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June 25, 2019, 10:32:44 pm

Author Topic: The band 6 facelift! Integrating ideology in your responses.  (Read 299 times)  Share 

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The band 6 facelift! Integrating ideology in your responses.
« on: January 16, 2019, 12:16:36 pm »
Hey hey hey my fellow historians! How are we all doing today?

Was having a flick through the new modern history syllabus, and though I already knew this, I was again struck by how much of a focus ideology is in so many of the new (and old) case studies! Makes sense, because ideology is just so deeply engrained in human history, but wow - they expect a lot from you guys, because this stuff isn't easy! So I thought it might be a good idea to jot down a quick little guide here on the forums, so you guys are ready to smash those half yearly, trials and/or HSC exams!

I won't be going through the intricacies of all the ideologies specifically (you'll have to wait for trials lectures for that ;) ), but this is a general overview of why and how you should be integrating ideological theory into your responses, whether you are studying Italian Fascism, Stalinist Communism or Nazism in Germany! It doesn't have to be as tricky as you might think :)   

It's all about ideology! But why?

So, why is understanding ideology so important? Well for one, it is one of the BEST ways to impress a marker. If you want to look super duper sophisticated, sprinkling in a little bit of ideological theory is the way to go. But more importantly, it is a KEY aspect of ALL case studies - no matter what topics you are doing, you will always be dealing with ideology in some capacity, and that is because ideology is an inescapable "reality", that informs how an individual;
- Perceives their past
- Experiences their present and,
- Anticipates their future

You may not realise it, but you too are dictated by ideology - your own, and that of the world around you. The word ideology has got an ugly ring to it, because some of the most famous ideologies have had devastating impacts (e.g. Nazism, Fascism, Communism, Capitalism), however I'm sure there are some ideology that you as an individual ascribe to, even if you aren't a super political person! For example, environmentalism is an ideology that I am very happy to identify with! As Keith Jenkins (postmodernist historiographer) states, we are all "ideologically positioned workers", and thus it is very important that we consider this when forming a critical and sophisticated understanding of the past. Whether you agree with the ideology or not, making a judgment upon the actions of past individuals and movements WITHOUT an understanding of the informing ideology is simplistic. For example, an assessment on Hitler's impact on Germany and Europe, without a proper understanding of his ideology risks downplaying the deeply anti-Semitic nature of his regime - he didn't just kill millions of people, specifically Jews, because they simply got in his way - the Holocaust was a calculated atrocity, that specifically targeted the Jews on ideological grounds. Without an understanding of Trotsky's informing ideology (Permanent Revolution), most would be quick to suggest that him not signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a result of his naivety, however it can be argued that holding off from signing the Treaty made the most sense ideologically (in that Germany was close to a revolution, and relaxing tensions on the Eastern Front could stabilise Germany just enough for the final collapse to be put off).

A lot of students shy away from including ideology in their responses, because they think it's "too hard", or that they will get bogged down in theory, but that's just not the case! Though a strong theoretical knowledge is great, and reading some of the foundational texts will definitely be beneficial, you don't have to go and read all three Volumes of Das Kapital if you're studying Russia, to smash that final essay. In fact, it is possible to get "too theoretical" and miss the whole point of the question! No, you don't need to go crazy in depth and start quoting obscure cultural theorists, but what's great about ideology is that its impact is just so all encompassing, that we can see it's impact in all facets of an event, topic or issue. This means that it can be carried through an essay consistently, without risking a split judgement!

Theory v. Practice

Being able to understand the difference between ideology in theory, and ideology in practice (praxis) is very important. A lot of people tend to overemphasise the former, but in many ways, the latter praxis is even more significant.

Theory is the foundational idea for an ideology, often espoused by a prominent philosopher, or political leader. For example, the theory behind Communism was espoused by Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto (and other texts like Das Kapital). In contrast, Practice is the practical application of said theory, so again, using the example of Communism that would be the 1917 Revolution and the Bolshevik Government.

Some people find this confusing. If these ideological theories are meant to explain human society at its core, then how come the practical application of an ideology can deviate from it's theoretical basis? Well that is because theory often fails to acknowledge the needs or present conditions of a society, for example war, economic crisis and famine, and instead deals with a hypothetical "average" (or often even utopian) world, where these sorts of interferences or "outlying events" don't occur. Because of this, strict ideological adherence is often sacrificed for the practical application (or sometimes, as seen during the NEP in Russia the temporary withdrawal) of ideology. The practical application of ideology is where the theory is altered to fit the present conditions of the society, in an effort to "get the ball rolling", but also create the necessary conditions for the theory to work in the future. This doesn't mean that these leaders "don't care", or aren't still motivated by ideology, however, if your country is on the verge of collapse, that's probably going to be your number one priority - no point having ideological hegemony over a nation that doesn't exist!

So the question then becomes - what do they care about more: ideological adherence, or national stability? Often you can't have both at the same time, especially if you are attempting to introduce an ideology that is met with resistance, or is unfamiliar with the population. Working out your opinion on this is a great starting point for formulating a really sophisticated argument.

So why is this stuff good to know? Well "To what extent was ideological theory maintained throughout the...." is not an uncommon question during the HSC! And even if your question doesn't address this specifically, it's a really great way to boost the sophistication of your thesis. For example, for the question "Account for the Bolshevik consolidation of power", a great thesis could be "The Bolshevik Consolidation of power was achieved through the pragmatic application of communism, rather than strict ideological adherence". Not only does it demonstrate the difference between theory and practice, but also demonstrates a nuanced understanding of ideology, in that you understand that small deviations in practice does not necessarily mean that the end goal is different.

Exploring, or at the very least recognising the nuances between different facets of an ideology is also a great way to demonstrate depth and sophistication in your responses. For example, both Trotsky and Stalin are considered Communists, despite having very different ideological views. The term Communism is actually quite broad, so using more specific terms like "Permanent Revolution", "Socialism in one Country", "Command Socialism", "Socialism from above", etc. etc. is a great way to add more detail to your responses.

Integrating Ideology

There are multiple ways to integrate ideology into your responses in a nuanced, sophisticated and even simple way! Now, you'll never have to go into super super super specific detail, and you don't want to ham up the theoretical side too much in your responses (you'll risk not answering the question in that case!), however one of the best ways to integrate ideology is to include it as a component of your thesis.

It's a great way to kill two birds with one stone - have a fantastic thesis that can be easily carried through (because ideology is just so all encompassing), but also set yourself up to discuss ideology in a way that doesn't appear too tokenistic (i.e. it actually works with your argument, rather than just being there for the sake of proving to the marker you know it!).

Some of these theses may be;
- “Stalin’s rise to power was facilitated through his manipulation of ideology.”
- “Communism was used as a means to consolidate Nationalism in Indochina”

However, it doesn't have to be your central argument! It is definitely okay to just drop some ideological facts here and there (as long as you are still answering the question), as it all counts as detail! For example, if I were talking about the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in a Russia essay, and I wanted to talk about the different sides of the debate, a way I might include ideology could be “Trotsky’s position of ‘neither peace nor war’ was inherently formed through his ideological adherence to his theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’, which advocated for a global, or at least European, wide socialist revolution.”

I hope this helps, and encourages you all to try and integrate ideology more throughout your responses! It truely is a great way to boost the sophistication of your responses.

Good luck with your studies!


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