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This paper considers the explanatory value of the concept ‘dominant ideology’. It begins with the Marxist definition of the dominant ideology and discusses aspects of dominant ideology from the Marxists and the contemporary Neo-Marxists perspective. The Neo-Marxist perspective of the dominant ideology has been used to describe the values related to faith and religion. It focuses on the use of media as a source of propagation of dominant ideology. Some critiques of the writers, the explanatory value of the dominant ideology have also been considered which contradict its traditional view. Finally the essay concludes with the traditional and the critical view of the ideology and bourgeoisie class. 

In the Marxist perspective, “Dominant ideology” is referred to as the ideology of the majority in a population. This ideology remains to be prevalent given that interests of the dominant class are fulfilled. This can lead to seizure of development process in the subordinate class, who are unable to form an effective opposition. It can be said without doubt that the ideas of the dominant class are deeply penetrated into the social system. (Williams, 1977)

According to Karl Marx, ‘Social class determines consciousnesses. The relationship of a class to the modes of production generates cultural conditions and its material conditions. In other words it can also be said that each class has a separate belief system because each has its own interests due to difference in their economic conditions. Secondly each mode of production has a dominant class which is responsible for a dominant ideology to ensure the subordination of the working class. Marx also distinguished two types of social influences in the formation of ideologies. The main source of ideas is the experiences of individuals as they continue their daily life experiences. David Cheal calls the reactions to these daily activities as the ‘practical ideas.’ Another source through which individuals are introduced to new ideas is called ‘received ideas’ as these are achieved through social interactions or communication between individuals. For Gramsci, the presence of these two sources of ideas can lead to contradictions, which he called ‘contradictory consciousness.’ Such types of contradictions are unevenly distributed among the classes. For dominant classes, they form a consistent system of thought and the consequences of such contradictions are insignificant. However for subordinate classes, these contradictions are large and significant. (Cheal, 1979) Leading thinkers in Marxist ideology, Althussers and Paulantzas argue that the dominance in political or ideological structures is determined by economic base. Such dominance is sometimes also facilitated by non-economic factors like religion. In feudal and pre-capitalist societies religion was used to ensure that a continuous labor source was available from the peasantry. (Abercrombie & Turner, 1978)

According to Marxists, media plays an important role in spreading the dominant ideology and in building a sense of consensus among the population about right and wrong nature of things. This in a sense can be true as media has means to provide false information and completely ignore or brand something unreasonable which challenges the dominant ideology. Media presents ideas of the ruling class while marginalizing voices of minority. The power structures in media can be further broken down to the interests of the owners and managers of a media group. Murdock argues that the two important reasons that recede power of ruling class is the growth of professional managers and the creation of new capital enterprise. As industry grows, so does the need for managers. (Gitlin, 1979)  This in turn increases the influence of professional managers and threatens the power base of the owners.

According to Paul Wingfield media present information in a way that is relevant, has meaning and is acceptable in general. It capitalizes on the general knowledge and dominant ideology in order to transform the information into reality. The ideas that are presented not only get rooted in the media but also into the institutions of the society. Thus media not only plays role in strengthening of the widespread beliefs in a society but is also capable of changing the whole thinking of a society. (Nesbitt-Larking, 2007)
The belief that the dominant ideology of church and other religion have been prevalent historically has been opposed by authors in the contemporary times based on the studies they have done on the peasant and other societies. Martin Goodridge (1975) in the Ages of faith, Romance and Reality notes, in a comprehensive examination of the peasantry in countries like France, England and Italy that the class has been left estranged from the dominant ideological views of faith from the mainstream church. He notes that the religious clergy of the particular area was although influential in asserting the ideology of faith only symbolically, but was considered, in those societies to be, unreliable source of faith and belief. (Goodrige, 1975)The similar line of logic is also applicable to the capitalist societies of the early times. The dominant ideologies of individualism and the doctrines of the utilitarianism were very important components of the 1950s and were widespread in the realms of morality, economy and religion. However, individualism has been connected to the human ancestry and the connection to modern capitalism is very difficult to establish. Following such a line of logic as individualism and the ancestry of human beings, the dominant ideology is the by-product of human ancestry and not of the dominant ideology of the modern capitalism and bourgeoisie class. (Abercrombie & Turner, 1978)

