The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology:
The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology

Alvin W. Gouldner

chapter 2

Ideological Discourse as Rationality and False Consciousness

[Basil Bernstein, Elaborated & Restricted Linguistic Codes]


In ideological discourse, then, the societal status of the speaker is not seen as authorizing his speech. Rather, conformity to a given "method"—seen as separate from the speaker's social position—is put forth as the grounding of the reports on which proposed policies are held to rest. To that extent, then, both ideologies and social sciences are inherently nondogmatic, in terms of their grammars, or of the rules to which they claim to submit.

That concrete ideologies (and social sciences) do become dogmatic is not necessarily intrinsic to their deep structure; it may be due to certain special social conditions under which they enact their grammar. For example, "dogmatism" may be due to anxieties that become exacerbated under conditions of conflict and struggle, with all their dangers and risks.

It need not follow, however, that both social science and ideology are equally dogmatic. The point is simply that both are prone to a similar dogmatism when enacted under similar anxiety‑inducing conditions.

Ideology, then, constitutes a language variant with a distinct mode of justifying assertions, whether commands or reports. This distinctive aspect of ideologies makes them similar to what Basil Bernstein has called relatively context‑independent, "elaborated linguistic codes." Such codes are in contrast with those linguistic codes usually dominant in everyday life and which are (again, in Bernstein's terms) "restricted linguistic codes" that allow the justification of assertions in terms of the speaker's societal status. [57/58]


In these terms, then, the Age of Ideologies refers to the development of new, elaborated linguistic variants; to their increasing infringement on older, authority-referring restricted linguistic variants; and to the increasing importance of elaborated speech in public‑political discourse. In effect, what Marxism spoke of negatively as "ideologies" were precisely cognitive systems which, it held, had claimed but failed to be context‑independent. Ideologies were submissive to the interests of the bourgeoisie, all the while presenting themselves as if they were the products of autonomous thought processes. This Marxist critique of ideologies, then, correctly noticed the emergence of that very standard of careful speech, a (relative) context-independence to which ideological discourse claimed to submit and which exposed it to critique when it failed to live up to its own standards.

But all ideologies imply that their policies are no longer justified by the societal position of their adherents. Ideologies commonly imply that such justification can no longer be grounded in traditional ways. They thus cast doubt on the epistemologies of everyday life. In particular, they are dissonant with the everyday epistemologies of restricted linguistic variants. They make problematic the cognitive justification of ordinary reports—i.e., the "common sense"—about the social world. The question of what constitutes a sufficient grounding for reports and commands becomes a matter of increasing concern and there is a spread of epistemological anxiety.


Central to the analysis in this chapter has been the work of Basil Bernstein, or at least my reading of that seminal work, the core of which began with his distinction between "elaborated codes" and "restricted codes." Originally focused on studies of the education and socialization of children, Bernstein saw the difficulties of lower‑class children in school as largely derivative of the disjunction between the speech patterns they commonly learned at home and those dominant in the public school. The educational problems consequent upon these language differences, however, as well as their imputed class connections, are of secondary concern here. What most concerns us now is Bernstein's analysis of the differences in the two speech modalities—the two syndromes of elements by which he sees each language variant typified.

In Bernstein's most recent formulations—see the volume edited by Sebeok, mentioned below—what he once spoke of as the elaborated and restricted linguistic "codes" are now, rather more precisely it seems, characterized as sociolinguistic speech variants. The elaborated variant, or my reading of it, [58/59] converges with what I have here called the "culture of critical speech," or "discourse." The tacit comparison is with (what William Labov has termed) “casual speech” in which minimum attention is being paid by the speaker to his speech and which is, for that reason, convergent with Bernstein's restricted" variant, both being relatively nonreflexive speech modalities.

Having said this, it is then immediately apparent that the distinction, when held coordinate with class differences, seems to have invidious implications discreditable to the lower or working class. Bernstein's views then drew a withering critique, some of which he seems never to have deserved. Clearly, Bernstein never intended to imply more than differences in the statistical frequence of these "codes" among classes, or in their realization among classes. Variance then exists among classes as well as—the work of Labov and others shows—among different kinds of speech situations confronted by any one class. But the existence of the latter does not make the existence of the former variance less important.

