• The first problem confronting any discussion of the nature of ideology is that there is no settled or agreed definition of the term, only a collection of rival definitions. As David McLellan commented, ‘Ideology is the most elusive concept in the whole of the social sciences.’
  • Few political terms have been the subject of such deep and impassioned controversy. For much of its history, the term ‘ideology’ has been used as a political weapon, a device with which to condemn or criticize rival sets of ideas or belief systems. Not until the second half of the twentieth century was a neutral and apparently objective concept of ideology widely employed, and even then disagreements persisted over the social role and political significance of ideology.
  • Among the meanings that have been attached to ideology are the following:
    1. a political belief system
    2. an action-orientated set of political ideas
    3. the ideas of the ruling class
    4. the world-view of a particular social class or social group
    5. political ideas that embody or articulate class or social interests
    6. ideas that propagate false consciousness among the exploited or oppressed
    7. ideas that situate the individual within a social context and generate a sense of collective belonging
    8. an officially sanctioned set of ideas used to legitimize a political system or regime
    9. an all-embracing political doctrine that claims a monopoly of truth
    10. an abstract and highly systematic set of political ideas.
  • The origins of the term are nevertheless clear. The word ‘ideology’ was coined during the French Revolution by Antoine Destutt de Tracy (1754–1836), and was first used in public in For de Tracy, idéologie referred to a new ‘science of ideas’, literally an idea-ology.
    • With a rationalist zeal typical of the Enlightenment, he believed that it was possible to uncover the origins of ideas objectively, and proclaimed that this new science would come to enjoy the same status as established sciences such as biology and zoology.
    • More boldly, since all forms of inquiry are based on ideas, de Tracy suggested that ideology would eventually come to be recognized as the queen of the sciences. However, despite these high expectations, this original meaning of the term has had little impact on later usage, which has been influenced by both Marxist and non-Marxist thinking.
Evolution of Ideology
Evolution of Ideology

Marxist views on Ideology

  • Marx used the term in the title of his early work The German Ideology , written with his lifelong collaborator Friedrich Engels . This also contains Marx’s clearest description of his view of ideology.
  • The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time the ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.
  • Marx’s concept of ideology has a number of crucial features:
    • First, ideology is about delusion and mystification: it perpetrates a false or mistaken view of the world, what Engels later referred to as ‘false consciousness’. Marx used ideology as a critical concept, the purpose of which is to unmask a process of systematic mystification.
      • His own ideas he classified as scientific, because they were designed to accurately uncover the workings of history and society. The contrast between ideology and science, between falsehood and truth, was thus vital to Marx’s use of the term.
    • Second, ideology is linked to the class system. Marx believed that the distortion implicit in ideology stems from the fact that it reflects the interests and perspective on society of the ruling class. The ideology of a capitalist society is therefore bourgeois ideology. The ruling class is unwilling to recognize itself as an oppressor and, equally, is anxious to reconcile the oppressed to their oppression. The class system is thus presented upside down, a notion Marx conveyed through the image of the camera obscura, the inverted picture that is produced by a camera lens or the human eye. Liberalism, which portrays rights that can only be exercised by the propertied and privileged as universal entitlements, is therefore the classic example of ideology.
    • Third, ideology is a manifestation of power. In concealing the contradictions on which capitalism, in common with all class societies, is based, ideology serves to hide from the exploited proletariat the fact of its own exploitation, and thereby upholds a system of unequal class power. Ideology literally constitutes the ‘ruling’ ideas of the age.
    • Finally, Marx treated ideology as a temporary phenomenon. Ideology will only continue so long as the class system that generates it survives. The proletariat – in Marx’s view, the ‘gravedigger’ of capitalism – is destined not to establish another form of class society, but rather to abolish class inequality altogether by bringing about the collective ownership of wealth. The interests of the proletariat thus coincide with those of society as a whole. The proletariat, in short, does not need ideology because it is the only class that needs no illusions.
  • However, important shifts in the meaning of the term also took place. In particular, all classes came to be seen to possess ideologies. For Lenin and most later Marxists, ideology therefore came to refer to the distinctive ideas of a particular social class, ideas that advance its interests regardless of its class position. However, as all classes – the proletariat as well as the bourgeoisie – have an ideology, the term was robbed of its negative or pejorative connotations.
  • The Marxist theory of ideology was perhaps developed furthest by Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci argued that the capitalist class system is upheld not simply by unequal economic and political power, but by what he termed the ‘hegemony’ of bourgeois ideas and theories. Hegemony means leadership or domination and, in the sense of ideological hegemony, it refers to the capacity of bourgeois ideas to displace rival views and become, in effect, the common sense of the age.
  • This bourgeois hegemony, Gramsci insisted, could only be challenged at the political and intellectual level, which means through the establishment of a rival ‘proletarian hegemony’, based on socialist principles, values and theories.
  • The capacity of capitalism to achieve stability by manufacturing legitimacy was also a particular concern of the Frankfurt School, a group of mainly German neo-Marxists who fed the Nazis and later settled in the USA. Its most widely known member, Herbert Marcuse , argued in One-Dimensional Man (1964) that advanced industrial society has developed a ‘totalitarian’ character through the capacity of its ideology to manipulate thought and deny expression to oppositional views. According to Marcuse, even the tolerance that appears to characterize liberal capitalism serves a repressive purpose, in that it creates the impression of free debate and argument, thereby concealing the extent to which indoctrination and ideological control take place.

