Ideological Critique Example Essay

Ideological Criticism Method

Alton Dunham

Barbara J. Higgins

Jan Michael Uy

COML 514

Gonzaga University

December 1, 2011

The ideological criticism method looks to beliefs, values, attitudes, and visions of a particular aspect of the world. It points to the way the civilization views certain topics and often challenges the status quo. It identifies power dimensions and reveals hidden ideologies about how our society viewed racial equality in the past.

In our example, we will review an ideological vision of racial equality as presented in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech (1963), a rhetorical act that is widely recognized as one of the best speeches ever given in human history.

 We will look at the dominant ideology of segregation and compare it with the proposed ideology of equality, and additionally through rhetorical analysis and specifically the Ideological method, we will analyze and produce an effective research question that will help us to conclude on what we can say about the artifact, about rhetoric, and the impact this speech has had on our society and culture today.

Why would a critic want to view the world through an Ideological lens?

The first step to understanding this lies in understanding the definition of Ideology: A pattern of beliefs that determines a group’s interpretation of some aspect(s) of the world (Foss, 2009, p 209.)

1.      Artifact function served by ideology– In our example of King’s speech, the following functions were determined.

a.      The sole purpose of King’s speech is to present a vision of the United States with all racial barriers removed.  The audience is to take the empowerment the artifact provides and use it for a vision of a better world.

b.      King’s speech is intended to motivate and encourage those who have been subjected to racial inequality, inspiring them to keep hope and faith that change can come.

c.       The ideology of equality is presented in a way that can relate to any minority group that could be facing a form of oppression.

Once you have completed the analysis, you can take the findings and use them to formulate your research questions.  The questions will help frame the information you will present in your final essay.  You want to specifically address the ideology and the artifact. This work could generate multiple research questions, depending on the critics’ interests.

Research Questions:

·         How does Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech contribute to racial quality among all races today?

·         How was King’s speech relevant among the culture and civilization of 1963?

·         Who would be King’s intended audience in present day society?

Ideology is:

·         Evaluative

·         Mental framework

·         Alternative judgments are available.

·         Rooted in “basic conceptualizations about ideologies and how they function”(Foss, 2009, p. 210), potential to manifest in rhetorical artifacts.

·         Result in dominant way of seeing the world

Ideological criticism is concerned with the concept of power, specifically the concept of Hegemony: the privileging of one dominant worldview over that of other groups.

In our sample criticism, Dr. King based his speech heavily on evaluative beliefs. Specifically, he believed that all people were created equal. He worked towards equality and organizing non-violent protests and marches. His beliefs included the following examples: 

·         All men are created equal (Christianity)

·         The constitution as the supreme law in the United States (Patriotism)

·         All races and creeds can sing Free at Last (Postmodernism)

·         "Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice." (Gettysburg Address)

Thus, sample ideologies surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech could be equality, patriotism, multiculturalism, Postmodernism, and Christianity.

It is also important to note that when an ideology becomes hegemonic, it accumulates ‘the symbolic power to map or classify the world for others” -- anything else is abnormal. 

Therefore, to maintain dominance, hegemonic ideology must be “renewed, reinforced, and defended continually through rhetorical strategies and practices”. Resistance is dominant ideologies are often muted. (Foss, 2009, p. 210)

Dr. King’s speech is a historical sample of resistance to the hegemonic ideology of Racism. Therefore, a critic interested in Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech would see how it contributes to racial quality among all races today.

Understanding this concept will help you, the critic, select and analyze your artifact through the lens of Ideological criticism.

According to Foss (2009) “the primary goal of ideological critics is to discover and make visible the ideology embedded in an artifact (p 213).” The next step is unveiling how this is done.

Performing the Criticism

Select Artifact:

Any artifact can serve, because Ideologies are evident everywhere. Examples are: Ads, TV, Basketball games, Web sites, coffee houses, songs. For our example, we have chosen Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” Speech.

Analyze the artifact:

1.  ID presented elements (215-16)

2.  ID suggested elements (216-17)

3.  Formulate ideology (217-220)

4.  ID functions served in ideology (220)

Research Question:

Your research question can be specifically about artifact.

Writing the Essay:  Five parts.

