In social studies, an ideology is an idea that explains how the society should work and offers the basis for a certain group of people who pursue their interests. It can be a construct of political thought, often defining political parties and their policy. An ideology largely concerns itself with how to allocate power and to what ends it should be used. A certain ethic usually forms the basis of an ideology.
The word "ideology" was first used in the late 18th century to define a "science of ideas." Ideology can be thought of as a vision, as a way of looking at things (compare Weltanschauung). One of the most influential and well-defined ideologies during the 20th century was communism, based on the original formulations of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Examples of ideologies include: neoliberalism, liberalism, Christian democracy, socialism, social-democracy, nationalism, communism, fascism, nazism, Neo-nazism or neofascism, anarchism. Ideology studied as ideology (rather than examples of specific ideologies) has been carried out under the name systematic ideology. See also "capitalism as an ideology", a section of the page on capitalism.
Ideology in everyday society
Every society has an ideology that forms the basis of the "public opinion" or common sense, a basis that usually remains invisible to most people within the society. This prevailing ideology appears as "neutral", all others differ from the norm and are often seen as radical, no matter what the actual vision may be. The philosopher Michel Foucault first wrote about this concept of apparent ideological neutrality.
Organisations that strive for power influence the ideology of a society to become what they want it to be. Political organisations (governments included) and other groups (e.g. lobbyists) try to influence people by broadcasting their opinions, which is the reason why so often many people in a society seem to "think alike".
When most people in a society think alike about certain matters, or even forget that there are alternatives to the current state of affairs, we arrive at the concept of Hegemony, about which the philosopher Gramsci wrote. The much smaller-scale concept of groupthink also owes something to his work.
Modern linguists study the mechanism of conceptual metaphor, by which this 'thinking alike' is thought to be transmitted.
Science as ideology
Even when there is a discipline of challenging beliefs, as in science, the dominant paradigm or mindset can prevent certain challenges, theories or experiments from being advanced. The philosophy of science mostly concerns itself with reducing the impact of these prior ideologies so that science can proceed with its primary task (according to science) of creating knowledge.
However, some view science as also an ideology in itself, called scientism.
A special and critical case of science adopted as ideology is that of ecology, which studies the relationships between living things on Earth. Perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson believed that human perception of ecological relationships was the basis of self-awareness and cognition itself. Linguist George Lakoff has proposed a cognitive science of mathematics wherein even the most fundamental ideas of arithmetic would be seen as consequences or products of human perception - which is itself necessarily evolved within an ecology.
Economics as ideology
Some accuse ecological economics of likewise turning scientific theory into political economy, although theses in that science can often be tested. The modern practice of green economics fuses both approaches and seems to be part science, part ideology.
It is far from the only theory of economics to be raised to ideology status - some notable economically-based ideologies include mercantilism, social darwinism, communism, laissez-faire economics, and "free trade". There are likewise current theories of safe trade and fair trade that are difficult to distinguish from ideological positions.