Home > Essay examples > Exploring the Link between Culture and Ideology from a Marxist Perspective

Essay: Exploring the Link between Culture and Ideology from a Marxist Perspective

Essay details and download:

  • Subject area(s): Essay examples Sample essays
  • Reading time: 5 minutes
  • Price: Free download
  • Published: 1 April 2019*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 1,520 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 7 (approx)
  • Tags: Marxism essays

Text preview of this essay:

This page of the essay has 1,520 words. Download the full version above.

Paste your essay in here…The definitions of culture are a varied and eclectic range of ideas, concepts and ideals ranging from Tylor’s definition in Primitive Culture with its intertwining and confusion with the notion of civilisation, to Geertz’s approach that “that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an in¬terpretive one in search of meaning.”(Tylor, 1958) (Geertz, 2001). The very fact that anthropologists have and continue to struggle to give a concise definition of “culture” indicates, (as pointed out by Geertz) that an anthropological analysis to culture must be an interpretive one.

Therefore, in this essay, I argue that Marx’s Superstructure (culture) and base (economic/material) approach to culture when put in cohesion with Marx’s means and relations of production hypothesis, results in an undeniable link between ideology and culture. However, this limited approach to culture does not allow for variation as it demands that it is applied in non-egalitarian, stratified class systems. In addition, this synonymy between culture and ideology is further critiqued when approaching the ideology/culture link from a feminist perspective. Therefore, I argue that within Marx’s politically-centred backdrop, the link between culture and ideology is clear within this framework. However, when put into dialogue with aspects and ideas beyond Marx’s own personal perspective with further developed definitions of culture and ideology, the link between culture and ideology becomes tenuous.

Therefore to maintain specificity within my argument, I define ideology currently within the parameters set out by Malcolm Hamilton and further outlined by Roger Griffin insofar that he aligns ideology with justification for retention of personal identity and promotion within society; “Phenomenologically human existence is lived out and experienced non-ideologically, but once externalized in semiotic or material culture it immediately assumes an ideological dimension when any of its products are considered from an outsider perspective in terms of their function in maintaining or challenging the social, economic, or political status quo.” (Griffin 2006, p80-81, cited Hamilton 1987).

Addressing this question from a Marxist perspective, the link between culture and ideology becomes self-evident. In looking at the Marxist concept of the base/superstructure analysis to culture in conjunction with his means and relations of production; the notion of all culture being ideological is conceivable (Marx, Dobb & Ryazanskaya, 1981).

Within this context, the “base” consists of the sum of one’s material reality and one’s social/economic relations of production, this being the integral machinations for a stratified, exploitative society. The “superstructure” on the other hand represents the ideas, institutions and framework of the hierarchical, stratified class system; all of which could come under the banner of culture. Within this, Marx claims that the topography of the superstructure is inherently influenced by the “base”. The link between ideology and culture is that ideology within this context reifies the connection between the base and superstructure and acts as a means of distracting the general population away from the true relations of production and inherent inequalities and exploitative aspects of class-based systems. These economic and social relations are inherently ideological due to the fact that ideology serves as a means of justifying imbalance and differentiation within a stratified class system and therefore maintain the base (modes of production). One can cite Marx’s example of religion as an example of an institution (and arguably a cultural item) acting as an ideological, man-made tool to reify the inequalities inherent within the means and relations of production (Marx, O’malley, 1970). An ideology, within the realm of the superstructure, borne out of the inequality of the means of production, utilised to justify inequality and power of the “bourgeoisie” and thus influences the base, shows that culture is used as a veil to mask and distract the proletariat, the exploited and lower levels of society. Thus within this context, culture is indeed ideological.