1.  Introduction

2.  Description of artifact and its context

3.  Description of the method

4.  Report of findings and analysis – how does ideology manifest and what rhetorical strategies promote it over other ideologies

5.  Discussion of contribution to rhetorical theory.

Identifying and Describing the Chosen Artifact Outline

1.      Role and purpose of the artifact and/or act in the process

a.      Identification of artifact: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech”

b.      Specific composition of the speech:

                                                              i.      Date: August 28, 1963 -  Significance of the date is that the American Civil Rights Movement ranged from 1955 – 1968.  This speech became the turning point for this movement that would eventually lead to the outlawing of racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring voting rights to them

                                                            ii.      Length:  17 minutes, public speech

c.       Purpose of the artifact

                                                              i.      To demand racial justice and an integrated society

2.      Why this artifact was chosen

a.      His speech became the touchstone for understanding the social and political turmoil of the time

b.      It deals with internal power dimensions as well as revealing hidden/obscured ideologies, which fits well into the ideological method. The ideological method needs to be rationalized based on the specific goals of this method (which have to do with identifying power dimensions or revealing hidden/obscured ideologies). 

1.      Theme: “We can never be satisfied”

a.      When we walk, we must pledge to continue marching ahead and never looking back

b.      “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of unspeakable horrors of police brutality” (Edwards, 2010, p. 1)

2.      The 2nd theme revolves around the concept “I have a dream”


Text Version

Sample Analysis

Analyzing the Artifact

Foss (2009) provided an outline for analyzing the artifact:

1.      Identify the presented elements of the artifact

2.      Identify the suggested elements of the artifact

3.      Formulate an ideology

4.      Identify the function served by an ideology  (p. 214)

Identify the Presented Elements-- Within this step you are looking to find the signs and symbols that are presented that point directly to the artifact. 

When multiple ideologies are presented in a single artifact, it is key to separate them out and concentrate on the ones that pertain to your particular study. In beginning your analysis, listing all presented elements will prove to be valuable. This portion of the analysis process does not appear in your final critique. You are not required to report on all of these elements. 

Within King’s (1963) speech, for example, the following presented elements were identified.

a.      “… demonstration for freedom” (para. 1)

                                                              i.      Noted as a great event, King uses powerful language to elicit emotion from the audience.

b.      Emancipation Proclamation (para. 2)

                                                              i.      The use of the words “Five score” in a paragraph with reference to the Emancipation Proclamation and President Lincoln present imagery of the civil war and end of slavery.

c.       Declaration of Independence (para. 4)

                                                              i.      Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

                                                            ii.      Does not specify white males

d.      Urgency

                                                              i.      “of NOW” (para. 6)

                                                            ii.       “of the moment” (para. 7)

e.      Cannot be satisfaction (para. 13)

                                                              i.      Without decent homes

                                                            ii.      When children are stripped of self

                                                          iii.      Without voting rights

f.        Addressing the people

                                                              i.      Go home knowing we will make a difference (para. 14)

g.      “I have a dream” (para. 16)

                                                              i.      All treated equal

                                                            ii.      Transformation (para. 18)

                                                          iii.      Children of all races join together (para. 21)

                                                           iv.      All things will be equal (para. 23)

h.      The Speech itself

                                                              i.      The speech has been described as a “political treatise, a work of poetry, and masterfully delivered and improvised sermon, bursting with biblical language and imagery” (Edwards, 2010, p. 1)

                                                            ii.      There are two parts to the speech:

1.      The first half portrays an idealized American dream “but a picture of a seething American night of racial injustice” (Edwards, 2010, p. 1).

2.      The 2nd half of the speech portrays a dream for the better and a fairer future for “racial harmony and integration” (Edwards, 2010, p. 1).

 Identify the suggested elements– These elements are ideas, themes, and concepts that are suggested within the artifact (Foss, 2009).  Below is a list of the suggested elements we found in King’s speech.

a.      About Martin Luther King Jr. in relation to the speech

                                                              i.      He studied the Bible, The Gettysburg Address, and the US Declaration of Independence, all of which were mentioned in his address to the public

                                                            ii.      His delivery of the speech

1.      Emotional delivery of both voice and body

2.      Location: The steps of the Washington memorial

a.      Significance:  It was at the memorial site where Abraham Lincoln defeated the southern states over the issue of slavery from the past

3.      Mood of the day: A sense of slavery among black people

b.      Religious icons

                                                              i.      Imagery:  “beacon of light,” “seared in the flame,”  and “joyous daybreak” (para. 2)

1.      All three reflect images found in Christianity

a.      Jesus is the light of the world (Matthew 5:14)

b.      Flames represent hell

c.       “Joyous daybreak” could refer to the second coming of Christ

2.      In Buddhism light is a symbol of enlightenment and dark is a symbol of ignorance (

c.       “Cash a check” (para. 4)

                                                              i.      King uses imagery of finance and wages due to symbolize the injustice of the promises made that were not kept.