The Marxist response to Bernstein has sought to affirm the importance of class differences without, also, implying the inferiority of working‑class speech. This has, in turn, led some Marxists to a paradoxical situation in which they find themselves denying that the deprived social situation of the lower classes has had any depriving consequences for their speech. In some cases, it has also led some Marxists to a paradoxical linguistic liberalism in which there is a dogmatic affirmation of the equal utility of all speech variants. This would seem to be internally contradictory, for if this were actually so, of what use then is Marxism itself?

To summarize: in his most recent formulations, Bernstein describes the “elaborated” sociolinguistic variants as discourse situations in which "principles and operations are made linguistically explicit," while in the case of the “restricted” variant they are relatively implicit. Self‑conscious reflexivity * and theoreticity are thus, in effect, the central value dimensions in terms of which the distinction between elaborated and restricted variants is made. But whether or not Bernstein grounds himself in this value distinction is irrelevant, so long as the speech modalities of some consequential speech community also accept the same value grounding, thus orienting their speech to it, for this would in part make them a distinguishable speech community.

Given only tacit or implicit discourse principles, says Bernstein, meanings will more likely be context dependent; in the elaborated variant, where they are more explicit, meanings will more likely be (relatively) context-independent, [59/60] less closely linked to local social structures, relationships, or situations. The elaborated variants with their greater explicitness of guiding principles, notes Bernstein, allow persons fuller access to their own culture grounding. I take it that this is a way of speaking of the "examined life" and, in referring to it as entailing "rationality," Bernstein clearly places himself in the "classical" tradition—in the fullest possible sense.

In this classical vein, the elaborated variant is also seen as entailing articulated symbols, while the restricted variant is more fully grounded in condensed symbols and metaphors. At the same time, however, Bernstein also emphasizes that ". . . a restricted code gives access to a vast potential of meanings, of delicacy, subtlety, and diversity of cultural forms . . . to a unique aesthetic . . ." Correspondingly, the elaborated speech variant is characterized by more careful "editing" of lexical and grammatical components. There are two value modalities from which this same observation might be judged, and it seems likely that both are correct. One views such “editing” as implying a desirable carefulness, self‑inspection and watchfulness, self‑discipline and seriousness. The other, negative modality, no less persuasive, implies that the elaborated variant would manifest a certain loss of spontaneity, pathological self‑consciousness, stilted convoluted speech, inhibition of the imagination, of play, and of feeling.

Bernstein manifests increasing sensitivity to these negative value implications—potential "dysfunctions" or costs?—of the elaborated speech variant. He notes that they give access to alternative realities, and hence have a relation to the status quo which is critical and transcendent; it thereby makes them of decisive relevance for ideologies, and thus far from merely expressive of the status quo in a conservative way. At the same time, Bernstein also insists that elaborated variants “carry the potential of alienation, of feeling from thought, of self from other, of private belief from role obligation,” and, I would add, of theory from practice.

The elaborated variant's critical discourse entails a self‑watchful discipline bent on making speech conform with a set of known rules that specify the proprieties of speech. Thus the elaborated variant is a two‑sided process; on the one, productive of reflexivity and, on the other, of a certain loss in spontaneity and warmth. A culture of critical and serious speech is committed to the value of speech about speech, of metacommunication, in which particular heed is taken of the certainty (or uncertainty) of assertions made, whether reports or commands. One is expected to be alert to the possibility that any affirmation may be negated, is inherently negatable, open to challenge and criticism and, therefore, must have justification ready to hand.

Although Bernstein does not put it this way, we may say that one critical speech act, that serves as a boundary between elaborated and restricted variants, is the act of "justification," when arguments are offered in support of challenged reports and commands. Restricted variants will accept references [60/61]

to the speaker's role in society as a legitimate rhetoric. Elaborated variants, however, tend toward the rule that a good reason is not a reference to the speaker's position in the group and, it seems, references to ascribed positions are particularly proscribed as modes of justification. Correspondingly, we might add that if the elaborated speech variant inhibits references to societal position as a mode of justifying assertions so, also, does it reject the purely "personal."

In David Silverman's terms, "bad speech is speech which arises from personal biases and commitments of the author ('halo effect,' personal sympathies, personal political views, personal value judgment)." Correspondingly, good speech in the elaborated variant means speech that "is in‑accord‑with‑a‑community‑rule, both by attending to the order of things which the community sanctions . . . and by purportedly basing its analysis in communally‑sanctioned methods." It is thus not the person alone that judges the speech; "the community is to be the final arbiter of the goodness (validity, accuracy, insightfulness) of any account. It must judge whether the account is properly rule‑governed . . ." **

From the standpoint of this chapter, then, an ideology is to be understood as a case—or a "sociolect"—of an elaborated speech variant. Correspondingly, this constitutes the shared culture of critical speech to which concrete ideologies—and social sciences, as well—commonly claim and seek to conform. To revert to our earlier observation that children are not ordinarily said to have an ideology, we may now see an auxiliary reason for this: the obligation to abide by the culture of careful discourse is imposed on persons in some correlation with age, the younger being less under the obligation.

