Ideology is the process by which the social, material, and economic conditions of a person's life structure his/her experience of the world, reproducing and naturalizing those conditions.
An example would be the ideology of individualism. Think about the multitude of ways that the "conditions" of...
- housing (suburban neighborhoods, each house with its patch of yard),
- transportation (a car in every garage),
- education (your grade, your transcript),
- work (your resume, your salary, your career), and
- advertising ("I need that for my....")
all work together to reproduce and naturalize the idea that we are all individuals--that all our problems and their solutions are individual ones, rather than collective or "structural" problems/solutions.
Louis Althusser defines ideology as "the representation of a subject's imaginary relationship to his or her real conditions of existence" (qtd. in Fredric Jameson Postmodernism 51).
Raymond Williams observes, however, that, at any one time and place, ideologies overlap and contradict one another. Williams distinguishes among
- "residual" ideological structures (traditional, archaic),
- "dominant" ones (currently supported by institutions), and
- "emergent" ideological formations (progressive, perhaps someday to be appropriated into dominant ideology). (Marxism and Literature 111-)