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Dominant ideologies

Visual culture

Dominant powers among the masses have the capability to spread a kind of false consciousness in the form of ideologies. As a result, those in power can coerce followers to buy into the belief systems hence allowing industrial capitalism to thrive.Sturken and Cartwright (2004) argued that although dominant ideologies are often presented as ‘common sense’, dominant ideologies are constantly in flux because they are in tension with other forces. However, cultural negotiations on social relationships, laws and meanings shows that people can work against dominant ideologies and that is why they must constantly be reaffirmed in a culture (Baxter, 2003). From real conditions of existence to imaginary relationship of individuals, we come to make sense and experience reality. These set of beliefs and ideas can be shaped in relationship to other social forces, such as the institutions and economy through the unconscious.

In my upbringing, I used to perceive cooking and washing as feminine. This made me believe that these activities were incompatible with masculinity and that naturally they were designed for women. Today, the rise of femininity and gender consciousness has seen both men and women embrace these roles. Masculinity was presented as a dominant ideology and that it was ‘common sense’ to define some roles as either for men or women. In a given society, social institutions produce and affirm ideologies through the entertainment industry, the government family, the law, medicine and education among others (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001: 22). In this case, images became essential means by which ideologies are produced and projected, by recognizing that they are produced within dynamics of ideology and social power to explore the meaning of images (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001: 6, 25, 42).

In another case while growing up, I used to regard police officers with references to all sorts of authority figures especially when holding a gun, wearing leather boots, carrying shiny handcuffs and wearing all the fatigues similar to the military. Obeying the law was the dominant ideology that emanates from the police. With this simple statement, I could regard value statements about individualism, power and the nature of authority. I came to realize that the power was not in this myth about ‘obeying the law’ but in the way people wished to interpret the myths and signs of how the image of a police officer was constructed. Today, many police departments have made attempts to change this system that is fear-inducing and signs that place police officers in sign systems like schools. For example, the police officer can change the myth of ‘authority’ to ‘friendly’ by bringing a friendly dog to pet, soothe and speak in soft tones to kids. For the school children, the meaning becomes less harsh and the resulting ideology is more toned. In conclusion, ideologies of power and mythic systems can be challenged or perpetuated by exploring images and icons in visual communication.


Baxter, J. (2003). Positioning Gender in Discourse: A Feminist Methodology. New York: Palgrave.

Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2004). Practices of looking. An introduction to visual culture. Oxford University Press.