Who first of all used the word ideology? | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru


Question: Who first of all used the word ideology?

  1. Max Weber
  2. E. Durkheim
  3. Destutt de Tracy
  4. Karl Marx

Answer: (3)

The Genesis of Ideology: From Destutt de Tracy to Karl Marx


The term “ideology” has become a cornerstone in the analysis of political and social thought, serving as a lens through which scholars interpret the construction and dissemination of ideas within society. The journey of this concept, from its initial formulation by Count Antoine Destutt de Tracy to its transformative redefinition by Karl Marx, is a fascinating exploration into the evolution of intellectual discourse. This narrative unfolds against the backdrop of the late eighteenth century, a period marked by profound intellectual ferment and socio-political upheaval.

Destutt de Tracy and the Birth of Ideology:

The word “ideology” made its inaugural appearance in intellectual discourse through the pen of Count Antoine Destutt de Tracy, a French materialist philosopher. Born in 1754, Tracy belonged to a milieu where Enlightenment ideas were shaping the contours of philosophical inquiry. In his work, “Éléments d’idéologie,” Tracy sought to establish a “science of ideas” that would systematically analyze and categorize human thought. Published in the aftermath of the French Revolution, Tracy’s exploration of ideology was not confined to political realms but encompassed a broad examination of ideas across various domains.

In Tracy’s conception, “ideology” denoted a comprehensive study of the origins, formation, and classification of ideas. It represented an ambitious attempt to create a scientific framework for understanding the intricate tapestry of human thought. Tracy’s vision of ideology, however, did not carry the explicit political connotations that the term would later acquire. Instead, he envisaged it as a neutral and systematic inquiry into the nature of ideas, detached from the ideological struggles that would characterize its future usage.

Marx’s Redefinition:

The transformative redefinition of ideology occurred in the mid-nineteenth century, courtesy of Karl Marx, a towering figure in both philosophy and political theory. Born in 1818, Marx’s intellectual trajectory intersected with the socio-political upheavals of his time, including the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism. It was in this crucible that Marx refashioned the concept of ideology, infusing it with a distinctive political and class-based character.

For Marx, ideology was not a detached science of ideas but a dynamic force deeply intertwined with the socio-economic structure of society. In his seminal works, particularly “The German Ideology” and “Capital,” Marx articulated a theory of ideology that underscored its role as a reflection of class interests. Rather than presenting ideas as universally applicable truths, Marx argued that ideologies were shaped by and served the dominant class in a given society. The ruling class, in Marx’s view, propagated ideologies that masked the underlying reality of class struggle and perpetuated the status quo.

Central to Marx’s conception of ideology was the notion of “false consciousness.” He contended that the ruling class, through the dissemination of ideologies, fostered a distorted understanding of social relations among the subordinate classes. This false consciousness, according to Marx, prevented the working class from recognizing their exploitation and mobilizing against the prevailing socio-economic order. Ideology, in this sense, became a tool of social control wielded by the ruling class to perpetuate its hegemony.

Marxist Legacy and Critiques:

Marx’s redefinition of ideology laid the groundwork for subsequent Marxist thought and became a key element in the analysis of power dynamics within society. The concept resonated not only in the realm of political theory but also found echoes in cultural studies, sociology, and critical theory.

However, the Marxist conception of ideology has not been without its critiques. Critics argue that Marx’s framework tends to reduce ideology to a mere reflection of economic relations, overlooking the complexities of cultural and intellectual dynamics. Additionally, the deterministic view of ideology as a straightforward instrument of class domination has been challenged by those who emphasize the autonomy and relative autonomy of ideological formations.

Contemporary Relevance:

The trajectory of the term “ideology” from Tracy to Marx and its subsequent dissemination into diverse intellectual domains highlight its enduring relevance. In contemporary discourse, the concept continues to serve as a critical tool for analyzing the ways in which ideas intersect with power, shaping narratives, and influencing social norms.