Non-Marxist views

  • One of the earliest attempts to construct a non-Marxist concept of ideology was undertaken by the German sociologist Karl Mannheim .
  • In Ideology and Utopia , Mannheim portrayed ideologies as thought systems that serve to defend a particular social order, and that broadly express the interests of its dominant or ruling group. Utopias, on the other hand, are idealized representations of the future that imply the need for radical social change, invariably serving the interests of oppressed or subordinate groups. He further distinguished between ‘particular’ and ‘total’ conceptions of ideology.
    • ‘Particular’ ideologies are the ideas and beliefs of specific individuals, groups or parties, while ‘total’ ideologies encompass the entire Weltanschauung, or ‘world-view’, of a social class, society or even historical period. In this sense, Marxism, liberal capitalism and Islamism can each be regarded as ‘total’ ideologies.
  • Mannheim nevertheless held that all ideological systems, including utopias, are distorted, because each offers a partial, and necessarily self-interested, view of social reality. Writers as different as Karl Popper , Hannah Arendt , J. L. Talmon , Bernard Crick and the ‘end of ideology’ theorists came to use the term ‘ideology’ in a highly restrictive manner, seeing fascism and communism as its prime examples. According to this usage, ideologies are ‘closed’ systems of thought, which, by claiming a monopoly of truth, refuse to tolerate opposing ideas and rival beliefs.
    • Ideologies are thus ‘secular religions’; they possess a ‘totalizing’ character and serve as instruments of social control, ensuring compliance and subordination. However, not all political creeds are ideologies by this standard. For instance, liberalism, based as it is on a fundamental commitment to freedom, tolerance and diversity, is the clearest example of an ‘open’ system of thought.
  • A distinctively conservative concept of ideology can also be identified. This is based on a longstanding conservative distrust of abstract principles and philosophies, born out of a sceptical attitude towards rationalism and progress. Te foremost modern exponent of this view was Michael Oakeshott .
    • In political activity’, Oakeshott argued in Rationalism in Politics , ‘men sail a boundless and bottomless sea’. From this perspective, ideologies are seen as abstract systems of thought, sets of ideas that are destined to simplify and distort social reality because they claim to explain what is, frankly, incomprehensible.
  • Since the 1960s, however, the term ‘ideology’ has gained a wider currency through being refashioned according to the needs of conventional social and political analysis. This has established ideology as a neutral and objective concept, the political baggage once attached to it having been removed. Martin Seliger (1976), for example, defined an ideology as ‘a set of ideas by which men posit, explain and justify the ends and means of organized social action, irrespective of whether such action aims to preserve, amend, uproot or rebuild a given social order’. An ideology is therefore an action-orientated system of thought. So defined, ideologies are neither good nor bad, true nor false, open nor closed, liberating nor oppressive – they can be all these things.
  • The clear merit of this social-scientific concept is that it is inclusive, in the sense that it can be applied to all ‘isms’, to liberalism as well as Marxism, to conservatism as well as fascism, and so on. The drawback of any negative concept of ideology is that it is highly restrictive.
  • However, any neutral concept of ideology also has its dangers. In particular, in offloading its political baggage the term may be rendered so bland and generalized that it loses its critical edge completely. If ideology is interchangeable with terms such as ‘belief system’, ‘worldview’, ‘doctrine’ or ‘political philosophy’, what is the point of continuing to pretend that it has a separate and distinctive meaning?

