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False consciousness

False consciousness is a term used by (primarily Marxist) sociologists to describe supposed ways that material, ideological, and institutional processes mislead members of the proletariat and other class actors within capitalist societies. These processes are thought to hide the true relations between classes and conceal the exploitation suffered by the proletariat.


Origins and meaningEdit

Engels used the term "false consciousness" to address the scenario where the ideology of the ruling class is embodied willfully by a subordinate class.[1] "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. Engels dubs this consciousness "false" because the class is asserting itself towards goals that do not benefit it.

Later developmentEdit

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.[2] [3]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.[4]

Cultural HegemonyEdit

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.[5] Gramsci expands the concept of false consciousness to be understood along cultural and sociological perspective.


During the late 1960's and 1970's 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. Althusser's structuralist influenced interpretation of false consciousness focuses on the institutions of the capitalist state, specifically those of public education which enforce a ideological system that favors obedience, conformity and submissiveness. [6]

The Frankfurt SchoolEdit

Contemporary DevelopmentsEdit

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 artistic and political movement The Situationists, the Anti-Colonialist writer Frantz Fanon, and contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Outside of the Marxist political ideology, Anarchist linguist Noam Chomsky developed the propaganda model wherein information is selectively broadcast to serve the ends of a deeply centralized ownership of private media industries.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Letter to Mehring". 1893.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Luckács, Georg (1971). History and Class Consciousness. United States of America: MIT Press. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ This phenomenon is most accentuated in the United States, and has given rise to what some European Marxists[who?] refer to as "class transference"[1].
  5. ^ Gramsci, Antonio (2010). Selections from Prison Notebooks. United States of America: International Publishers. p. 488. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  6. ^ Althusser, Louis (1971). Lenin and Other Essays. United States of America: Monthly Review Press. |access-date= requires |url= (help)

External linksEdit