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Evaluation of Marx and Foucoult's Ideological Theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2875 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Marxism Ideology:

This literature review will discuss Karl Marx’s approach to ideology and will understand his methodologies by reviewing his school of thought to find out if it is relevant to media conditions today. I will research three other academic sources on the topic of Marxist ideology identifying the relationship between the different readings.

Ideology as a theory is a central concept to Marxist beliefs of society and literature. Ideology in its simplest level means “the study or knowledge of ideas” (Eagleton, 1994:1) especially one that forms into the basis of theories politically. Ideology refers to a political doctrine the concept that ideology is some sort of false thinking or subconscious opinions something that all people in different cultures can do. Hence, Marx perceived the term ideology as “distortions of reality (false consciousness) in the interest of a particular social class, usually the ruling class.” (Adams, 1993:2). Which is a set of unconscious or conscious beliefs implied by a certain group of people.

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Moreover, the concept of ideology is outlined in the chapter The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas in Marx and Engels book German Ideology (1932). In this chapter, Marx argues that current ideas of a certain social class or society are to express the position of the ruling class who have formed these prevailing ideas. As stated by Marx “The class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” (1974:64). Meaning the society that is in control of the material production is also in control of the “…mental production” (Marx, 2006:9). We can see examples of this in today’s media text, films like Aladdin (1992) show the wealthy do not get down and dirty with physical production like the main protagonist of the film. Essentially the ruling class is a sector of the higher class of a society that has the most wealth and resources and has the most influence over the other social classes, as they decide and set. As people in our society are busy with their careers and day-to-day lives, they take on the role as thinkers, a group of people who seem to be subject experts who expand and promote those messages and “…conceptive ideology”. (Marx, 2006:10). The ruling class has the power to spread these ideas. In present times, for example, funding blockbuster films reinforces the ideas of the ruling class.

These ideas developed by the ruling class “who make the formality of the illusions of the class about itself”. (Marx, 2006:10). They are presented, as the universal truth as in a statement that is always right and in favour of the general public’s interest. For that reason, the ruling class’s position is reinforced by ideas and that their position as though it has just naturally been created inside society. Simply Marx is stating that ideologies people hold onto have been put there by material relations. The class that holds the most power which is usually money can also have the power to shape the ideology of that society.

Similarly, Judith Williamson a journalist who studied cultural studies uses Marxist ideology but expands on the theory with advertisements. She explores the theory that advertising has no meaning but we the consumer create all the meaning. An advertised product “initially has no meaning, must be given value by a person or object which already has a value to us, i.e., already means.” (Williamson, 1978:31). She details the functions and appealing natures of advertisements, seeing their ideological function and how advertisements have affected media society in modern times. The first chapter of the book examines a series of different illustrations of advertisements from the 1950’s-1970’s to find out their ideological function and how it changes individuals ideology and the society they live in. As outlined in her book, Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising (1978). Her argument is that advertisements serve another purpose, that there is an advert behind the actual advertisement, to subconsciously get people ideologies with different messages. Her argument is still relevant today as the advertisements she analysed are not hugely different from today standards. Her idea and model to contemporary advertisements today still fits.

In comparison, Judith Williamson’s decoding advertisement book has similarities to Marx’s The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas (1932). Both have connections of using ideology as a set of unconscious or conscious beliefs implied by a certain group of people. Judith Williamson’s argument reinforces Marx’s ruling class argument that “the class which is the ruling material force of society is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.” (2004:64). Williamson’s point is that a group of people which is the ruling class are subconsciously getting people’s ideologies with different messages along with that actual promotion of a product or service. For example one of the print advertisements she analyses is an advert of Catherine Deneuve doing a photo-shoot and adding the perfume bottle while she is trying to look desirable and attractive promotes the idea that the perfume bottle made her look like at that. In reality, it is just the meaning, images and lifestyle that people want through the labels of the product. 