However, Marx’s approach is not totally clear at all times and one could argue that it does not consider the fundamental aspect of the difference between sexes within (and outside of) a class-based system. Marx’s analysis is challenged in Karen Sack’s work, critiquing Engel’s theory yet simultaneously pointing out the weaknesses within Marx’s own work. One of the main forms of critique that one can extrapolate (although not directed at Marx’s work) is the undermining of the fundamentals of the base and superstructure divide through her analysis of the assumptions made in Engels works. He claims Women’s roles’ are subordinate in hierarchical societies whilst being equal to that of men in egalitarian ones (Sacks, 1983). In this piece, Sack’s approach to women’s roles in a range of societies ranging from hierarchical to egalitarian in East Africa draws out her conclusion that the notion of the construct of gender and her approach to labour division not by class, but by sex is a fundamental flaw in the philosophy of the “base”. This assessment of relations of production only assess economic and hierarchical relations, such as that of a feudal lord’s relationship to the serf. This ultimately undermines the definition of culture as purely ideological due to the fact that the system upon which culture and ideology are defined through the Marxist parameters cannot be upheld due to this oversight, therefore rendering the relationship between culture and ideology as being considerably less strong.

Furthermore, one could argue that the approach to culture and ideology within the Marxist base/superstructure concept is reductionist and cynical through essentialising the use of ideology and shared meaning through culture to simply act as a justification tool for establishing and perpetuating a class-based system. This is highlighted in the works of Clifford Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973). This critique of reductionism within the system of ideology is further backed by Geertz’s claim that “culture is not a power…it is a context.” This statement alone challenges the assumption that culture is used as a controlling mechanism for all classes within a stratified system and that it is not inherently ideological. Geertz then supplements his argument with the crux of the issue in saying that culture is a symbolic act and that through our own “webs of significance” do we give culture a meaning that is away from the reductionist ideologies of Marx’s approach. We as humans inherently give meaning to objects through both our physical creation of them and the symbols that we make of the everyday.  Within this we can extrapolate the excessively reductionist approach and further the debate by questioning the notion of shared meaning through symbolism is a deeper and more subjective concept and one that is open to more interpretation than merely being a tool of control.  

In addition, the fragility of Marx’s work and his approach to the question of culture’s supposedly inherent ideology comes through the interpretations of the terms. Within the superstructure (and within the school of political sciences as a whole) not only can and should we re-examine the definitions of culture but also that of ideology. Whilst the definition provided by Griffin seemingly fits into a Marxist approach to the question, the one proposed by Louis Althusser gives variation on this (Althusser, 2008). In his work, Althusser identifies that the state apparatus itself can be refined into the notions of Repressive state apparatuses and more importantly, Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA’s). With this definition, this incorporation of culture within ISA only furthers Marx’s claim of the link between the culture and the basis that ideology is a means of reifying hierarchy. However, Althusser claims that the ISA’s are purely within the public sphere, one could cross-examine this with Geertz’s Thick Description work, when he states that “culture is public because meaning is” (Geertz, 2001. p12). This discrepancy over the placement and understanding of which sphere culture operates in (either the public or private) and its sources is ambiguous within the Althusser text and highlights the incongruity of Marx’s structure and approach to the question

Therefore to conclude, without consensus over the specificity of what defines culture and whether ideology is purely a means of justification through symbolism and identity, I believe that the notion put forward by Marx of the base and superstructure construct is indicative of the fact that whilst within Marx’s own perspective was a rational and reasonable response to the question of ideology and culture, it does not provide a wholly suitable and conclusive answer to the question of whether all culture is ideological. Whilst one could go on to consistently refine and develop the definition surrounding this question, I ultimately conclude that the Marxist approach does not give enough space for variation and is predicated on a highly hierarchical and stratified system in operation and that further ethnographic work in egalitarian societies is required thus I argue that shared meaning experienced as “culture” should be assessed (as suggested by Geertz) in an interpretive and apolitical manner and are not inherently ideological.

Word count: 1485

...(download the rest of the essay above)

Discover more:

About this essay:

If you use part of this page in your own work, you need to provide a citation, as follows:

Essay Sauce, Exploring the Link between Culture and Ideology from a Marxist Perspective. Available from:<https://www.essaysauce.com/essay-examples/2018-10-15-1539577587/> [Accessed 09-12-23].

These Essay examples have been submitted to us by students in order to help you with your studies.

* This essay may have been previously published on Essay.uk.com at an earlier date.

NB: Our essay examples category includes User Generated Content which may not have yet been reviewed. If you find content which you believe we need to review in this section, please do email us: essaysauce77 AT gmail.com.