The conjunction here of the notion of ideology, on the one side, and of an elaborated speech variant, on the other, has a certain incongruity of promising fruitfulness. This, because when we see ideology as an elaborated variant we are sensitized to its possession of a rationality that, in the common view, it is usually denied; and when we see the elaborated variant "set" from the standpoint of ideology, as one case in it, we are alerted to the possibility that elaborated (no less than restricted) codes may have blocked access to their own grounding. That is, seeing the elaborated variant from the perspective of ideology focalizes the limits of the reflexivity of this most reflexive speech variant. Let us develop the latter implication briefly from the standpoint of an ancient distinction in literary criticism, that between classical" and "romantic" cultures. ***

With their common emphasis on the editing of speech performances in conformity with explicated principles and reflexively held rules, elaborated [61/62] speech variants including ideology, are essentially in the nature of a cultural classicism. (This again resonates a certain dissonance between ideology and the romantic, which I have alluded to in Marx's work.) The elaborated variant is "classical" in the sense conventional to that terms' usage in literary criticism, in being rule oriented, grammar and pattern oriented. Correspondingly, the restricted variant's openness to metaphor and condensed symbolism is characteristically "romantic," as that term has been responsibly used in literary criticism. The restricted variant, like the romantic, is open to the ramifying sense of words, while the elaborated variant seeks to repress “sense” and focus on and admit only legislated, explicated meanings, the literalness of relatively decontextualized conceptualizations. (I intend here the distinction between sense and meaning used by Lev Semenovich Vygotsky, in his Thought and Language.)

To characterize the elaborated speech variant as "classical," then, is to signal that the conventional critique of ideology, namely, that it is "dogmatic," does not identify a fault peculiar to it but, rather, refers to a fault generated by the rule‑oriented theoreticity that ideology shares with other elaborated speech variants, including "methodologically" committed social science. On the one side, the very reflexivity that is the prized virtue of the elaborated speech variant is a reflexivity about the grounding of speech in a relatively context‑free set of rules—rules which are seen as governing contexts. From this, however, derives the other, "dark" side of that same reflexivity, in which there is an inflexibility in the face of differences in concrete contexts, a compulsive insistence on "one word, one meaning," and on hewing to the legislated rule; and where, further, the force and consequence of the context for the speech and speaker is denied, being dissonant with his image of himself as a consistency‑bound conformer with articulate rules. It is this inflexibility about, and insensitivity to, the force of differing contexts that is precisely the common implication of the "dogmatism" of ideology. The limits of ideology, then, are not limits peculiar to it but are shared by other sociolects of the elaborated speech variant, and they are not divorced from but grounded in the very historically specific rationality of that variant.


Elaborated speech variants, including their ideological sociolects, are manifested most fully in the speech of intellectuals and intelligentsia; they are the deep structure of the common ideology shared by these groups. That is to say, the shared ideology characteristic of intellectuals and intelligentsia is an ideology about discourse: the culture of critical discourse, the historically specific mode of rationality implicated in the elaborated speech variant. Apart [62/63] from the specific ideological sociolect spoken by different intellectuals and intelligentsia, they are commonly committed to a culture of critical discourse. A theory of ideology thus implies a theory of intellectuals and intelligentsia, even if only implicitly. Which, in turn, implies that whatever else a concrete, specific ideology is about, whatever specific project of community reconstruction it proposes, there is also and always tacit within it some place assigned to intellectuals and intelligentsia, in the movement from the old order and in the new, reconstructed order.

Since the elaborated speech variant that is the unifying culture of intellectuals and intelligentsia inhibits reference to the speaker, to his personal character or his societal status, then the implication of the speaker in his speech is commonly repressed, and thus the implication of intellectuals in ideologies and ideological projects of social reconstruction is commonly occluded, even as it is invariably inserted. One latent function of elaborated speech variants, then, is to deauthorize all traditional speech, all speech grounded in traditional societal authority, and to authorize only the speech of those speaking impersonal and deauthored speech which is, characteristically, the speech of the "well"‑educated.