The End of Ideology

  • The notion of the ‘end of ideology’ was particularly fashionable in the 1950s and 1960s. The most influential statement of this position was advanced by Daniel Bell.
  • Bell was impressed by the fact that, after World War II, politics in the West was characterized by broad agreement among major political parties and the absence of ideological division or debate. Fascism and communism had both lost their appeal, while the remaining parties disagreed only about which ideologies could best be relied on to deliver economic growth and material prosperity. Daniel Bell observed “Today ideologies are exhausted…”
  • In effect, economics had triumphed over politics. Politics had been reduced to technical questions about ‘how’ to deliver affluence, and had ceased to address moral or philosophical questions about the nature of the ‘good society’. To all intents and purposes, ideology had become an irrelevance.
  • Ralph Dahrendorf in Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (1957) argued that the Western societies had entered a new phase of development. They were no longer capitalist societies; they had become ‘post-capitalist societies’.
  • W. W. Rostow, in The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-communist Manift (1960) built a unidimensional model of economic growth which was applicable to all countries irrespective of their political ideologies.
  • J.K. Galbraith, in The New Industrial State (1967) identified certain characteristics of advanced industrial societies which correspond to the end of ideology thesis. Galbraith observed that all industrialized societies are destined to similar development. This involves greater centralization, bureaucratization, professionalization and technocratization. These characteristics were visible in the Russian as well as American systems although they had adopted as divergent ideologies as communism and capitalism respectively. It means that a country’s techno-economic structure is shaped by the level of its industrialization, and not by its distinctive political ideology.
  • However, the process to which Bell drew attention was not the ‘end of ideology’ so much as the emergence of a broad ideological consensus among major parties, and therefore the suspension of ideological debate. In the immediate postwar period, representatives of the three major Western ideologies – liberalism, socialism and conservatism – came to accept the common goal of managed capitalism. This goal, however, was itself ideological – for example, it reflected an enduring faith in market economics, private property and material incentives, tempered by a belief in social welfare and economic intervention. In effect, an ideology of ‘welfare capitalism’ or ‘social democracy’ had triumphed over its rivals, although this triumph proved to be only temporary.
  • The 1960s witnessed the rise of more radical New Left ideas, reflected in a revival of interest in Marxist and anarchist thought and the growth of ‘new’ ideologies such as feminism and ecologism. The onset of economic recession in the 1970s provoked renewed interest in longneglected, free-market doctrines and stimulated the development of New Right theories, which also challenged the postwar consensus. Finally, the ‘end of ideology’ thesis focused attention exclusively on developments in the industrialized West and ignored the fact that in the 1950s and 1960s communism remained firmly entrenched in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and elsewhere, and that revolutionary political movements were operating in Asia, Africa and parts of Latin America.
  • A broader perspective was adopted by Francis Fukuyama in his essay ‘The End of History’ (1989), later developed into The End of History and the Last Man. Unlike Bell, Fukuyama did not suggest that political ideas had become irrelevant, but that one particular set of ideas, Western liberalism, had triumphed over all its rivals. Fascism had been defeated in 1945, and Fukuyama clearly believed that the collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe in 1989 marked the passing of Marxism-Leninism as an ideology of world significance. By the ‘end of history’, Fukuyama meant that the history of ideas had ended, and with it, fundamental ideological debate. Throughout the world there was, he argued, an emerging agreement about the desirability of liberal democracy, in the form of a market or capitalist economy and an open, competitive political system.
  • Without doubt, the Eastern European revolutions of 1989–91, which gave greatly renewed impetus to the process of democratization , and the dramatic reform of surviving communist regimes such as China profoundly altered the worldwide balance of ideological debate.
  • However, it is far less certain that this process amounted to the ‘end of history’. In particular, no sooner had the ‘end of history’ thesis been proclaimed than ideological forces that have little or nothing to do with Western liberalism started to rise to the surface. The first indication of this was the eruption of ethnic violence across much of former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, which suggested that the successor ideology to fallen communism may be nationalism rather than liberalism. Further evidence of the strengthening of non-liberal and anti-liberal forces was provided by the rise of religious fundamentalism in its various forms. This encouraged some to argue that world politics in the twenty-first century would witness, not the global triumph of liberalism, but a deepening ‘clash of civilizations’ .

