What Is Ideological Criticism?
Ideological criticism is a method of rhetorical analysis focused on discovering the values and ideologies of a person or organization by reviewing the artifacts they produce. The term “ideology” refers to any doctrine, belief, value, myth, or principle that essentially guides a person or organization to action. When you use ideological criticism, you are evaluating an artifact’s key symbols–words, designs, organization, images, and so forth–that inherently speak to an ideology. If, for example, you’re curious about an organization’s concern for the environment, you might look to their building, vehicles, written processes, and other artifacts to establish an understanding of their ideology. See the graphic here, or read the larger text below to learn how to conduct a rhetorical analysis using ideological criticism.
To learn how to write the actual rhetorical analysis, please see the “How to Do Rhetorical Criticism” section on the rhetorical criticism overview page.
STEP 1: ANALYZE FEATURES
Select an artifact that you suspect shows signs of a presented ideology. Then, review and analyze the artifact, making note of all the rhetorical elements you see that might speak to an ideology. For example, if you’re looking a school, you might notice features that speak to ideas such as conservation-mindedness, parent-focus, cost-efficiency, classiness, high quality, and other similar things. Rhetorical elements you might look at inlcude the building itself, signs, announcements, visual details, photographs, display cases, bulletins, and so forth.
The goal in this step is to gather a collection of rhetorical elements that speak harmoniously about an ideology.
STEP 2: CONNECT IDEAS
Once you have collected the rhetorical elements from your artifact, start making sense of the rhetorical elements by connecting what those elements allude to, what they might represent or reference, and what ideas they may suggest.
For example, if you are evaluating a school and you notice that the interior design components represent an industrial style, you might infer that the school is making reference to the industrial era, which similarly may speak to industrialism, Fordism, productivity, and innovation.
Make a collection of all the ideologies and values that seem to stem from the rhetorical elements.
STEP 3: DEVELOP IDEOLOGY
With a collection of ideas and values drawn from the rhetorical elements in your artifact, you can now establish an ideology that appears to emerge from the ideas, allusions, references, and so forth from your artifact. Your task is to cluster and group the ideas from Step 2 to formulate a cohesive understanding of the primary ideologies that the artificat appears to communicate.
While you may have dozens of rhetorical elements and several ideas, values and allusions, you will want to narrow your formal ideology into two major areas. Clustering and grouping your ideas may show, for example, that the school is promoting the ideologies of industry and proficiency.
STEP 4: DISCUSS FUNCTIONS
With an understanding of the ideology, you’re now in position to draw conclusions about the effects of that ideology on the artifact’s stakeholders. How does the artifact impact those who interact with it? What does it do for the community, the students, the teachers, and so forth that are affected by these rhetorical elements?
Draw conclusions and make an argument about how the ideology represented in the rhetoric of the artifact impacts people, for good, bad, or otherwise.