Clifford Geertz, “Ideology as a cultural system”, in Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (1973).

‘Summary: looks at the relationship between science and ideology. Argues that ideology cannot be handled (as the social sciences have attempted to do) as an entity in itself – as an ordered system of cultural symbols. Rather, it must be analyzed in the discrimination of its social and psychological contexts. Sociopolitical thought does not grow out of disembodied reflection but is always bound up with the existing life situation of the thinker. Problematic conceptualisation makes the use of ideology in studies difficult.

 

Method: theoretical.

 

Important Insight: It is a confluence of sociopsychological strain and an absence of cultural resources by means of which make sense of the strain, each exacerbating the other, that sets the stage for the rise of systematic (political, moral, economic) ideologies. And it is, in turn, the attempt of ideologies to render otherwise incomprehensible social situations meaningful, to so construe them as to make it possible to act purposefully within them, that accounts both for the ideologies’ highly figurative nature and for the intensity with which, once accepted, they are held.

 

Though science and ideology are different enterprises, they are not unrelated ones. Ideologies do make empirical claims about the condition and direction of society, which it is the business of science (and, where scientific knowledge is lacking, common sense) to assess. The social function of science vis-à-vis ideologies is first to understand them – what they are, how they work, what gives rise to them – and second to criticise them, to force them to come to terms with (but not necessarily surrender to) reality.

 

 

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Notes

 

*problems arising from conceptualisation are apparent in the two main approaches to the study of the social determinants of ideology:

*the interest theory: ideological pronouncements are seen against the background of a universal struggle. Ideology is a mask and a weapon.

*two main defects of this approach:

*its psychology (based on simple rationality) is too anaemic; if the researcher talks specifically about a subject, the thinness of the psychological approach is revealed and becomes implausible, but if the researcher conceals the thinness by talking generally, the arguments become truistic.

*its sociology (based on an unending struggle for power) is too muscular; ideology is conceived of as a form of higher cunning, which results in a neglect of its broader, less dramatic social functions.

*the strain theory: ideological pronouncements are seen against the background of a chronic effort to correct sociopyschological disequilibrium. Ideology is a symptom and a remedy of chronic malintegration of society.

*-defect: this approach eliminates agency

*both of these theories lack anything more than the most rudimentary conception of the processes of symbolic formation.

 

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Notes

 

-problems arising from conceptualisation are apparent in the two main approaches to the study of the social determinants of ideology:

-the interest theory: ideological pronouncements are seen against the background of a universal struggle. Ideology is a mask and a weapon.

-two main defects of this approach:

-its psychology (based on simple rationality) is too anaemic; if the researcher talks specifically about a subject, the thinness of the psychological approach is revealed and becomes implausible, but if the researcher conceals the thinness by talking generally, the arguments become truistic.

-its sociology (based on an unending struggle for power) is too muscular; ideology is conceived of as a form of higher cunning, which results in a neglect of its broader, less dramatic social functions.

-the strain theory: ideological pronouncements are seen against the background of a chronic effort to correct sociopyschological disequilibrium. Ideology is a symptom and a remedy of chronic malintegration of society.

*-defect: this approach eliminates agency

-both of these theories lack anything more than the most rudimentary conception of the processes of symbolic formation.