Criticism of End of Ideology thesis

  • However, Richard Titmuss, C. Wright Mills, C.B. Macpherson and Alasdair Maclntyre serverly criticized the end of ideology thesis.
  • Titmuss observed that the champions of the end of ideology thesis overlook the problems of monopolistic concentration of economic power, social disorganization and cultural deprivation within the capitalist system.
  • C. Wright Mills dubbed the upholders of end of ideology thesis the advocates of status quo. In his view, it is an ideology of political complacency which appears to be the only way now available for many social scientists to acquiesce in or to justify the established social structure.
  • Alasdair Maclntyre (Against the Self-images of the Age; 1971) significantly observed that the ‘end of ideology’ theorists “failed to entertain one crucial alternative possibility: namely that the end-of ideology, far from marking the end-of-ideology, was itself a key expression of the ideology of the time and place where it arose.”
  • In short, the end of ideology debate, and its latest version are designed to project the supremacy of liberal-democratic system in theory as well as practice.

Looking Forward 

  • Despite such diverse views including the notion of false consciousness and end of ideology, ideologies continue to impact and influence our everyday existence. Significance of a particular ideology may change according to the rise and fall of its political relevance of that time but ideology in some form continues to have a role in our socio-political life. The reasons for this resilience of ideologies can be traced in their flexibility, intellectual renewal, reformulation and revision. 
  • Moreover, these ideologies have influenced and enriched each other with time. Also, ideology touches those aspects of political life that other political forms cannot. Ideology as discussed in the beginning forms a social cement giving a sense of purpose, rallying point for a group-based action, and makes people believe in something larger than life to achieve: may it be communist society or a liberal society. 
  • An age without a political ideology will be an age without hope, without vision. In this basis of hope and vision, ideologies will continue to exist and evolve according to the contextual changes. 