In addition, another theorist who advances his idea of ideology is French Marxist Louis Althusser. As outlined in his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1970). Althusser argued his own theory of ideology by elaborating on Marx’s original theory of ideology as mainly false consciousness. In his essay, he describes the arrangements of “…productive forces” (Althusser, 2001:33) and production are reproduced and preserved in a society. According to Althusser, the wage-system ensures the reproduction of the productive forces stay where they are by being paid a minimum amount, so the working class will have to work every day but also not raise in status. Althusser has connections to Marx’s work by reiterating his theory but ultimately also differs from him by coming up with a theory of his own. Marx’s ideology is that a major “set of beliefs and values existent within society, which sustained power relations.” (Nelmes, 1996:489). Althusser’s ideology is “representations and images which reflect society’s view of reality.” (Nelmes, 1996:489). Both have similarities to referring to ideology but ultimately differ from one another.

To conclude, I think all works connect together using ideology as a list of ideas and

“Values which inform any one society or culture, but which are imbued in its social behaviour and representative texts at a level that is not necessarily obvious or conscious.” (Nelmes, 1996:489). 

I think Marx’s ideology is still relevant in today’s society and media standards. Society today is divided by class probably even more now than in Marx’s time. He was able to predict how capitalism works and ideologies of social classes today by capitalism would eventually be less progressive. He being able to explain ideologies of society pre-capitalism shows his relevance today.


  • Adams, I. (1993) ‘Political Ideology Today’. Manchester University Press.  
  • Colin, C. (2001) ‘Performance Analysis’. Routledge
  • Marx, K. (2006) ‘The Ruling Class and Ruling Ideas’ in Durham, G.M., Kellner, M.D. (eds.) ‘Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks’. Blackwell Publishing.  pp. 9-12
  • Eagleton, T. (1994) ‘Ideology’. Routledge
  • Marx, K., Engels, F. (1974) ‘The German ideology’. London, Lawrence & Wishart.
  • Nelmes, J. (1996) ‘An Introduction to Film Studies’. Routledge
  • Williamson, J. (1978) ‘Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising.’ London Marion Boyars


  • Aladdin (1992) Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker [Online] Available through Netflix. [Accessed on 17th October 2018]


Foucault’s notions of power and governmentality:

This literature review will discuss Michel Foucault’s notions of power and governmentality and will understand his methodologies by reviewing his school of thought of the carceral archipelago and to find out if it is relevant to conditions today. I will research three other academic sources on the topic of Foucault’s theory of power and discourse, identifying the relationship between the different readings.

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Furthermore, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975) Foucault argues that power and knowledge in modern society is a “…disciplinary society” (Foucault, 1975:193) implying that the idea of power in present times is widely exercised through disciplinary ways in numerous institutions such as schools, hospitals, armies, prisons which what Foucault discusses in depth and etc. Foucault also focuses on power using Foucauldian discourse analysis where he analyses power relationships in society through language and behaviour as well as the relationships between language and power. 

In Foucault’s book, he looks at the history of discipline and punishment of the penal system and analyses it in a social context also inspecting how punishment can be affected by changing power relations. He studies situations and cases of punishment before the eighteenth century; he examines how authority and society use power to apply their ability to punish. His book essentially documents the shift from a vindictive society, where being punished was brutal and physical, “Premodern punishment violently assaults the criminal body, but is satisfied with retribution through pain” (Gutting, 2005:81). Often publicly assaulting the criminal’s person to a carceral society. Foucault expresses that modern society today takes a more humane approach to punishment rather than violent unfocused physical approach, “but this modern control of the soul is itself a means to a more subtle and pervasive control of the body” (Gutting, 2005:81). In his chapter The Carceral (1975) it is described by Gutting the theory of the carceral society is a modern power of control, with non-violent means by “hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement and their combination in a procedure that is specific to it, the examination” (Foucault, 1975:170). These post-modern techniques introduce for criminals to become the model for other modern sites like schools or factories “so that prison discipline pervades all of modern society” (Gutting, 2005:81) helping for the criminal to rehabilitate himself to normalization for re-entering society.

In addition, the concept of the carceral archipelago, a prison that has a series of islands. Practising social control and discipline over the institute’s population in all areas of social life. Foucault argued that although at times of history extreme punishment is called for such as public execution you could also serve justice and punishment through non-violent means. These ways could include the daily structure of a criminal giving those tasks or jobs, having physical boundaries for no freedom, constantly observing and checking the criminal giving him time to reflect upon himself etc. This will give the person a better chance of rehabilitation and to come back to society. As an example, in Mettray they have Mettray Penal Colony groups using a punitive model. Mettray utilised the structures of school, work and army as models where minor acts defiance were punished to subdue or prevent increasing offences. Punishments such as, solitary confinement, using isolation to let the criminal self-reflect upon himself and basic prison rules that people know today’s culture. At the time,

“It was the most famous of a whole series of institutions which, well beyond the            frontiers of criminal law, constituted what one might call the carceral archipelago.” (Foucault, 1975:297)

As an example, one might see punishment like this in films such as Papillon (1973) where the main protagonist is a prisoner to the penal colony of Cayenne commonly known as Devil’s Island. When the protagonist is thrown in isolation, a guard explains that they process dangerous people into harmless people.

Similarly, Katherine Sender an author who uses Foucault’s idea of punishment and power of government. As outlined in her book, The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences (2012) Sender argues that the genre makeover reality television has a long history of self-improvement shown through contemporary media. That the viewer finds a more gradation and reflexive look on makeover shows. They watch these reality shows because they draw “self-reflexive themes from the episodes, employing mediated narratives to articulate selves that have interiority, (Sender, 2012:23) seeking a harmony between an inner and outer self that needs to express.

This connects to Foucault because audiences enjoy contempt and pleasure in others misfortune, in reality, shows that deal in shame and humiliation. Foucault’s governmentality that is beyond official government, a process where individuals try to shape and guide their own conduct and that of others with certain aims and objectives in mind. Foucault debates that oneself cannot be “a pre-existing fact that must be expressed but is, instead, brought into being through the very act of articulation” (Sender, 2012:16). It connects with Foucault’s new way of punishing after the eighteenth century. That people are being observed by viewers watching a reality show who are seeing certain social expectations and

“The norms according to which it is judged, the pleasures and pains that entice and coerce it, the forms of self-inspection inculcated in it” (Sender, 2012:16).

Just like Foucault’s argument of the Mettray Colony giving prisoners solitary confinement.

In comparison, author Gavin Kendall and Gary Wickman made a guide to Foucault’s school of thought for students today. The book is primarily focused on the following themes of history, archaeology, genealogy and mainly discourse using Foucault’s methods. It is designed for readers to understand Foucault’s addition to social thought can open different prospects for people researching and can be applied to various possibilities. Outlined in their book, Using Foucault’s Methods (1999) they discuss the idea of discourse and its history before Foucaltian. In terms of Foucault’s theory they talk about a series of different discourse such as “medical discourse about “folly” and unreason produce mentally ill person, penological discourses produce the criminal, discourse on sex produces sexuality” (Kendall, Wickman, 1999:43). They talk about before the eighteenth century and how these discourses came out of this century, for example, sex is one that came out of this century and that before this time there was a series of deployments such as religion. But before this era sex obviously existed is just that we as a society are more familiar with it. This relates to Foucault’s idea of the eighteenth century and how power relationships in society can change through language and behaviour as well as language and power.

To conclude, I think that all these work in collaboration to Foucault connect with Foucault’s idea of power and discourse. I also still think it is relevant in today’s society because prisons and institutes today still use the carcel concept and develop it, prisons such Illinois state penitentiary using the panoptic prison design where they can constantly observe every prisoner in the cell, giving the prisoner the feeling of being watched.


  • Foucault, M. (1975) ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’. Gallimard
  • Gutting, G. (2005) ‘Foucault: A Very Short Introduction’. Oxford University Press
  • Kendall, G. Wickham, G. (1999) ‘Using Foucault’s Methods’. Sage Publishing
  • Sender, K. (2012) ‘The Makeover: Reality Television and Reflexive Audiences’. New York University Press


  • Papillon (1973) Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner [Online] Available through Netflix. [Accessed on 26thth October 2018]


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