Instances of Ideology in Discursive Practice: Implications for Library and Information Science

by Elizabeth Lieutenant

Budd, J. M. (2001). Instances of ideology in discursive practice: Implications for library and information science. The Library Quarterly, 71(4), 498–517.

Budd critically examines selected literature from LIS to determine its adoption of ideology, broadly defined in this piece as discursive practices that seek to dominate thought and practice. Through a hermeneutical discourse analysis, the author critiques five illustrative examples of LIS discourse, captured in formal communication, for their application of Thompson’s (1990) ideological practices: legitimation, dissimulation, unification, fragmentation, reification. The article details the potential consequences of uncritically accepting ideological discourse in LIS. Budd concludes by positioning critical discourse analysis as a method to understand a variety of potential actions and their associated outcomes, assess the ethicality, benefits, and disadvantages of these actions and outcomes, and select the most appropriate method of action free from the influence of ideological power.

Budd’s article brings to mind my community organizing course from last semester and our discussions of framing dialog as a tool to exercise power and influence. I’m considering how marginalized and disenfranchised groups may adopt an ideological stance through their formal communications in an effort to counter oppressive social discourse. Of course, one would ideally engage in rational dialog with those in power and trust them to act in socially just manner. However, social discourse often perpetuates and privileges messages by those with power while silencing the voices of marginalized groups, thus further disenfranchised them from formal modes of communication.

I haven’t deeply considered the implications of this before, nor have I had enough time to determine the ethicality of the proposed practices below. Instead, I’m exploring how a constituency could adopt Thompson’s (as cited in Budd, p. 502) markers of ideological discourse to weaken forces of oppressive power:

  1. Unification: This practice seems the most precarious to enact when building constituency with marginalized individuals to confront oppressive power structures. Formally documented advocations for unification can alert those in power to ones true motivations and be used against advocates. Best to leave calls for unification for undocumented speech until a coalition of organized constituents and allied institutions initiate their plan of action. If one gives their true intentions away too soon, targets and opponents may take swift action to neutralize a constituency before they’ve achieved capacity to take action.
  2. Legitimation and Dissimulation: Legitimation seems like the least beneficial ideological practice in the scenario proposed. Appealing to hearts and minds through rational discourse can aid constituency-building, but without (and even with) substantiating evidence, oppressors will continue to dismiss a marginalized constituency’s claims. While just, it’s unlikely that a constituency’s true motivations would be well received; they would likely be considered a threat by the status quo. The practice of dissimulation, the selective and intentional framing of a constituency’s messages through the lens and motivating evidence of oppressors, could be a particularly persuasive tool. However, one must ensure that these tactics remain dissimulative and not influence the true motivation or thought processes of a constituency.
  3. Reification: Recruiting strong institutional allies can legitimize the position of a constituency. One must bear in mind that institutions do not grant power, make decisions, or take action; it is the individuals with power that puppeteer  institutions into supporting a constituency’s position or complying with their demands¹. This institutionalization of a constituency’s position, even in a local context, can shift the power dynamics between a constituency, its opponents, and those in power.
  4. Fragmentation: As a classmate of mine mentioned last semester, “ideally, [organizing actions] disrupt oppressive power structures.” Fragmentation is the ideal end goal in advancing the position of a marginalized constituency. One must be careful to not become complacent when advancing a constituency’s position. The achievement of smaller-scale wins, such as acts of reconciliation, atonement for oppressive actions, and tokenistic inclusion, should not be considered end goals. Instead, they should be seen as progressive acts to build upon in disbursing power and achieving more socially just conditions.

Question for future exploration:

  • What are the ethical implications of the practices proposed above?
  • Can ultimately just actions exist in an environment that judges actions by their proposed ethicality?


1. This claim runs counter to Dugger’s (1980), which are not applicable to this discussion of community organizing theory.