Post Structuralism and Post Modernism

Post Structuralism

  • It rose primarily in France in the late 1950s in response to certain methods which were then widely used in social sciences such as anthropology and sociology, and which were often called structuralist.
  • The strongest challenge perhaps was launched in 1966 by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. He gave a lecture at Johns Hopkins University in 1966. It had the title, ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’.
  • Derrida’s main argument is that structural explanations are incoherent. According to him, what he calls the centre of any structure – by that he seems to mean the organizing principle or organizing idea of a structural explanation – this center of any structure or the organizing principle of it is not itself part of the structure.
  • Derrida concludes that the centre of an explanatory system is what he calls therefore a non-presence. It’s not a thing, or a place, a locus, but instead it’s a function which takes different names in different systems. So if this central idea of an explanatory system cannot be signified, that is if there is nothing to be named, nothing that we can point to and name, then the term signifier also ceases to have any use. The result is that all explanations become systems not of signs but of discourse.
  • Derrida says the move away from structuralism had already taken place by the time lectured on it in 1966. He calls this move a rupture or an event. And one example would be decolonization, another would be civil rights movements, another would be a new wave of feminism and the like. These are significant ruptures or events which lead us to reconceive society, lead to significant historical changes in societies. And according to Derrida, these moves constituted a move away from structuralism.
  • But Derrida considers that there is an approach which replaces structuralism. He calls it
  • deconstruction. This does not mean dismantling something or destroying it. Instead it means identifying the multiple themes and elements and inheritances within a text. And therefore, by identifying these multiple themes and the elements in inheritances, we attain a richer sense of the text.That can also mean learning about what has been left out of a text.
  • So, deconstructing a text does not mean deconstructing it in the way we might dismantle a machine – take a screwdriver around the back, and take the lid off, and take the back off, and get the bits out, and all the rest of it. Deconstruction is not dismantling. It does mean identifying the potentially indefinite range of things that went into the creation of a text.
  • Now, Derrida’s argument here has two main consequences.
    • First, the reader is in a sense creating the text by engaging closely with it.
    • Second is that almost anything can be relevant to the reader’s engagement with the text – that is, to their reading of the text.
  • So, no final or definitive reading of the text is possible. Reading becomes active rather than passive.
  • Derrida spoke of the non existence of any foundation ,be it in philosophy or in reading a text.In his work ‘Spectres of Marxism’ he speaks about the interrelationship between the texts and reality, and shows how the text and reality influence each other and something emerges out of that relationship. They are intrinsically related in three ways:
    • Texts influence reality.
    • Texts contain reality
    • Reality produces text.
  • Deconstruction is not a method. Therefore, deconstruction does not have any rules to follow. It cannot be taught in some structured way.Deconstruction just happens.It is not destruction but it is a process of reaching the right meaning if at all such thing exists.Deconstruction is continuous process.
  • The basic argument of deconstruction is that the world should be looked at as a text. Deconstructionists call it ‘textuality’; they want to expose the ‘textual interplay behind/within power politics’ Derrida says we need to interpret interpretation more than interpret things.. There is no intrinsic essence to a text. Deconstruction radically challenges the dominant concepts and oppositions which are taken for granted. More importantly, its objective is to show us the effects and costs of these dominant concepts and oppositions. It also aims to show how these oppositions are linked and dependent on each other hierarchically. In other words, these conceptual oppositions are never neutral, but are inevitably hierarchical. Of the two terms, one term is more privileged than the other because one is seen as having fullness, presence and identity, while the other seems to be lacking these qualities.
  • Derrida’s argument is that texts have multiple meanings and the ‘violence’ between the different meanings of a text may be elucidated by close textual analysis. It is for this reason Derrida does a ‘double reading’ of a well-known text.
  • Another major figure in post-structuralist thought is Michel Foucault, and he made his name with his three volume History of Sexuality. Foucault argued against the idea that sex is a natural phenomenon, and he argues against the idea that this is a phenomenon which modern people have liberated, or that we can claim to have liberated from periods of repression. Instead, according to Foucault, reducing sex to a single such concept obscures its great complexity – that is the combination of biological and anatomical elements, cultural practices and meanings, psychological factors, and so on, all of which are involved.
  • So this kind of reductionist attitude also obscures the great variety in sexual practices and orientations among humans, not only around the world but within what we might think of as single cultures. Foucault claimed to have been analysing the historical development of the idea of sexuality, but in doing that he also showed why we need to be cautious or even suspicious when things are presented to us as natural phenomena or as simply given.
  • Foucault reserves his strongest criticism for the period he calls the Enlightenment. By that he seems to mean a modern or modernist project in which we subject everything to reason, and we attempt to ground the whole of human life on knowledge gained by rational inquiry.
  • He puts this much more strongly in his later work, The Archaeology of Knowledge. And in that book Foucault says, the main result of our attempt to ground the whole of human life on rationally gained knowledge, the main result of that is that we come to think of the Enlightenment, the historical period the Enlightenment, as the progressive spread of ideas of universal validity.
  • Foucault argues that “nothing is fundamental’ and therefore it is waste of time to search for Universals.

Post Modernism

  • Postmodernism has had a much wider impact on society than poststructuralism. Poststructuralism, insofar as it amounts to an ideology, has largely been a feature of the academic humanities. But postmodernism has been expressed in architecture, in the visual arts, in music, the theatre, many other areas of life. Indeed there’s a case for saying that postmodernism has been as much a part of contemporary life, as it has been a way of thinking in the academic humanities. There is an overlap between poststructuralism and post-modernism. Both involves anti foundationalism, emphasis on construction of meanings and rhetoric in texts etc. Postmodernism prefers decentred knowledge. Poststructuralism as a movement in social and political theory is included in the category of postmodernism which has wider cultural and social resources. They both reject the idea of Universal social sciences.
  • Postmodernism was originally used as a reaction to modernism.
  • The term ‘postmodern’ seems to have been used first by the French philosopher, Jean- François Lyotard in the title of his 1979 book The Postmodern Condition. Postmodernists argue that modernism is too centralized and monolithic in its mindset.Lyotard calls it “GRAND NARRATIVE”. They are suspicious of truth, objectivity and progress and is characterized by distinctive anti-science, anti-capitalist mentality.
  • Postmodernism constitutes assault upon the rationalistic certainties of the Enlightenment .

Major Arguments of Postmodernists:

  • It privileges ‘indeterminacy’ instead of ‘finality’
  • recognized that the reality is ‘fragmentary’ and ‘disconnected’
  • opposes all ‘Canonical authority’
  • Emphasizes a free mixture of styles,genres and traditions.
  • focuses on the processes of creation and interpretation instead of static ideas.
  • It asserts impossibility of metanarratives.
  • It emphasizes deconstruction,moral relativism and pluralism.
  • It is a combination of ‘Discourse theory’ and ‘anti-foundationalism’.