Intellectuals are "mass produced" only with the end of traditional society and the corresponding rise and reform of modern systems of public education, education away from the home, and firmly differentiated from the kinship system. This develops in the course of that process of secularization in which some of the intelligentsia and intellectuals cease being "organic" intellectuals, trained by, living within, and subject to the close supervision of a churchly organization and thereby separated from the everyday life of their society. Such secularization is important because it desacralizes authority‑claims and allows the emergence of a culture of critical discourse that insists that the reasons given may be negated and criticized, and are not to be grounded in the imputedly privileged and sacred status of the speaker. Secularization helps constitute a culture of critical discourse in which self-groundedness, in Heidegger's sense of the "mathematical project," is central.

Along with this, there is the rise of vernacular languages and the corresponding decline of Latin as the language of intellectuals. This further thins out the membrane between everyday life and intellectuals, readying them to propound projects of this-worldly social reconstruction, ideologies. At the same time there is, also, the attenuation of the old regime system of personalized patronage relationships between specific members of the old hegemonic elites and individual members of the intelligentsia or intellectual stratum. The other side of this development is one in which there is a growing anonymous market for the products and services of intellectuals, thus allowing them to make their livings apart from close supervision and personalized controls by patrons. Their residence and their work, both, are now less closely supervised by others, and they are now capable of more [63/64] personal initiatives in the public sphere, while also having a "private" life. Thus the claims and force of established authority, and of modes of discourse grounded in it, are diminished.

This is further reinforced by the development of a relatively insulated and more highly differentiated system of public education whose teachers define themselves, not as having an obligation to reproduce the class values of their students' parents, but as responsible for and representative of "society as a whole." In some part, an elaborated speech variant is required and fostered by the new public system because the school claims to be above the conflict of different sections of the society with their differing regional dialects and class sociolects; and the elaborated speech code thus has universalistic implication. The public school emerges in coordination with the "public," and is a microcosm of that larger communal public—being a setting in which communication is addressed to linguistically diverse groups. An elaborated speech variant thus serves in some part as a unifying culture of discourse, permitting the collaboration of different social sectors and speakers of different language variants, of various restricted variants, without manifestly siding with or speaking the speech of any one of them. As later chapters will develop, this is precisely one of the functions of "ideology."

At the same time, the elaborated speech variant is the language of bureaucratic rationality, which is the organizational instrument of societal unification on the level of the modern state apparatus or the private rational economy. The public schools' commitment to the elaborated speech variant, then, constitutes the socialization of bureaucratic personnel, at the level of the state or the enterprise, no less than of intellectuals and intelligentsia. There is thus a characteristic interchangeability and social mobility between intelligentsia and bureaucracy. The modern public school system educates those intellectuals who, for the most part, produce ideologies, as well as providing them with a mass‑produced audience of readers and purveyors.

Bibliographical Note

It is perhaps now altogether evident that our analysis of ideology is a compound of historical perspective and the sociology of language; a straightforward sociology of language, rather than the technical fascinations of linguistics and sociolinguistics. As a biographical aside, I confess that I found social psychology theoretically sterile for the project at hand. With the exception of Milton Rokeach's work, to which I will later make reference, I found the usual discussions of "attitudes," “beliefs,” and "values" to situate me in a theoretical tradition that lacked specific, substantive "middle‑range" theories that could help) unpack the package of "ideology." In contrast, the sociology [64/65] of language has built‑in comparative concerns and an openness to historical evolution that was precisely right for the problem of ideology. More than that, it had a set of middle‑range theories of sociological and historical specificity that had an almost pinpointed relevance. Once I could see the sterility of the tradition of social psychology for the ideology problem, and had made the shift to a semiotic symbolic conceptualization of the problem, the utility of the sociology of language became immediately apparent.

One of the most straight‑forward sociologies of language of which I am aware is presently being written, in my view, by Joshua A. Fishman who has an encyclopedic sense of the field, an awareness of its crucial theoretical dialogues, and a total command of its relevant empirical research. See, for example, his edited volumes Readings in the Sociology of Language, Mouton, The Hague, 1968; Advances in the Sociology of Language, Mouton, The Hague, 1971; see also his important contribution, "The Sociology of Language," in Thomas A. Sebeok ed., Current Trends in Linguistics, Mouton, The Hague, 1974. I have also found the work of the sociologist Allen D. Grimshaw sensitively open to the crucial theoretical issues of relevance here. See, for instance, his articles in Contemporary Sociology in Volumes 2 and 3, 1973, 1974. An important collection for the sociologist is that of John J. Gumperz and Dell Hymes, editors, Directions in Sociolinguistics, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, New York, 1972. See also J. G. Gumperz, Language in Social Groups, Stanford, 1971. The best introductory statement of the ethnomethodological contribution to, and perspective on, language is Aaron V. Cicourel, Cognitive Sociology, although the microlevel on which the ethnomethodologists' focus is difficult to align with historical interests such as those here. The rediscovered volume by V. N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, Seminar Press, New York, 1973, provides a valuable indication of the potential utility of Marxism for a sociology of language.

