Friday, November 25, 2011

Contemporary Problems, Response to Chapter 10

Chapter 10, The Global Flow of Visual Culture

Many ways to respond to globalization, as well but I will focus on one of my favorite authors: about the same time as cultural and other theorists were writing about postmodernism (see response to Ch. 8), Terry Eagleton returns to a key theme of modernist political theory, ideology
Terry Eagleton, Ideology, An Introduction (Verso, 1991)
Reject the concept of ideology, as if we are free of collective interests that determine and direct us?
Postmodern rejects representation, skeptical of any real knowledge, sees power arising everywhere
Idea of “ideology” is said to be closed, old school, too deterministic (it looks at how we are structured)
But to lose concept of ideology while remaining driven by ideas is to fight ourselves,
       as one does in psychoanalysis: the self at war with itself, a very postmodern condition
Ideology, range of meanings: any guiding ideas, or just the false ones? Necessary to all, or specific to just some misguided souls? Is ideology enabling or dominating?
Often seen as false, source of blindness, distortion, and error; but all thought requires pre-conceptions
Technocratic society wants to deny any bias, as though its power is scientific, inevitable, objective
Foucault’s concept of ideology too broad: power and ideology found in every gesture, practice, habit
Language, technology, institutions all tools, specific to some forms of power, 
not the source of oppression
Source of religion, for example, not just power or domination: it may be false but not absurd,
       responds to real needs, pain, fear, alienation, lack of identity in fluid, changing world
Ideologies often obviously false: one people are inferior, e.g., or capitalism always brings democracy
But sometimes ideology can be based on factual things, but interpreted and used deceptively
Like advertising: no lies in a cigarette ad that shows cowboys smoking, but clear implication is false:
       cigarettes don't make you manly, they make you sick or dead
Problem: facts can be confirmed, but values cannot
Is there a basis for deciding between fundamentally conflicting values, or is it all relative?
Louis Althusser’s concept of ideology: not true or false, merely our lived relationship to situation
Ideas may be warped, but are necessary, natural, and unconscious, come from our real circumstances
Ideologies pragmatic (they get things done) and constitutive (they shape and determine our actions)
But are they really natural, neutral? Surely in a society of real freedom, there would be no ideology
There would be “nothing to explain away,” (28), no reason for complex narratives and illusions
Ideology is more than everyday practices, and not all are equal: the colour of a country’s mailboxes
       not as powerful, profound, or important as the size of its army
Six broad definitions of ideology (in order of rising specificity, power, and domination):
       All general ideas or beliefs held in common
       Ideas of any group or class
       Ideas used to promote and legitimate a group’s collective interests
       Ideas of the dominant group
       Distorted ideas used to defend the dominant group’s interests
       The distortion and deception inherent and systemic in any unequal, material social structure
The last suggests that ideologies arise from historical and material circumstances; so can they be
       changed simply through changing ideas?
Or does society have to change? Or do they change each other?
Is it crude and simplistic to see ideology as a product of economic compulsions, a systematic distortion that keeps wages low, or prevents workers from running their own workplaces collectively

Jürgen Habermas: rational, technocratic, pragmatic, instrumental ideas replacing rational “public values”
Places capitalism beyond ideology? Society run on basis of pure utility, technical solutions, not values
We become “exchange-value” only, no subjectivity to work on: “capitalism flattens the human subject to a viewing eye and devouring stomach.” (38)   
But complex, modern production requires independent, creative thought: can’t all be ironic machines
Summarizes other theories of ideology: it is all around, in the air we breathe, but is it immutable?
Frankfurt School (Adorno, Marcuse), single, monolithic, deceptive, identical, reified culture
Reified = abstract ideas made concrete, embodied, frozen in material relationships
       (usually not for the best)
Raymond Williams: varieties of social experience, local cultures, allows resistance:
       no hegemony is absolute, there are many “structures of feeling,” paths to action
Michel Foucault, power is absolute, rises from a micro-physics, like sap in our veins
       (but then how to explain critical thinking? How to explain Foucault himself?) 
Important link: all ideologies must appear (be made to seem) natural, inevitable, universal, eternal
Althusser again: “ideology has no outside,” each one seems infinite (58)
But surely some interests really are universal? Equality, women’s liberation, e.g.
Only truth can survive being truly self-aware; ideology cannot understand itself to be ideological,
       or it ceases to work as, or to be, ideology
Our ideologies must be based on who we really are, or we must reject them
Eagleton then traces a broad swath of intellectual and political history, from the Enlightenment to Marx and the Second International (1914); through Lukács and Gramsci; to Adorno and Bourdieu
Chapter 7 is key for design: “Discourse and Ideology,” how words and other signs give us concepts
Tracing power through how we use language, prefer to imagine ‘deep meaning, closed systems;
       we want to imagine that the visual is a reliable language, when it is open and contingent
Our social position does imbue us with interests and specific ideas, like a galley slave vs. its master
Situation doesn't determine everything about the slave’s thoughts, but surely constrains it
And a slave’s thoughts surely represent that situation, the class position of slavery, if imperfectly
Do people become conservative from simply voting Tory? Or do they have real property to defend?  

For a detailed and challenging book on this same theme, but read through the philosophy of art and culture, see Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthtetic (Blackwell, 1990).


  1. Ideology can differ from person to person from country to country and sometimes between different family members. It mostly depends on what that person values in life, and how their life style is and the experiences they have been through to guide them to a specific ideology about a certain object. Since Ideology relates back to thoughts and how thoughts are processed then it is basically the science of ideas, or the science behind the ideas. So it is true when you wrote that ideologies arise from historical and material circumstances, because everything in life is shaped depending on what you experience as a human being. That being said, ideology changes based on experiences that a society or an individual or an elite class goes through. They change each other, because once an experience changes and it hits the society, the ideology changes and so it changes the society and their way of thinking about that certain experience.