Jean-Francois Lyotard on Postmodernism:

  • His work The Postmodern condition:A report on knowledge represents the core of postmodern thinking on central issues of modernity and postmodernity.
  • Lyotard represents a concern for pluralism and multiplicity (terms he uses synonymously to oppose the idea of universality).It suggests that there are irreducible differences in the order of things, and that we must take things on their own terms without attempting to reduce them to universals. He claims that all discourse is narrative; all theory, all politics, all law, are merely a collection of stories.
  • He rejects the idea of a master-discourse (later called a metanarrative) that is thought to provide the basis for judgement in all situations Instead, Lyotard suggests the abandonment of universal judgement for specific, plural judgements.
  • Lyotard famously defines the postmodern as ‘incredulity towards metanarratives,’ where metanarratives are understood as totalizing stories about history and the goals of the human race that ground and legitimize knowledges and cultural practices.
  • The two metanarratives that Lyotard sees as having been most important in the past are
    • History as progressing towards social enlightenment and emancipation, and
    • knowledge as progressing towards totalization.
  • Modernity is defined as the age of metanarrative legitimation, and postmodernity as the age in which metanarratives have become bankrupt. Through his theory of the end of metanarratives, Lyotard develops his own version of what tends to be a consensus among theorists of the postmodern – postmodernity as an age of fragmentation and pluralism.
  • Lyotard argues that postmodern attitude fosters incredulity towards metanarratives. Thus for him modernity is not a concept, rather a narrative category.
  • The main arguments that postmodernists put forth in the criticism of Enlightenment Movement in philosophy are discussed through the concepts of ‘knowledge and power’, ‘genealogy’ and ‘deconstruction’.

Knowledge and Power

  • One of the main arguments that postmodernists put forth in their criticism of the Enlightenment Movement in philosophy is that ‘knowledge’ and ‘power’ are deeply and covertly linked. This precisely was denied by the philosophers of the Enlightenment Movement. They argued that ‘knowledge’, particularly gained through the use of reason, can liberate us from the evils of ‘power’ in society. They also argued that humanity is progressing and bettering itself through history, particularly from the modern period. Humanity, they argued, from the Enlightenment period onwards, is directed towards the future rather than the past.
  • Nietzsche , the major source for postmodern thinkers, is a critic of Hegel and his progressive view of history. He is not convinced that humanity is progressing towards a knowledge of the so-called absolute truth. In fact, he rejects the existence of any such thing as absolute truth or a single, objective reality. He writes, ‘There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective knowing.’ In simple words, there is no single reality but many realities. This kind of scepticism is called ‘perspectivism’ in philosophy, and is attributed to Nietzsche.
  • The best ways of describing postmodernism as a philosophical movement would be as a form of skepticism, which has a disbelieving stance against authority, received wisdom, cultural and political norms. It links ‘knowledge’ with ‘power’.
  • Talking about the link between knowledge and power Foucault writes:
    • We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or applying it because it is useful), that power and knowledge directly imply one another;
    • Postmodernists reject the simplistic view that the production of knowledge is a cognitive matter; it is also both a normative and political matter. Foucault in his works The Order of Things and Discipline and Punish, wanted to see if there is a common nexus between the field of knowledge and power. According to him, power and knowledge are mutually supportive and directly imply one another.

Genealogy

  • Linked to this dynamics of power–knowledge is the concept of ‘genealogy’, which is important in order to understand postmodernism. Put simply, genealogy is a style of historical method which exposes the significance of power–knowledge relations. Nietzsche is credited for introducing this term .
  • Nietzsche, according to Foucault, is challenging the assumption of an essential, timeless essence, which is named ‘Truth’ by philosophers. Nietzschean genealogy is an interrogation into the lineage of contemporary moral practices or institutions or ideas.
  • The only truth is the history of the way truth has been defined and produced, deployed, subverted and perverted. Genealogy ‘focuses on the process by which we have constructed origins and given meaning to particular representations of the past, representations that continuously guide our daily lives and set clear limits to political and social options’. In simple words, it focuses on the deeper politics and assumptions of historians and other intellectuals of a particular society and period in their attempts to construct history and knowledge of the society they live in.
  • This method also allows us the possibility of questioning and challenging the knowledge produced by institutions of the state and society.

Conclusion

  • Postmodernism is anti-foundationalist, anti-essentialist and has corroded both the epistemological foundation and the practice modernity.

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