Louis Althusser, Edward Shils, and Talcott Parsons on Ideology

Leong Yew, Research Fellow, University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore


These three were not grouped together because of similarities on their views of ideology On the contrary, they took different positions on it, with the only common aspect being the way their definitions revolved around or out of the Marxian orbit. Althusser was somewhat Marxist, although his approach was not linked to any notion of truth or falsity. He believed that because ideology is a "system of representation," it becomes the totality of human existence, something he claimed was "the very element and atmosphere indispensable to their historical respiration and life." (Quoted by Boudon: 181). On the other hand, Edward Shils, according to Boudon, takes a non-Marxist perspective by insisting that ideotogy is a "positive and normative belief system," one that can be distinctly demarcated from others by meeting eight criteria (Boudon lists, among others, the way the ideology is created, how it pulls in followers into accepting the belief, the method by which this takes place, etc. [20]). Finally, Parsons departs from the preceding two by conceptualizing ideology as "deviating from scientific objectivity." In this case, Parsons links ideology into the dichotomy of what is true, and what isn't (Boudon: 21).

[Postcolonial Web Overview] [Postcolonial Discourse Overview] 

Last Modified: 22 April, 2002