Ideology: Boundaries of a concept

Ideológia: hranice jedného konceptu

Terry Eagleton, a prominent current theoretician of ideology, claims in the introduction to his well-known book Ideology. An Introduction (1991) that no one has ever come with a single satisfactory definition of ideology and in this respect he will not be an exception either. Then, he lists seventeen different meanings of the term ideology used nowadays (that is, in the 1990s) in both public and academic discourse. Some of these meanings are actually contradictory, some are judgmental – negative and/or pejorative and other are neutral. The number of concepts of ideology and the heterogeneity of contexts in which these are applied will probably be even much more extensive than Eagleton´s list of seventeen meanings suggest. This is one of the reasons why some scholars are trying to avoid working with the term ideology nowadays. They claim that the conceptual boundary lines this term is referring to are hopelessly wide and blurred that its usage could be confusing, or – even worse – misleading. Is this skepticism justifiable? Is it indeed impossible to save ideology as a concept for social scientific analysis? What is the situation like as far as the historiography is concerned? Is it plausible to use ideology as an analytical concept in historical research of past social and political (or also cultural or religious) realities? Or should we rather limit ourselves to the begriffsgeschichte of ideology? The safe ground, where the "ideology" (that is, history of various concepts and of their presence in discourses and ultimately their impact on social realities) would be merely the subject of historians interest, but not a critical conceptual tool for interpretation? This paper deals with authors – K. Marx, F. Engels and K. Mannheim – who developed some of the most influential theories of ideology in the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. In particular, I focus on epistemological points of departure of these theoreticians. In conclusion, I attempt to offer an answer to the question whether ideology might be or should not be a concept for both social scientific and historical analysis.