While criticizing Marxism, Abercrombie argues about the shortcomings of the theories of Marxist ideology. He is of the view that the problem with Marxist theories of culture is of methodological character. The basic assumption of the dominant ideology model is that the ruling class controls the means of intellectual production and hence is able to control thoughts and beliefs of the subordinate class. Even in order to protest against the dominant ideology, the subordinate class will need some medium, which itself occurs to be at the hands of the ruling class. (Abercrombie & Turner, 1978)

The existence of a common ideology between the dominant and the dominated class is the basic assumption on which the dominant ideology lies. Critics have argued that the dominating never really shared the ideology of the dominated and they always had their own sets of beliefs, ideas and concepts regarding the different spheres of life. Even in the days of the feudal landlords, it was the dominant class which was adhering to its own sets of values and the dominated class was not very willing to comply with these. (Nesbitt-Larking, 2007) It has also been suggested that the dominant ideology was a means to keep the dominant class together and united on a common platform. The ruling class had developed their own standards and rules and while their attempts to make their subordinates follow those standards were not very successful, this common ideology held the ruling class together.

One reason for doubting Marx’s theory in feudal times is that it was very difficult to disseminate information or principles in those days. If we consider Marx’s theory in light of our current times, we will find that his theory carries more weight now than at any other time. In feudal times, the dominant ideology need not be shared by both the rulers and the subordinates. The rulers were mostly independent and they did not need people to comply with their ideology as long as they were obeying their orders without question. In contemporary times however, this has become a necessity. With the rise of democratic governments and people wanting to have a say in the system of governance, it has become essential for governments to convince people to share their ideologies and both the rulers and the ruled need to share perspectives on issues.

This has enabled mass media to flourish as a strong force in state matters. However, with the rise of corporations, the power dynamics of societies have changed completely and the corporations play a huge role in policy making. The government, the corporations and the media have now become a closely knit group and the ideologies of both the government and corporations are spread by the media. This is a universal phenomenon in both the developed and the undeveloped world, although the end game is usually different. Whatever the end game, the media is always a major player, more than religion ever was in previous years.

Noam Chomsky, in an interview, explained the role of media in shaping perspectives. He said “They (The media) also shape the discussion in such a way that people do not perceive what is happening. A striking example is the Israel Arab conflict. United States and Israel are effectively annexing the valuable parts of the West Bank. That is presented as withdrawal and they are praising Israel for withdrawing from the West Bank, referring to the policy which is about annexing the West Bank.”  So the interests and the ideologies of the rulers are spread among the population by the media and due to the diverse means that it has, it can shape the way people look at a particular problem.

An argument against this prevalent case of media bias has been presented by Arafat Al Jameel. He cites the example of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) which does not gather money from any particular organization and is funded by annual TV license fees. It has in its charter that it will not be influenced by any organization, be it private or government. (Jameel, 2009)

The laws and regulations which make BBC an autonomous broadcasting corporation indicate that its philosophy does not seem to adhere to Marxism through which a ruling class exercises its influence to control over the individuals. It appears that the source of finance to the BBC does not come from one particular person; the households who subscribe to the services of the corporation are the main source for its existence. This approach is akin to Pluralism in its view that the readers and listeners are not merely passive or submissive to the media. Instead, everyone has a voice and therefore able to play a tangible role in affecting the media. (Williams 2003).

However, his explanation has also been targeted for criticism. Even with its claim of being exclusive to pressures from both government and private corporations, BBC has to report according to regulations of the government and its reporting during the Iraq War was claimed to be highly biased. The corporation helped cover up the embarrassment faced by the government over their decision to go into War with Iraq and not find weapons of mass destruction in the country. So this ‘Triad’ of government, corporations and media has developed a new apparatus of spreading the dominant ideology within people and to shape the people’s thoughts to match their own interests.

Marxist theorists tend to emphasize the role of the mass media in the reproduction of the status quo, in contrast to liberal pluralists who emphasize the role of the media in promoting freedom of speech. The Marxist view of dominant ideology still has some strength as it draws our attention to the important factor of social class in relation to media ownership and the effect it has on the consumers. Although consumers in large can affect what the media showcases, the biases of media towards particular social and political pressures cannot be ignored. The notion that media produces false consciousness in the working class is an extreme stance, which sees media products as the ideology of the ruling class only. This completely ignores the diversity of opinions and the oppositional views that exist in the public.

About The Author: Hamid Khan is a an alumni of Lahore University of Management Sciences. He received his Master's degree in Economics from LUMS. His areas of interest includes economics and social science. He can be reached at 2hmdKhan(at-the-rate)gmail.com

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