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  The term ideology (French idée + ology) was coined by the philosopher Destutt de Tracy to describe his proposal for ‘a science of ideas’. Today the concept of ideology has multiple usages and definitions. On epistemological definitions ideological thought refers to sets of ideas which are not scientific: that is, illogical conjunctions of ideas and/or ideas which are not amenable to empirical verification or falsification and have to be taken on trust. On this conception astrology, political doctrines, psychoanalysis, religions and theologies are examples of ideological thinking.

On Marxist definitions ideologies refer either to systems of ideas which reflect and functionally support the dominant economic system, or, relatedly, to patterns of ideas shaped by people\'s class interests. Marxists believe that the ‘dominant ideology’ in a given historical period reflects the interests of the dominant class. One implication of the Marxist approach is that ideologies may distort a person\'s perceptions of his or her interests, or lead to what Marxists call ‘false consciousness’.

More broadly in the social sciences ideologies are regarded as systems of belief which provide a coherent and relatively consistent explanation of a given social or political order, or a programmatic vision about how to achieve a new social or political order. They usually have core conceptions of human nature and philosophies of history which explain how we got where we are and where we should now go. Used in this way an ideology means a simplified (and sometimes simplistic) political philosophy, doctrine or world-view (or Weltanschauung in German).

Non-Marxist studies of ideology can be divided on the one hand into those which critically analyse the logical content of bodies of social and political theory, and more empirically oriented investigations which seek to establish the existence of ideological thinking and the effects of ideological thinking on the political behaviour of individuals and groups. These studies reach radically different conclusions concerning the ways in which ideology affects political action: ranging from those who think nearly all political activity is ideologically (or discursively) based to those who think that only a minority of people act because of ideological thinking or are ideologically conditioned.

Twice in this century social scientists have predicated the ‘end of ideology’ and the arrival of more pragmatic and rational approaches to politics: once in the early 1960s and again in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR. Decoded, these were in fact claims that the appeal of Marxism had terminally diminished in Western liberal democracies.

In ordinary usage, ideology now has both positive and negative connotations: positively, ideology may be commended when a person or an organization is behaving in accordance with a coherent world-view (as in ‘ideologically correct’); negatively, ideological thinking is condemned because it leads a person or an organization to behave with a morally blinkered or factually distorted conception of reality. BO\'L

See also critical theory; class; conflict theory; culture; discourses; hegemony; historical materialism; legitimation; norms; power; social construction of reality; social control; social stratification; sociology of knowledge; state; values.Further reading N. Abercrombie, , S. Hill and , B. Turner, The Dominant Ideology Thesis; , D. Bell, The End of Ideology; , L. Feuer, Ideology and Ideologists; , J. Larrain, The Concept of Ideology.



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