University of Tasmania
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Problems of ideology

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:42 authored by Nehrmann, LJ
This thesis serves as a critical account of the development of the theory of ideology; the aim is to contribute towards the rehabilitation of this theory, demonstrating that with certain refinements it remains of significant importance to contemporary social analysis. I argue that the principal flaws in the traditional theory of ideology associated with Marx are rooted in its own adoption of certain 'ideological' motifs from the philosophy of Hegel and of Feuerbach; in particular, a teleological conception of historical process and an idealised image of authenticity. These presuppositions will be shown to result in three problematic implications for the theory: the apparent need for a standard of truth from which to juxtapose ideological errors; the introduction of a dichotomy between an 'ideological' and an 'authentic' subject, and with it concurrent issues surrounding the nature of human agency; and the need to posit some sort of collective subject that is mystified or falsely represented in ideology. I argue that these problems can be surmounted using the aesthetic and psychoanalytic approaches to ideology, developed by Eagleton and ‚âàŒ©i‚âàv¶ek in their respective adaptations of Althusser's conception of interpellation. This shift entails a reformulation of ideology as being an affective rather than a cognitive phenomenon, and so is removed from the problem of true and false belief. The distinction between 'ideological' and 'non-ideological' subjects is also challenged, and this entails a much more expansive conception of ideology, albeit one that is also more variable. The indeterminate notion of a collective subject embodied in ideological formations is explicated as being analogous to the modes of 'intersubjectivity' formed through aesthetic experience, and further developed using the psychoanalytic idea of fantasy. Finally, I argue that the conception of power implicit in the Marxian theory of ideology, epitomised in the struggle/repression opposition, should be replaced with the relational conception of power advanced by Foucault; that in this way the theory is able to account for ideology in all of its forms, and is not limited by any instances of economic reductionism or class essentialism. The application of this refined approach to three distinct and contrastive cases of ideological formations (Early Christianity, the contemporary European Far Right and the New Age Movement) is undertaken in order to demonstrate the enduring relevance and importance of the critique of ideology.


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