                                                            ii.      Comparison to a “bad check” that was not honored

                                                          iii.      Demands payment on check based on the premise that the funds are available (para. 5)

1.      Bank of Justice – image of the stability of an institution protecting a commodity

d.      Negative Imagery (para. 6)

                                                              i.       “dark desolate valley of segregation” (para. 6)

                                                            ii.       “cup of bitterness and hatred” (para. 8)

                                                          iii.      “unspeakable horrors” (para. 13)

                                                           iv.      “battered by the storms of persecution” (para. 14)

                                                             v.       “wallow in the valley of despair” (para. 15)

e.      Positive Imagery

                                                              i.      “sunlit path of racial justice” (para. 6)

                                                            ii.       “thirst for freedom” (para. 8)

                                                          iii.      “high plane of dignity and discipline” (para. 8)

                                                           iv.      “majestic heights” (para. 8)

                                                             v.      “unearned suffering is redemptive” (para. 14)


The presented and suggested element lists are tools that you will use in your final critique to determine the ideologies and the presentation of those ideologies. 

Formulate ideology – Concentrating on the suggested elements list, you would now categorize all of the elements identified to determine the framework of the ideology.  The presented elements should clearly express an ideology.  Within the suggested elements, we need to find a common theme to formulate the ideology represented.  Below are the ideologies we formulated with the suggested elements from King’s speech.

a.      The speech clearly takes a position against segregation. 

                                                              i.      King is encouraging a vast audience to take a stand for a quality of life offered only to the white people in the US to be made available to all.

b.      King issues a warning to not allow emotion to carry over into violent protest

c.       Clusters of imagery

                                                              i.      Negative

1.      The speech very clearly presents racism and segregation in a negative way.  The clear message is that segregation is wrong.

2.      Words like dark, desolate, fatal, sweltering, bitterness and injustice paint an image of evil and wrong doing.

                                                            ii.      Positive

1.      The speech also very clearly presents inclusion, equality, and acceptance in a positive manner.  King is preaching that since segregation is wrong, we must fight for its abolition.

2.      Words like sunlit, bright day, majestic, oasis, and symphony present images of warmth, happiness, and music/frivolity.

                                                          iii.      Religious

1.      The religious imagery plays to the emotion of the faithful. 

2.      The comparison of the salvation found through Christ and the joy of the dissipation of segregation offer a sample of the anticipated emotion when the time comes.

Foss (2009) lists a number of questions you can use to help you determine what ideologies may be present in your artifact.  You should be looking for the specific ideas, emotions, roles, actions, interpretations, and challenges that the artifact is seeking to uncover.

Theory and Ideological Critique

An artifact that is found in any location can represent a lot of things. How someone determines the statement an artifact makes can be summed up in ideological critique. This is a process that provides for all of the theories about a culture based on what is seen in an artifact and also about what can be inferred by its existence. This is a very difficult task to complete, as the overall misrepresentation of a group of facts can lead to many misinterpretations and misunderstandings about the way a topic is done. However done correctly it can correctly identify the ideology that is located within an artifact. This has been used in concentrations like Postmodernism and Marxism. The Power of ideological critique is that it can control the will of the people.


Experts in this field look at all artifacts as symbols of a culture and able to explain details about things through analyzation. Looking at particular symbols can define what was happening and how particular markings represent that to the world and to history. This study also takes a look at commonly held philosophical terms and looks closely at them to see if a society actually values these things or if they are a symbol of a much more difficult factor occurring in society. For example in the United States the words of freedom and liberty are often mentioned but using them as an ideograph, you can determine if they are indeed important. They most often are used as an idealistic punch line, to supply some politician with a rhetorical response to a challenge to their election. The actual meanings of liberty and freedom are rarely brought into a discussion, because those definitions are not going to benefit the people in power.

Motivates Behavior

The way that ideals are presented by the government to the masses often dictates the acceptance of governmental action by the masses. For example, if a military action is described as dictatorial and oppressive there wouldn’t be a lot of support. However if the same action were defined as to protect liberty and freedom, then there are many who provide support blindly. This is the real value of this type of rhetoric. It provides a justification of behavior so that a government can gain popular support for a program.


Ideological critique is the way in which an event is analyzed and presented to the public. Often there are broad and general words that have become really meaningless in our society. This is the language of spin doctors and politicians who look to manipulate and misinform. The most valuable lesson a free thinking person can learn is to question everything and not accept the weak explanations of others or in a short phrase, think for yourself.

0 Replies to “Ideological Critique Example Essay”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *