The inherent elusiveness of ideological thought, expressed as it is in intricate symbolic webs as vaguely defined as they are emotionally charged; the admitted fact that ideological special pleading has, from Marx forward, so often been clothed in the guise of “scientific sociology”; and the defensiveness of established intellectual classes who see scientific probing into the social roots of ideas as threatening to their status, are also often mentioned. And, when all else fails, it is always possible to point out once more that sociology is a young science, that it has been so recently founded that it has not had time to reach the levels of institutional solidity necessary to sustain its claims to investigatory freedom in sensitive areas. All these arguments have, doubtless, a certain validity. But what-by a curious selective omission the unkind might well indict as ideological-is not so often considered is the possibility that a great part of the problem lies in the lack of conceptual sophistication within social science itself, that the resistance of ideology to sociological analysis is so great because such analyses are in fact fundamentally inadequate; the theoretical framework they employ is conspicuously incomplete.
I shall try in this essay to show that such is indeed the case: that the social sciences have not yet developed a genuinely non-evaluative conception of ideology; that this failure stems less from methodological indiscipline than from theoretical clumsiness; that this clumsiness manifests itself mainly in the handling of ideology as an entity in itself-as an ordered system of cultural symbols rather than in the discrimination of its social and psychological contexts (with respect to which our anaIytical machinery is very much more refined); and that the escape from Mannheim’s Paradox lies, therefore, in the perfection of a conceptual apparatus capable of dealing more adroitly with meaning. Bluntly, we need a more exact apprehension of our object of study, lest we find ourselves in the position of the Javanese folk-tale figure, “Stupid Boy,” who, having been counseled by his mother to seek a quiet wife, returned with a corpse.
Clifford Geertz, Ideology as a Cultural System, 1964