The sociologist of language that has influenced and excited me most is Basil Bernstein, precisely because his central interests are so classically sociological, centered as they are on the question of the interaction of the symbolic order and social structures, which he pursues from a standpoint that is fundamentally Durkheimian, with a comparative and anthropological sensitivity that is worked through in a quasi‑Marxist idiom and where the central comparisons are class comparisons. Bernstein's papers begin to appear in the early 1960's, and his by‑now controversial classic on "Elaborated and Restricted Codes," appears in Gumperz and Hymes, editors, The Ethnography of Communication, American Anthropologist, 66, 6, 2, pp. 55‑69. Since then, Bernstein has edited three major volumes reporting his work, and that of his research group: Class, Codes, and Control, Volume 1, Theoretical Studies Towards a Sociology of Language; Volume 2, Applied Studies towards a Sociology of Language; Volume 3, Towards a Theory of Educational Transmissions; Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1972, 1973, 1975. For myself, I have found the perspectives and criticisms of Bernstein's work—said and implied—in the work of Dell Hymes and William Labov to be congenial and important in developing my own appreciation of Bernstein as a sociologist. Hymes' work seems to be a unique blend of the anthropological tradition with its relativistic sensitivities, and a sustained capacity for theoretical analysis. The most important example of this, from a sociologist's view, is perhaps his Towards Communicative Competence, University of Pennsylvania Press, [65/66] Philadelphia, 1972, and his prior work, On Communicative Competence, Ferkauf Graduate School, Yeshiva University, 1966, which Bernstein characterizes as the explicit source of Chomsky's view of "the potentiality of competence and the degeneration of performance"; B. Bernstein, "Social Class, Language and Socialisation," in T.A. Sebeok, ed., 1974, Ibid. The other critique of Bernstein that I have found most informative is that of William Labov, whose important summary volume, Sociolinguistic Patterns, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972, applies techniques of systematic survey research within the framework of a theory of class structure and with a concern for systematic cumulation and continuity. The dialectic between the Englishman Bernstein, and the Americans Hymes and Labov, not always dramatically visible in their writings, has produced one of the richest discussions in the sociology of language, if not from the standpoint of technical linguistics then certainly from that of the sociologist. Let me repeat that these comments are made from the perspective of a working sociologist who is not a linguist, and who is primarily concerned about the work cited here for its sociological relevance in general, and its usefulness in analyzing the ideology problem in particular. With that qualification in mind, I would also mentioned that I have found the work of Umberto Eco and Ferrucio Rossi-Landi most suggestive, even though I know only the relatively limited part of it that has been translated into English from the Italian, in addition to having heard Eco lecture in Barcelona and Amsterdam.


* The important convergence between Bernstein and Labov, despite other differences, can be seen from Labov's comment: “There are a great many styles and stylistic dimensions that can be isolated by an analyst. But we find that styles can be ranged along a single dimension measured by the amount of attention paid to speech. The most important way in which the attention is exerted is in audio‑monitoring one's own speech . . .” which Bernstein calls “editing.” (See Labov, below, p. 208.)

** David Silverman, "Speaking Seriously," Theory and Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1974, pp. 1 ‑ 16.

*** See my extended discussion of romantic and classical, in A. W. Gouldner, For Sociology, Basic Books, New York, 1975, pp. 323-366.

SOURCE: Gouldner, Alvin W. The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology. New York: Seabury Press, 1976. (The Dark Side of the Dialectic; v. 1) Chapter 2 (Ideological Discourse as Rationality and False Consciousness), sections 5.4 - 7 + Bibliographical Note, pp. 57-66.

Note: Footnotes at bottom of pages in original, here converted to endnotes.

Chapter 2, Ideological Discourse as Rationality and False Consciousness:
sections 0 - 5.3

The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology: The Origins, Grammar, and Future of Ideology by Alvin Gouldner

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