    For an example, Nike shoes are well known to be very famous and their quality is said to be top notch (Ideology about Nike), but once people started finding out the truth about them and how they exploit children in workshops from the third world under filthy conditions part of the world changed their ideologies about Nike. I myself have been boycotting Nike since the day I found out their dirty secret, but I know others who do not care about that topic or refuse to believe it so their ideologies have not changed about Nike. My reaction to this ideology seems to me to be the normal, to be sympathetic to those children being exploited because I guess my personality is like that- but not every body in the society is like that, this is where positions start to come in, I take that position and that side of the experience and its ideology.

  2. The (mass) media propagates ideologies in the same way that it directs specific communications to specific demographics. Perhaps the growth of media has symbolized the growth—and eventual disintegration—of the idea of value-based ideologies in the way that audiences are grouped into very vague categories based on such qualifiers as one's daily interests and world view*.

    The basis of an ideology is not, primarily, an attempt to promote common thought and discourage progress. The least biased of definitions states that ideology constitutes "all general ideas or beliefs held in common," so in fact, it is the existence of the idea—and the eventual growth of that idea—that creates an ideology rather than the ideology existing to gather followers.

    So, perhaps media presents itself as an iteration of ideological memes, shared among individuals within the same targeted group. Where, however, a society that contains ideologies uses these as guiding sets of values, mass media attempts to actually CREATE a dominant value before the audience is involved.

    Perhaps media, in this way, developed—or, at least, encouraged—a crisis for the very concept of ideology in cultures that exist under media.

    *alternatively, "weltanschauung," if you so please.

  3. Ideology at its most vague seems to function as a framework through which to interpret culture, etc. An a priori codex of sorts that allows one to make sense of their experiences. That being said, a framework, while providing the context in which to understand things, it also possesses the capacity to be limiting. The mere idea people have of 'thinking outside the box" alludes to this. This idea of ideology becomes further complicated by the fact that oftentimes, one doesn't realize the effect of one's ideological framework on their conceptions of the world. As such ideologies become a very complex thing to analyze. For even as I write this I've no doubt my own ideologies are shaping the way in which I define the term ideology itself. As such the list of 6 ideology definitions ranging from general to specific, while making sense logically are difficult to truly embrace due to the effect of ideologies themselves making it difficult to compute if one does not share the same set as the auther. Thus these works which seek to define ideology must also change or bend those already existing in order to be embraced by their audiences. Convoluted as that may be hah



  6. Can ideologies be changed simply by changing ideas?

    Semiotician Bob Hodge describes ideology as “[identifying] a unitary object that incorporates complex sets of meanings with the social agents and processes that produced them.” The idea that Hodge used the term ‘meanings’ in reference to ideologies implies that ideologies are primarily based on perspective. People interpret different meanings from the same product or situation depending on their perspective. How would you react to the current state of the American elections, and how would that differ from a conservative businessman from one of the red states? And while it’s possible for one’s perspective to change, I don’t think that means the ideology that had once been held has changed in any way.

    Ideologies are often held by a group or a collective. Going back to politics, consider the number of political parties to the number of voters; there have to be a few people here and there who are voting for the same party, hence they share the same ideology. Just because one year you decide that you don’t agree with how the liberal party is handling things doesn’t mean that the ideology you once held has changed; it means you have changed.

    When your perspective changes, you will associate with a different ideology or possibly even create a new one, but the previous one will not have changed as the collective still exists. It just exists without you.

  7. I find that Foucault's theories on discourse and power contradict the very nature of his critical thinking.

    To start with, Foucault and Eagleton are/were both marxists and left wing theorists. They both follow and believe in the same political "ideology".
    I find that Foucault's absolutism in his definition and understanding of Ideology is narrow minded. One of the most accepted definitions of ideology is that its the set of rules and values set by the dominant social or political group. That seems to work well with Foucault's definition. Eagleton, in Ideology: An Introduction, questions this notion: "For one thing, not every body of belief which people commonly term ideological is associated with a dominant political power, The political left, in particular, tends almost instinctively to think of such dominant modes when it considers the topic of ideology; but what then do we call the beliefs of the Levellers, Diggers, Narodniks and Suffragettes, which were certainly not the governing value systems of their day? Are socialism and feminism ideologies, and if not why not? Are they non-ideological when in political opposition but ideological when they come to power?".

    I find this opposition logical. While Foucault's theories on discourse (A word you and Robert Gill loooove to use) attempt to serve as alternatives to the marxist thought in a post modern world, they also, by making power absolute, challenge the psychoanalytic subjectivation that Terry Eaglton and Slavoj Zizek see as important (I quite like Zizek).

    Now, in a more "my though on ideology". I'd define it as a set of rules and values that could function at many different levels in society. For example, one could have they own value set, while also abiding by a value set of a religion (isn't religion JUST an ideology after all?), while also abiding by the value set of the country they live in (Law). This is the ideal situation but I find that at often times, one set will contradict with another set of values that a person defines himself with and by. This causes two things: You either abide by only one set of values, for example, see religion as supreme and start creating personal values that are ONLY derived from the religion you follow. From personal experience dealing with individuals with such value sets, I find them to be contradictory and illogical (Because after all, religion contains some very illogical and outdated values). The other option I find that people choose when the different value sets contradict with each other is that people choose not to have a set of values. BUT, although they may announce it publicly, refer to themselves in many adjectives that include the word "free" in them, I somehow don't think that people could set values for themselves that abide by none of the pre-existing social, political or religious values set by other people. I would like to see it happen, but oftentimes, the norm is what guides us.

    So maybe ideology is what the majority finds "true", "factual", "necessary"?

    I feel like this makes us sheep being herded by our own confusion.