Ideology - 76 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE What do you understamtl...

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Unformatted text preview: 76 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE What do you understamtl by the concept lmluction‘ist'? _- , In what way, can culture be said to have its own specificity? _ - j Devise an explanation of a Mobile plyane that is: . abnommtlyahciimes ‘ To culturallyspecificf ‘0 'multiperspectival. The Marxist concern with the concept of ideology was rooted in the failure of proletarian revolutions to materialize and the inadequacy of historical mate— rialism in relation to questions of subjectivity, meaning and cultural politics. Put simply, the concern with ideology began as an exploration into why capitalism, which was held to be an exploitative system of economic and social relations, was not being overthrown by working~class revolution‘ 0 Was the failure of proletarian revolution therefore a failure of the proletariat to correctly understand the world they lived in? 0 Did the working class suffer from ’false consciousness’: a mistaken world view that served the interest of the capitalist class? Marxism and false consciousness There are two aspects of Marx’s writing which might be grounds for pursuing a line of thought that stresses ’false consciousness’. First, Marx (1961' Marx and Engels, 1970) argues that the dominant ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class. Second, he suggests that what we perceive to be the true character of social relations within capitalism are in actuality the mvstifica— tions of the market. That is, we accept the idea that we are free to sell our labour, andthat we get a fair price for it, since this is the way the social world appears to us. - However, Marx argues that capitalism involves exploitation at the level of production. This involves the extraction of surplus value from the proletariat. Consequently, the appearance of market relations of equality obscures the deep structures of exploitation. we have two versions of ideology here both functioning to legitimate the sectional interests of powerful classes, namely: 0 ideas as coherent statements about the world and the dominance of bourgeois or capitalist ideas; QUESTIONS OF CULTURE AND lDEOLOGY - world views which are the systematic outcome of the structures of capitalism which lead us to inadequate understandings of the social world. For Marxism, ideas are not independent of the material and historical circumstances of their production. On the contrary, people’s attitudes and beliefs are held to be systematically and structurally related to the material conditions of existence. However, this broad conception of ideas and material circumstances leaves crucial questions unanswered: o lust how are ideas related to the material conditions of existence? - If a base—superstructure model is inadequate, as most thinkers within cultural studies would say, then what kind of relationship do ideas have to material conditions? 0 To what extent is it the case that ideology is ’false’? 0 Can we all be said to be living false lives? How would we know? 0 Who has the ability to perceive the ‘truth’ and separate it from ideology? How would that be possible? - if the problem of ideology is not so much truth per se, but adequacy, that is to say, ide» ology is not so much false but partial, from what vantage point would an adequate explanation be forthcoming? These are the kinds of questions that the concept of ideology poses for us as it was developed by Althusser and Gramcsi. Althusser and ideology For Althusser, ideology is one of the three primary instances or levels of a social formation. As such, it is relatively autonomous from other levels (e.g. the economic), though it is determined by it ’in the last instance’. Here ideo- logy, ’a system (with its own logic and rigour) of representations (images, myths, ideas or concepts)’ (Althusser, 1969: 231), is conceived as a practice which is lived and transforms the material world. There are four aspects of Althusser’s work which are core to his View of ideology: o ldeology has the general function of constituting subjects. - ldeology as lived experience is not false. - Ideology as misrecognition of the real conditions of existence is false. 0 ldeology is involved in the reproduction of social formations and their relations of power. Ideological state apparatuses For Althusser, our entry into the symbolic order (of languages), and thus our constitution as subjects (persons), is the work of ideology. In his essay ’ldeology and the Ideological State Apparatuses’ (Althusser, 1971), he argues that ’ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as con— crete subjects’. Ideology ’has the function of constituting concrete indiw’duals as subjects’. This argument is an aspect of Althusser’s anti-humanism whereby the 77 78 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE subject is seen not as a self-constituting agent but rather as the ‘effect’ of structures. In this case, it is the work of ideology to bring a subject into being because ’there IS no practice except by and in ideology’. \/ In short, for Althusser, ideological discourse constructs subject positions or places for the subject from which the world makes sense. Subjects are the effects of discourse because subjectivity is constituted by the positions which discourse obliges us to take up. Discourse refers to pro- duction of knowledge through language that gives meaning to both material objects and social practices (Chapter 4). Discourse constructs, defines and pro- duces objects of knowledge in an intelligible way. At the same time it excludes other ways of reasoning as unintelligible. In this way, discourse is ideological because it is a partial view. Further, these incomplete ways of understanding the world, by which subjects are constituted, serve to reproduce the social order and the interests of powerful classes. Fragmented subjects Within the Althusserian paradigm, subjects formed in ideo- logy are not unitary wholes but fragmented subjects who take up plural subject posrtions. For example, class is not an objective economic fact but a discursiver formed collective subject position. Consequently, class consciousness is neither an inevitability nor a unified phenomenon. Classes, while sharing certain common conditions of existence, do not automatically form a core unified class con- sciousness. Instead they are cross-cut by conflicting interests as they are formed and unformed in the course of actual historical development. Class conscious- ness is likely to be cross-cut by questions of gender, race and age, at the very least. The double character of ideology Ideology is double-edged for Althusser. - On the one hand, it constitutes the real conditions of people’s lives and is not false. - On the other hand, ideology is conceived of as a more elaborate set of meanings which make sense of the world (an ideological discourse) in ways which misrecognize and mis— represent power and class relations. In this sense ideology is false. In the first sense ideology constitutes the world views by which people live and experience their lives. Here, ideology is not false for it forms the very cat- egories and systems of representation by which social groups render the world intelligible. Ideology is lived experience. However, in its second usage, ideo— logy 15 said to represent the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. Thus, if I mistake the class relations of exploitation Within capitalism for the free and equal relations of humans to each other then I am subject to and subjected by the illusions and delusions of ideology, For Althusser, ideology exists in an apparatus and its associated practices: Thus he designates a series of institutions, as 'ideological state apparatuses' (ISAs), namely: QUESTIONS OF CULTURE AND IDEOLOGY o the family; 0 the education system; 0- the church; 0 the mass media. Althusser regards the church as the dominant pre-capitalist ISA. However he argues that within the context of capitalism it has been replaced by the edu— cational system. Thus schools and universities are implicated in the ideologi— cal (and physical) reproduction of labour power along with the social relations of production. Ideology, he argues, is a far more effective means for the maintenance of class power than physical force. For Althusser, education transmits a general ruling-class ideology that justi— fies and legitimates capitalism. It also reproduces the attitudes and behaviour required by major class groups within the division of labour. Ideology teaches workers to accept and submit to their own exploitation while teaching man- agers and administrators to practise the craft of ruling on behalf of the domi- nant class. According to Althusser, each class is practically provided with the ideology required to fulfil its role in a class society. Further, ideology performs the function of what Poulantzas (1976) called ’separation and uniting’. That is, ideology masks the ’real’ exploitative foundations of production by displacing the emphasis of thought from production to exchange. lt stresses the character of people as individuals, thereby fragmenting a vision of class. It then welds individuals back together again in an imaginary coherence as a passive community of consumers or behind the concept of nation. Althusser and cultural studies Althusser’s work was significant in elevating the debate about ideology to the forefront of thinking within cultural studies. Further, the legacy of Althusserian thinking about social formations as a com- plex structure of related but relatively autonomous instances can be seen in the work of Stuart Hall, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, amongst others (below and Chapter 14). However, much of Althusser’s thinking about ideol— ogy is now regarded as problematic. - Althusser’s view of the operation of lSAs is too functionalist in orientation. Ideology appears to function behind people’s backs in terms of the ’needs’ of an agentless system. The Althusserian formulation of the question of ideology is also too coherent (despite the fragmented character of the subject). The educational system, for example, is the site of contradictory ideologies and of ideological conflict rather than a place for the unproblematic and homogeneous reproduction of capitalist ideology. o Althusser’s formulation of the place of ideology within a social formation, that is, as rel- atively autonomous but determined in the last instance, is imprecise and threatens to return analysis to the very economic reductionism that it hoped to escape. - Althusser’s work is dogged by an important epistemological problem, that is, a problem of truth and knowledge. If we are all formed in ideology, how can a non»ideological 79 80 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE view be generated which would allow us to deconstruct ideology or even recognize it as such? Althusser’s answer, that the rigours of science (and of his science in particular) can expose ideology, is both elitist and untenable (see Chapter 4). Though the work of Gramsci was written prior to Althusser’s, its influence within cultural studies post-dates the former’s enterprise (itself indebted to Gramsci). Indeed, the popularity of Gramsci within cultural studies was in partial response to the problems of Althusserian theory. In particular, Gramsci appeared to offer a more flexible, sophisticated and practical account of the character and workings of ideology. Gramsci, ideology and hegemony Culture is constructed in terms of a multiplicity of streams of meaning and encompasses a range of ideologies and cultural forms. However, it is argued (Williams, 1973, 1979, 1981; Hall, 1977, 1981) that there is a strand of mean- ing that can be called ascendant. The process of making, maintaining and reproducing these authoritative sets of meanings and practices has been called hegemony. Cultural and ideological hegemony For Gramsci, hegemony implies a situation where an 'historical bloc’ of ruling-class factions exercises social authority and leadership over the subordinate classes. This is achieved through a combination of force and, more importantly, consent (see also Chapter 14). Thus the normal exercise of hegemony on the classical terrain of the parliamentary regime is characterized by the combination of force and consent, which balance each other reciprocally without force predominating excessively over consent. Indeed, the attempt is always to ensure that force would appear to be based on the consent of the majority expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion ~ newspapers and associations. (Gramsci, 1971: 80) Within Gramscian analysis, ideology is understood in terms of ideas, mean- ings and practices which, while they purport to be universal truths, are maps of meaning that sustain powerful social groups. Above all, ideology is not separate from the practical activities of life. Rather, it is understood to be a material phenomenon rooted in day-to-day conditions. Ideologies provide people with rules of practical conduct and moral behav- iour equivalent ’to a religion understood in the secular sense of a unity of faith between a conception of the world and a corresponding norm of con- duct1 (Gramsci, 1971: 349). For example, the representation of the formal education system as a meritocracy which offers all an equal chance in a fair society can be described as ideological. Likewise the representation of people of colour as by ’nature’ inferior and less capable than white people. QUESTIONS OF CULTURE AND lDEOLOGY ’ ocio-economic category. bloc never ' hich one group takes on Rather it is formed through a series of allia owmg this alliance ‘ ' all ' la 5 a cruc1al part in t— a posmon Of leadasmp. ld'eomg'y plags terms) to overcome narrow economi ' ' ll conceived 111C 1 A elThus’ ,a culmrap of groualzse tr}; favour of ‘national—populi:Spgpénzpéispefied Wins, with corpor ‘ I hwhich a mu 1 . . f n ' ' ' . d thIOUg - ~ 5 the baS1s o a 50m“ umty ls acmeve h With a Single mm a . ' e‘de‘j mg“ a - - .The build- heterogeneous a‘mS’ are W - of the world' (Gramsa’ 1971. 349) id is an equal and common conception f the wor “1 1: an e ()f \lhvel Sltll () a (“Million (OIlCepnOH 0 g, maln en C S a act 0 1 CO 0 1C3 S {u e IIIVOIVng 3 fans 01111211011 0 U“ 9:5 3“ 111g . . .es_ through criticism of the existing popular ideologi A hegemonic 8i ved experience. It is also a bodyf to organize and bind together a bloc 2f cts as social cement in the formation ocs. Though ideology can take the tom: 11 appears as the fragmented meaning resentations. I 9 1d and, through the common e. Thus, common in particular, the Ideology and popular culture ideology is h of systematic ideas whose rolle isa diverse social elements. ldeo ogylic b1 hegemonic and counter-hegem e ofie of a coherent set of ideas, itmor may of re of common sense inherent In a v 1' For Gramsci, all people reflect upon-tti‘e wsoand experienc ' f o ularcultuKE,01‘gamzetheu .we flict and sens: Secporges a crucial site of ideologllcal EngradeIthe recognition of sens 4 I This invo ves, ' , . . ~te of ood sense ~ ~ h most Significant 51 struggle to forge 5 . - Common sense is t e I . ca italism- _ _ . ranted that is. the Class Cilaiifitgiflgijecguse it is the terrain of the ’taken for g , ideologica S l) e W a 10 of file everday WOIld. . . I ' Ides the Ct n5 . a practical CODSCI 1131') SS hlch gu MOIe COhEIen OIlteSted and “alleoruled 1“ med with the character the domain of com of popular thought and popular culture. 7 Eve hlk) () h (a‘ (urrerit leaves bellllld It a SEdIHlellt O COI III 0 sense this 5 t IE [Y P S p | tor ICal elfeCtiveness. COIIHHOH sense S “Ct Hgid and llllll Oblie but f its his . - - ' cientifi (.jocum‘em (lat transforming "59m enmhmg use]? With Smon sense creates the folklore ‘5 (ont'nua y ' h e entered ordinary “5- Com t a 'wen place SOPhiCal opinlons Wh'Ch av d phase of popular knowledge a 9 of the future, that is as a relatively rigi and time. (Gramsci, 197i: 362) The instability of hegemony . - . d din terms of the strategies by wlml; tlye world mews an can bB MHABYSLOO ' . / Hegemony ups are mammmed. power of ascendant social gm 82 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE However, hegemony has to be seen in relational terms and as inherently unstable. Hegemony is a temporary settlement and series of alliances between social groups that is won and not given. Further, it needs to be constantly re- won and renegotiated. Thus culture becomes a terrain of conflict and struggle over meanings. Consequently hegemony is not a static entity. It is marked by a series of changing discourses and practices intrinsically bound up with social power. Gramsci characterizes hegemony as ’a continuous process of for- mation and superseding of unstable equilibria between the interests of the fundamental group and those of the subordinate groups equilibria in which the interests of the dominant group prevail, but only up to a certain point’ (Gramsci, 1968: 182). Since hegemony has to be constantly remade and re-won, it opens up the possibility of a challenge to it, that is, the making of a counter-hegemonic bloc of subordinate groups and classes. For Gramsci, such a counter-hegemonic struggle must seek to gain ascendancy within civil society before any attempt is made on state power. Civil society is constituted by affiliations outside of formal state boundaries, including the family, social clubs, the press, leisure activities, etc. Gramsci makes a distinction between: 0 the ’war of position’: the winning of hegemony within the sphere of civil society; and o the ’war of manoeuvre’: the assault on state power. For Gramsci, success in ‘the war of manoeuvre’ is dependent on attaining hegemony through the ’war of position’. Gramscian cultural studies The introduction and deployment of Gramscian concepts within cultural studies proved to be of long-lasting significance. This was so (see Chapter 14), because of the central importance given to popular culture as a site of ideological struggle. In effect, Gramsci makes ideological struggle and conflict M‘thin civil society the central arena of cultural politics, with hegemonic analysis the mode of gauging the relevant balance of forces. Gramsci argued that ’it would be interesting to study concretely the forms of cultural organization which keep the ideological world in movement within a given country and to examine how they function in practice’ (Gramsci, cited Bennett et al., 1981: 195—6). This could be read as a virtual campaign slogan for cultural studies, at least until the debates about poststructuralism and postmodernism gained ascendancy (Chapters 7 and 14). For example, early work on advertising was cast within the problematic of ideology and hegemony. Textual and ideological analysis of advertising stressed the selling not just of commodities but also of ways of looking at the world. The job of advertising was to create an ’identity’ for a product amid the bombardment of competing images by associating the brand with desirable human values, Buying a brand was not only about buying a product. It was also about buying into lifestyles and values. As Winship argues, ‘A woman is QUESTIONS OF CULTURE AND IDEOLOGY nothing more than the commodities she wears: the lipstick, the tights, the clothes and so on are "woman’" (Winship, 1981: 218). For Williamson (1978), objects in advertisements are signifiers of meaning that we decode in the context of known cultural systems. In doing so we asso- ciate products in adverts with other cultural ’goods’. An image of a particular product may denote only beans or a car. However, it is made to connote ’nature' or ’family’. Thus advertising creates a world of differences between products and lifestyles which we ’buy into’. In purchasing products we also buy the image and so contribute to the construction of our identities through consumption. For Williamson, advertising is ideological in its obscuring of economic inequality at the level of production by images of free and equal consumption. The problems of hegemony and ideology Hegemony Hegemony and Fragmentation Although neo-Gramscian hegemony theory has been a strong mode of analysis within cultural studies since the late 19705, it has not gone unchallenged. Collins (1989) rejects the notion of hegemony on the grounds that culture is heterogeneous. This is said to be so both in terms of the variety of texts produced and the different meanings that compete within texts. For Collins, contemporary (postmodern) culture no longer has a centre in terms either of industrial production or of the generation of meaning. Right across the western world, it is argued, we have been witnessing the end of anything remotely resembling a ’common culture’. The notion of a hegemonic culture is also made problematic in terms of the lived cultures of social groups. In particular, the last thirty years have seen the fragmentation of lifestyle cultures. This has been a consequence of: - the impact of migration; ~ the ’re—emergence’ of ethnicity; o the rise and segmentation of youth cultures; - the impact of gender politics; - the creation of an array of lifestyles centred on consumption. The consumption-centredness of the working class becomes the medium and instrument of its fragmentation. The choice between values and lifestyles becomes a matter of taste and style rather than ’authentic’ socially formed cultural authority that could be called hegemonic. Hegemony and Power The concept of hegemony ’contains’ or connotes issues of power. If the play of power is removed from the notion of hegemony, it ceases to have any validity at all. However, the notion of power that it infers through its usage in cultural studies remains that of the exercise of constraint by the 83 84 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE powerful over the subordinate. That is, the concept of hegemony connotes an undesirable ’imposition’ disguised as widespread consent. If the argument is that consent represents misrecognition of the real relations of power and interest in play, then we are faced with the problem of ideology understood as false consciousness (below). Some usages of the concept of hegemony are more effective than others. For example, reference to the ’hegemony’ of free enterprise and free trade philosophies amongst the powerful economic nations seems to have merit. However, allusion to the ’hegemony’ of particular notions of masculinity and femininity can be more of a hindrance than a help given the increasing com- plexity and fragmentation of gender identities. Laclau and Mouffe (1985) have put forward a revised concept of hegemony. They put aside the final determination of class and the economic. That is, ideology has no ’class-belonging’. Instead, hegemonic and counter-hegemonic blocs are formed through temporary and strategic alliances of a range of dis- cursively constructed subjects and groups of interest. Here, the ’social’ is understood to be not an object but rather a field of contestation in which multiple descriptions of the self and others compete for ascendancy. For Laclau and Mouffe, it is the role of hegemonic practices to try to fix difference, to put closure around the unstable meanings of signifiers in the discursive field. However, it is unclear that the term hegemony is required at all when it continues to carry connotations of dominance. It might be better to deploy concepts like ’explanatory authority’, and power/knowledge in the context of descriptions of cultural alliances. Ideology Ideology as Power The whole concept of ideology has come under scrutiny for it involves at least two central problems: 0 the problem of scope,- o the problem of truth. Early Marxist and sociological versions of the concept of ideology restricted its usage to ideas associated with, and maintaining the power of, the domi- nant class. Later, more extended versions of the concept added questions of gender, ethnicity, age, etc., to that of class. Giddens’ argues that ideology be understood in terms of ’How structures of signification are mobilized to legiti- mate the sectional interests of hegemonic groups’ (Giddens, 1979: 6). This is a contemporary definition of ideology that attenuates the concept. In other words, while ideology refers to the way meaning is used to justify the power of ascendant groups this definition encompasses social groups based on race, gender, age, etc., as well as those of class. While Giddens’ definition of ideology refers only to the ideas of the powerful, other versions, including Althusser’s, see ideology as justifying the QUESTIONS OF CULTURE AND IDEOLOGY actions of all groups of people. In other words, marginal and subordinate groups also have ideologies. Here ideology means the orgamzmg and justify-f ing ideas that groups of people hold about themselves and the world. 0 course, this wider version of the concept of ideology can also. embrace the narrower one in that we are all, as Foucault (1980) argued, implicated in power relations. The difference between the dominant and subordinate groups is one of degrees of power and differing substantive world Views. it is not a question of ideological versus non-ideological ideas. ldeology and Misrecogniiion The second fundamental problem with the concept of ideology refers to its epistemological status, that is, the relation of ideology to truth and knowledge. These questions will be discussed at greater length in Chapters 4 and 7. However, we may note that ideology has commonly been counterpoised to the truth. For example, Althusser compares ideology With science, casting the former as ’misrecognition’. However, science is a mode of thinking and a set of procedures which produces certain kinds ofknowledge. It is not an elevated God-like form of knowledge that produces objective truth d dis ute. beg/first verinons of the concept of ideology cast it as falsity. To do so, one must employ a representationalist epistemology. That is, one must be abée to represent the true (understood to be an accurate picture of the world) in or er to be able to compare it with the ’false’ ideology. However, representationalist epistemology has largely been displaced within cultural studies by the influ- ence of poststructuralism, postmodernism and other anti-representationalist cms. paTzliiils: widely accepted (with cultural studies) strands of thinking have undermined the notion of objective and universal truth. instead, it is now commonplace to talk of ’regimes of truth', being 'in the true , multiple truth claims’, “the social construction of truth’, etc. In this View no universally accurate picture of the world is possible, only degrees of agreement about what counts as truth. For this reason, thinkers like Foucault (1980) and Rorty (1989, 1991a, 1991b) have rejected the concept of ideology altogether. ' Foucault certainly regards knowledge as implicated w1th power, hence his concept of power/knowledge. By power/knowledge is meant a mutually con- stituting relationship between power and knowledge so thatknowledge is indissociable from regimes of power. Knowledge is formed Within the context of the relationships and practices of power and subsequently contributes to 85 5 OF CULTURE AND IDEOLOGY QUESTIONS OF CULTURE QUESTION the development, refinement and proliferation of new techniques of power. / The concept of ideology need only be understood as tlye ’binding and l“5lllyl"g ideas of However, no simple uncontaminated ’truth’ can be counterpoised to any sacralgroup.Tl7is definition ofideology requires no concept of the trntly. power/knowledge for there is no truth outside of it. Rorty (1989) understands knowledge to be a series of descriptions of the 37 86 world that have practical consequences. They can be judged in terms of Deconstruct This values but not in terms of absolute truths. For Rorty, ’truth’ is a social com» Form vs content mendation. Truth is a cultural ’good', rather than a form of universal know- ledge. One can compare worldviews (ideologies) in terms of their values, How does {mm Shape contemZHaw does cantemsbam form] consequences and social/historical conditions of production. However, we cannot contrast them in terms of ultimate truth versus untruth‘ Nevertheless, the concept of ideology remains strongly entrenched within cultural studies. Many writers persist in discovering ideology lurking beneath the surface of texts. Further, these ideologies continue to be regarded as the self-serving and false claims of the powerful. Cultural studies is faced with a dilemma. If one holds to an anti-representationalist position in relation to language, it is inconsistent to deploy a concept of ideology as falsehood. In order to continue to use the concept of ideology, we need to redefine the con- cept of ideology. Is there a borderline between form and content? {The first moi tfifieral‘fsfiidies homes _ t _ ; a _, toseeri'rsgcaicu are What is Ideology? Assuming that ideology is not confined to questions of class, and few would argue that it should be, then ideology can be seen in the fol- lowing ways: . world views of dominant groups which justify and maintain their power and which are counterpoised to truth; 0 world views of any social groups which justify their actions and which are counterpoised to truth; 0 world views of dominant groups which justify and maintain their power but which can- not be counterpoised to truth; however, they can be subject to redescription and thus do not have to be accepted; 0 world views of any social groups which justify their actions but which cannot be coun- terpoised to truth; however, they can be subject to redescription and thus do not have to be accepted. and hence to cultur It would be unwise to suggest that any particular version of ideology is the r V I j; \ tion has been given to the organization of: 'correct' one. Nevertheless, if writers use the concept it is beholden on them to clarify what they mean by the term. I sign systeminroperefimielmfiiufis- My own View is that it is untenable to counterpoise the concept of ideology A VCOUI’SES OT-Tegumed ways , -. '~ . to truth (see Chapter 4) and that all social groups have ideologies. In this :0f the *huminmes and mal'mes" sense, the only acceptable concept of ideology is one that is interchangeable Chapter 4" i I with the Foucauldian notion of power/knowledge. As such, ideology cannot be seen as a simple tool of domination but should be regarded as discourses that have specific consequences for relations of power at all levels of social rela- tionships (including the justification and maintenance of ascendant groups). ...
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Ideology - 76 QUESTIONS OF CULTURE What do you understamtl...

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