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False consciousness is a term used - primarily by Marxist sociologists - to describe ways in which material, ideological, and institutional processes are said to mislead members of the proletariat and other class actors within capitalist societies, concealing the exploitation intrinsic to the social relations between classes.
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) used the term "false consciousness" in 1893 to address the scenario where a subordinate class willfully embodies the ideology of the ruling class. Engels dubs this consciousness "false" because the class is asserting itself towards goals that do not benefit it. "Consciousness", in this context, reflects a class's ability to politically identify and assert its will. The subordinate class is conscious: it plays a major role in society and can assert its will due to being sufficiently unified in ideas and action.
Marshall I. Pomer has argued that members of the proletariat disregard the true nature of class relations because of their belief in the probability or possibility of upward mobility. Such a belief or something like it is said to be required in economics with its presumption of rational agency; otherwise wage laborers would not be the conscious supporters of social relations antithetical to their own interests, violating that presumption.
The Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of cultural hegemony, the process within Capitalist economies the ruling classes to create social norms, value systems, and social stigmas to create a culture by which their continued dominance is considered beneficial. Gramsci expands the concept of false consciousness to be understood along cultural and sociological perspective.
During the late 1960s and 1970s, the philosophical and anthropological school of structuralism began to gain popularity among academics and public intellectuals, focusing on interpreting human culture in terms of underlying structures such as symbolic, linguistic, and ideological perspectives. French Communist Party member and public intellectual Louis Althusser popularized his structuralist influenced interpretation of false consciousness, The Ideological State Apparatus. Structuralism influenced Althusser's interpretation of false consciousness, which focuses on the institutions of the capitalist state—particularly those of public education—which enforce an ideological system favoring obedience, conformity and submissiveness.
Other prominent Marxist philosophers and intellectuals developed specific interpretations of the concept of false consciousness, such as Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse of the Frankfurt School, Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem of the French situationist movement, the anti-colonialist writer Frantz Fanon, and contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Outside of the Marxist political ideology, the political theorist Noam Chomsky developed the propaganda model wherein information is selectively broadcast to serve the ends of a deeply centralized ownership of private media industries.
- Capitalist realism
- Character mask
- Class consciousness
- Cognitive dissonance
- Consciousness raising
- Cultural hegemony
- Culture industry
- Dominant ideology
- "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses"
- Introspection illusion
- Karl Marx's theory of alienation
- Political consciousness
- Propaganda model
- System justification
- Turkeys voting for Christmas
- "Letter to Mehring". 1893.
- Marshall I. Pomer (October 1984). "Upward Mobility of Low-Paid Workers: A Multivariate Model for Occupational Changers". Sociological Perspectives. 27 (4): 427–442. ISSN 0731-1214. JSTOR 1389035.
- Luckács, Georg (1971). History and Class Consciousness. United States of America: MIT Press.
- This phenomenon is most accentuated in the United States, and has given rise to what some European Marxists[who?] refer to as "class transference".
- Gramsci, Antonio (2010). Selections from Prison Notebooks. United States of America: International Publishers. p. 488.
- Althusser, Louis (1971). Lenin and Other Essays. United States of America: Monthly Review Press.
- Joseph McCarney (2005). Ideology and False Consciousness.