Bringing ideas back in with ideology

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting much is because I am preparing for comprehensive exams (I don’t think they’re called comps at my university, but whatever), and I’m also sorting out a large move across Canada. My to-do list is massive, but I need to prioritize. Anyway, one of my exams will be on Islamic terrorism, and I’m just now stopping the literature review to begin writing answers to potential questions.

Quite a bit of the terrorism scholarship breaks down into two streams: apologetics and polemics, the latter being viewed with derision by the former. In both cases, however, scholars seem to want to avoid addressing the role of ideology. I’m not the first person to notice this, and it seems to be a bigger problem in the social sciences than you might think. I recently came across an article that I should have read at the beginning of my research, but that’s not how it worked out.

Pamela Oliver and Hank Johnston have written, I think, a brilliant critique of contemporary social movement research, and I think their criticisms apply to much of the social sciences right now. Below, you will find the abstract and some info about where you can get the article:

Frame theory is often credited with ‘bringing ideas back in’ to the study of social movements, but frames are not the only useful ideational concepts. In particular, the older, more politicized concept of ideology needs to be used in its own right and not recast as a frame. Frame theory is rooted in linguistic studies of interaction, and points to the way shared assumptions and meanings shape the interpretation of any particular event. Ideology theory is rooted in politics and the study of politics, and points to coherent systems of ideas which provide theories of society coupled with value commitments and normative implications for promoting or resisting social change. Ideologies can function as frames, but there is more to ideology than framing. Frame theory offers a relatively shallow conception of the transmission of political ideas as marketing and resonating, while a recognition of the complexity and depth of ideology points to the social construction processes of thinking, reasoning, educating, and socializing. Social movements can only be understood by genuinely linking social psychological and political sociology concepts and traditions, not by trying to rename one group in the language of the other.

Oliver, P. E., & Johnston, H. (2000). What a good idea! Ideologies and frames in social movement research. Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 5(1), 37-54.