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The debate over the relationship between political practice and theory is as old as political science itself. The study of ideology, this article contends, offers a unique opportunity to explore the nexus of social phenomena and political philosophy, provided the study is launched from a new perspective. Instead of undertaking another exercise in the endless effort to define the concept of ideology, this analysis emphasizes the objects of ideology. It thereby exposes, first of all, that historically analysts of ideology have ineptly assumed they were studying the same concept -- ideology -- whereas in fact they used the same term to refer to significantly different political phenomena. Second, the genealogy of the objects of ideology discloses the changing terrain of political reality since the Enlightenment. Three moments in the history of 'ideology' are identified as heuristic devices: ideology as a function of class (eighteenth-nineteenth centuries), ideology as a function of (totalitarian) regimes (early twentieth century), and in the aftermath of the 'end of ideology' debate, ideology as a social discourse (1960s onward). Third, the role of the analyst is therewith also transformed: from a scientist, to a critical historian of ideas, to a political agent of social change. The inevitable embeddedness of political theory in changing political praxis urges a new dialogue between empirical and theoretical political scientists.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel 91905, Email:

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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