What You Need to Know About : Ideological Rethoric

While there are multiple ways to define ideology, for our purposes the most general will suffice—an ideology is a belief/value system that functions to maintain or challenge the existing order. This implies a relationship to power as a central feature of an ideological orientation to the world but does not restrict ideology to the early Marxist sense as “false consciousness.” Ideology may be theorized as distinct from rhetoric in that its expression is merely a by-product of its attitudinal perspective. The preference taken in this discussion is the opposite: An ideology exists in and through the symbol system that gives it meaning. An ideology is a rhetorical construct. As such, it lives or dies by virtue of the resonance its expression has in the lived experience of those who declare allegiance to the orientation it takes toward the world. An ideology, thus, is not a fixed but rather relatively fluid system whose principles may appear permanent but are in fact subject to change.

As noted above, an ideology is keyed to relations of power. What this means, in a postmodern context, is that changes in ideology manifest themselves as changes in power relations between social actors. The critique of power is inescapably a response to the shortcomings of a particular ideological orientation. Power, in this context, is not totally a repressive instrument of social control, though that is a dimension that an ideological critique will focus on in challenging the outcome or consequence of a specific relationship. From another perspective, power may also be seen in productive terms—what relationships allow to be created through the use of power in positioning people to engage in positive change. In this context, an ideological critique will focus on how power can be used in fashioning relationships that have the potential to demarginalize a group or to otherwise enable its members to gain control of their own lives in ways a prior power relationship did not.

From this perspective, ideological rhetoric is that discourse (which includes visual as well as textual artifacts) that reflects, establishes, or challenges existing power relations between and among people. It is a rhetoric that, in Burkean terms, pronounces how people should behave toward one another. The discourse of skinheads (as repelling as that may be personally) is just as ideological as that of progressive politicians seeking to redress the marginalization of a people. Moreover, both discourses contain a clear sense of what the power relationship is seen to be or is proposed to be in a given context.

Littlejohn, Stephen W and Karen A.Floss. (2009). Encyclopedia of Communication Theory.USA:SAGE.654

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Edwina Ayu Kustiawan