||The term idÃ©ologie was originally used by the French Enlightenment philosopher Destutt de Tracy in 1796 both to describe and to recommend a new, rigorous \'science of ideas\' which, \'by overcoming religious and metaphysical prejudices, may serve as a new basis for public education\'. It was thus profoundly \'positive\' (cf. positivism) and only assumed a negative and indeed pejorative meaning in the course of the nineteenth century. In this transformation of meaning the writings of Karl Marx (1818-83) were instrumental: \'With Marx, the concept of ideology came of age\' (Larrain, 1979).
The concept subsequently took on a number of different meanings, so that it is impossible to provide a single definition (within historical materialism alone, see Eagleton, 1991). In the most general terms, most writers who use the term do so in one of two conventional senses, each of which bears the marks of its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century origins. Thompson (1981) distinguished them thus:
(a)Â \'the lattice of ideas which permeate the social order, constituting the collective consciousness of an epoch\', i.e. a generalized system of ideas; and(b)Â \'a consciousness which is in some way â€œfalseâ€ [and] which fails to grasp the real conditions of human existence\', i.e. a distorted system of ideas.In Thompson\'s view, neither is satisfactory. He objects to the first \'because it is too wide : by anchoring ideology in the very nature of consciousness, it conceals the specificity of the ideological phenomenon and renders the latter unsurpassable\'. He objects to the second \'because it is too narrow: by defining ideology in opposition to science, it precludes the possibility that science itself may be ideological\' (cf. Harvey, 1974: \'The use of a scientific method is of necessity founded in ideology, and any claim to be ideology-free is of necessity an ideological claim\'; see also Gregory, 1978).
Thompson (1981, 1984) preferred to treat ideology as \'a system of signification which facilitates the pursuit of particular interests\' and which sustains specific \'relations of domination\' (cf. power). This formulation drew on critical social theory and took advantage of the so-called \'linguistic turn\' that was prominent in philosophy and social theory in the 1980s:
For increasingly it has been realized that ideas do not drift through the social world like clouds in a summer sky, occasionally divulging their contents with a clap of thunder and a flash of light. Rather, ideas circulate in the social world as utterances, as expressions, as words which are spoken or inscribed. Hence to study ideology is, in some part and in some way, to study language in the social world. It is to study the ways in which language is used in everyday social life, from the most mundane encounter between friends and family members to the most privileged forms of political debate (Thompson, 1984).The reflection on language in use â€” on linguistic practices, language-games and social contexts (see pragmatism) â€” is significant because it strongly suggests that it is a mistake to think of ideology as merely \'illusion\':
Once we recognize that ideology operates through language and that language is a medium of social action, we must also acknowledge that ideology is partially constitutive of what, in our societies, \'is real\'. Ideology is not a pale image of the social world but is part of that world, a creative and constitutive element of our social lives (Thompson, 1984).This much was widely acknowledged by geographers in the 1980s. There was more or less general agreement on the need to avoid those versions of hegemony and the \'dominant ideology thesis\' that over-emphasize the degree of coherence, integration and stability of societies (Abercrombie et al., 1980), and of the importance of recovering the multiple ideologies which inform and are invigorated by diverse social struggles (Eyles, 1981). The interest in ideology extended beyond spoken and written forms of communication to an examination of the constellations of power inscribed in visual images, including maps and paintings (see cartography), and in the forms and folds of the cultural landscape itself.
But these ideas were given new force and new form through an increasing interest in discourse. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s even Eagleton (1991) conceded that \'ideology is a matter of â€œdiscourseâ€ rather than of language\'; he suggested that ideology represents \'the points where power impacts upon certain utterances [â€œknowledgesâ€] and inscribes itself tacitly within them\'. The most sustained examinations of discourse in these terms have been conducted under the sign of post-structuralism, where particular interest attaches to the identification of regimes of truth and the conjunction of power-knowledge (see Barrett, 1991). It is thus not surprising that the term \'ideology\' fell from favour in the 1990s as geographers, like scholars elsewhere in the humanities and social sciences, were persuaded that all knowledge is situated knowledge, partial and imperfect; that there is no pure point of overview, detached from the grubby particulars and power-plays of the world; and that all claims to knowledge are made within and help to shape relations of power. These realizations have not licensed a wild and unconstrained relativism. In recent years the practice of human geography has been made considerably more demanding â€” ethically and intellectually â€” by careful and principled critiques of ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism, masculinism, Orientalism and phallocentrism. These discussions have been advanced by close, critical readings of texts â€” of what language does beyond the intentions of its authors â€” and a probing, almost forensic excavation of \'buried epistemologies\' (cf. deconstruction). These exercises in what would once have been called \'ideology critique\' have shown that all discursive practices are inescapably \'worldly\', and that they are engaged with other, profoundly political and thoroughly material social practices (see Willems-Braun, 1997; Barnett, 1998).Â (DG)
References Abercrombie, N., Hill, T. and Turner, B.S. 1980: The dominant ideology thesis. London: Allen & Unwin.Â Barnett, C. 1998: Impure and worldly geography: the Africanist discourse of the Royal Geographical Society, 1831-73. Transactions, Institute of British Geography NS 23: 239-52.Â Barrett, M. 1991: The politics of truth: from Marx to Foucault. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Â Eagleton, T. 1991: Ideology: an introduction. London: Verso.Â Eyles, J. 1981: Ideology, contradiction and struggle: an exploratory discussion. Antipode 13 (2): 39-46.Â Gregory, D. 1978: Ideology, science and human geography. London: Hutchinson.Â Harvey, D. 1974: Population, resources and the ideology of science. Economic Geography 50: 256-77.Â Larrain, J. 1979: The concept of ideology. London: Hutchinson.Â Thompson, J.B. 1981: Critical hermeneutics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Â Thompson, J.B. 1984: Studies in the theory of ideology. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Thompson, J.B. 1990: Ideology and modern culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.Â Willems-Braun, B. 1997: Buried epistemologies: the politics of nature in (post)colonial British Columbia. Annals of the Association of American Geography 87: 3-31.
Suggested Reading Barrett (1991).Â Willems-Braun (1997).