
Researchers like Delanty affirm that “the emergence of social theory coincides with the emergence of modernism” (Turner, 19) He affirms that the roots of social theory can be found at the beginning of the 20th century as an effort to understand the forces and tensions that configured the Western world civil societies.
With our modern world, it also came mass communication. Understanding the role of the media on the transmission of information carries an important weight on modern society. Thompson analyzes the process as the exchange of symbolic forms (images, words, and texts) which conducts to a “mediazation of modern culture” (Thompson, 1990, 11) This mediazation brings, as Ambrozas(193) summarizes it, a “new form of publicness distinguished by visibility rather than co-present dialogue”. This factor creates a complicated issue. If there is no interactive dialogue it becomes harder to confront ideologies, which by default are of a personal nature. That provokes a reaction from the standpoint of the receiver to select and reduce the media channels used. Consequently, the result is balkanization and fragmentation of public opinion in a myriad of self-contained environments brewing on all platforms.
It has also been suggested that postmodernism has generated “an implosion between ideology and culture in contemporary societies, such that it is impossible to distinguish between ideology and nonideology when all mass communication and public discourse is ideological” (Kellner,1185) This is an interesting point because it could place social theory on a difficult spot. If the purpose of social theorists is to analyze ideologies applied in societies, the atomization of ideas and their wide diversity could bring the task to a halt.
On top of these arguments, we need to consider that, even the most objective analysis in social studies, might be subject to ideologies because they are tied to functional meaning and nobody is exempt of his own context.
Ambrozas, D. (1997). John B. Thompson (1995). The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media. Communication. Information Médias Théories, (1), 193. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.fau.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,cookie,url,uid&db=edsper&AN=edsper.comin.1189.3788.1997.num.18.1.1820&site=eds-live&scope=site
Blackburn, R. (1972). Ideology in social science; readings in critical social theory. New York, Pantheon Books, 1972.
Larraín, J. (1979). The concept of ideology. Athens: University of Georgia Press, c1979.
Sunderlin, W. D. (2003). Ideology, social theory, and the environment. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, c2003.
Thompson, J. B. (1984). Studies in the theory of ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Thompson, J. B. (1990). Ideology and modern culture: critical social theory in the era of mass communication. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990.
Turner, B. S. (2009). The new Blackwell companion to social theory. Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom?; Malden, MA, USA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.