Ideology, in its modern usage, is employed to unpack the implicit biases embedded in discourse, media, and cultural representations. Scholars across disciplines explore how ideologies function to legitimize certain worldviews, reinforce social hierarchies, and perpetuate systemic inequalities. The expansive reach of ideology as a concept reflects its adaptability and applicability to the ever-evolving landscape of ideas and power relations.


The journey of the term “ideology” encapsulates a rich tapestry of intellectual history, from its origins in Tracy’s pursuit of a science of ideas to Marx’s transformative redefinition that injected it with political significance. The evolution of the concept mirrors the intellectual currents of its time, resonating with the Enlightenment’s quest for systematic inquiry and the socio-political ferment of the nineteenth century.

As a concept, ideology has transcended its initial formulation to become a central pivot in the analysis of how ideas function within the complex web of society. Its contemporary resonance underscores its enduring importance as a tool for critical inquiry into the intersections of power, discourse, and social dynamics. The term “ideology,” borne out of the intellectual crucible of Enlightenment and revolutionary fervor, continues to illuminate and provoke reflection in our ongoing exploration of human thought and society.


Take a Quick Sociology Quiz to measure your Performance


Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Question: Define the term “ethnic movement” and provide an example from India.

Answer: An ethnic movement refers to a collective effort by a group sharing common cultural, linguistic, or religious traits, seeking to assert their identity and rights; an example from India is the Khalistan Movement in Punjab.

2. Question: Identify the main objectives behind the Gorkhaland ethnic movement.

Answer: The Gorkhaland ethnic movement primarily seeks to establish a separate state for India’s Nepali-speaking population in the Darjeeling region, advocating for linguistic and cultural recognition and political autonomy.

3. Question: What was the Operation Blue Star, and which ethnic movement was it related to?
Answer: Operation Blue Star was a military action in 1984, aiming to remove Sikh militants hiding in the Golden Temple in Amritsar; it is related to the Khalistan movement, which sought a separate Sikh country.

4. Question: Mention a critical factor that triggered the emergence of ethnic movements in India, as discussed by Dipankar Gupta.
Answer: Dipankar Gupta emphasized that ethnicity is fundamentally a political process, wherein caste and religion, the key components of identity formation, are politicized by leaders for vested interests.

5. Question: What were the primary reasons for the Assam Ethnicity conflicts involving Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslim settlers?
Answer: The Assam Ethnicity conflicts primarily stemmed from issues related to immigration, land rights, and resource allocation, leading to clashes, riots, and evolving relationships among indigenous communities to address challenges.

6. Question: Briefly describe the role of the Dravidian Movement in terms of caste and societal structure.
Answer: The Dravidian Movement, led notably by E.V. Ramasamy, aimed to establish an egalitarian society, focusing on anti-Brahmanism and advocating for equal rights for backward castes, while also introducing reforms like self-respect marriages.

7. Question: Name the prominent ethnic movements in North-East India and specify one common objective.
Answer: Prominent ethnic movements in North-East India include the Nagas’ and Mizos’ struggles; a common objective was to gain autonomy and recognition for their distinct tribal identities and cultural uniqueness.

8. Question: What is the key argument of Gail Omveldt regarding traditional Indian society and multiculturalism?
Answer: Gail Omveldt opposed romanticizing traditional Indian society, arguing that hierarchy has always dominated it and dismissing the notion that multiculturalism is an intrinsic feature of Indian society as a myth.

9. Question: Briefly explain the social hierarchy factor as a contributing element to ethnic movements as suggested by Olzak.
Answer: Olzak suggests that the construction of hierarchies among ethnic communities, which often leads to the suppression of one group by another, is a key factor that can instigate social and ethnic movements.

10. Question: Identify one consequence of the unequal economic development factor within the context of ethnic movements in India.
Answer: One consequence of unequal economic development is the marginalization and underdevelopment of certain groups, leading to feelings of alienation and sometimes initiating ethnic movements as these groups strive for equality and recognition.

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