Children’s literature

Part I. Theory and critical approaches


5. Critical tradition and ideological positioning


Charles Sarland




Ideology is itself a problematic notion. In the general discourse of the electronic media, for instance, it is often considered that ideology and bias are one and the same thing, and that ideology and ‘common sense’ can be set against each other. This distinction continues into (particularly British) party political debate: ‘ideology’ is what the other side is motivated by while ‘our’ side is again merely applying common sense. In the history of Marxist thought there has been a convoluted development of usage of the term, not unrelated to the distinction just outlined. For the purposes of this chapter, however, ideology will be taken to refer to all espousal, assumption, consideration and discussion of social and cultural values, whether overt or covert. In that sense it will include common sense itself, for common sense is always concerned with the values and underlying assumptions of our everyday lives.

Volosinov (1929/1986) encapsulates the position when he argues that all language is ideological. All sign systems, including language, he argues, have not only a simple denotative role, they are also evaluative, and thus ideological: ‘The domain of ideology coincides with the domain of signs’ (10). From this perspective it will thus be seen that all writing is ideological since all writing either assumes values even when not overtly espousing them, or is produced and also read within a social and cultural framework which is itself inevitably suffused with values - that is to say, suffused with ideology. In addition, in Marxist terms, considerations of ideology can be divorced neither from considerations of the economic base nor from considerations of power (that is, of politics), and that too is the position taken here.