French philosopher Destutt de Tracy originally coined the term "ideology" at the end of the 18th century to create a science that would provide a rational foundation for the study and critique of ideas. Instead, the term has become an extremely challenged and changeable concept. The term "ideology" is used to refer to a system of mutually dependent ideas, principles, traditions, gatherings, and even folklore that functions as a routine frame of reference. These routine ideas are taken for granted and used to interpret, understand, and guide values in a certain direction against those of other ideologies. Ideologies in this sense then are a species of beliefs that involve foundational norms and routines that are typically uncritically regarded by adherents.
Such belief systems are not typically susceptible to empirical verification or falsification; they are thus accepted on trust or tradition as bases for action. Acceptance based on belief alone results in conventional influences and constraints on action, including both goals and means, which promote solidarity and harmony among true believers. Ideology is constitutive of the patterns of belief and thus the behavior of a social group.
The terms of the communication and discourse by which such ideologically rooted belief is instituted becomes a code that has a special unquestioned meaning for advocates. Accepting and using such an ideological code also distinguishes insiders from outsiders. When challenged by other ideologies, insider discourse relies all the more on its traditional code words to validate and protect its beliefs. Apart from its conservative role, such ideologically support provides a significant degree of intellectual and emotional comfort from the challenges by competing alternatives.
Ideology is most generally associated with power associations and power is not a unitary force or phenomenon, nor an exclusively 'political' phenomenon. Power and power relations are woven throughout all our practices and ideas. Power is exercised in every relationship, group, and social practice, and it is not necessarily detrimental. One must not forget that social order relies, in varying degrees, but ultimately, on the ability of one person or group to coerce another person or group, and that the basis of Law. Some conceptions of ideology play down the emphasis on power and see ideology as the structure of assumptions, which form the imaginative world of groups. Louis Althusser has written, "A representation of the imaginary relation of individuals to the real condition of existence." Further, Althusser writes, ideology creates us as persons and it "hails" us, calling us into being.
This dominance of an ideology need not be the result of any numerical advantage by a social group, but a matter of authority or power it possesses. This use of the term, then describes a process by which people lacking the power to assert themselves come to accept reluctantly a...