The most frequently visited page on my research web site (out of more than 90 articles) is an encyclopedia article on false consciousness. Moreover, many of these visitors come from the developing world, including especially the Philippines. I am curious about these facts.
False consciousness is a Marxist concept. It refers to the hypothesis that oppressed people have a worldview that systematically conceals the reality and causes of their oppression. The concept is associated with Lukacs, Althusser, and Gramsci.
But once again, why so much current interest in the concept? It is common to observe that “Marxism is dead”–no longer a useful tool of analysis in the 21st century. But here we find a lively interest in a particular Marxist concept. Why is this concept so frequently searched on Google?
I cannot confidently answer the question. But here are a few possibilities.
First, oppression and economic exploitation are certainly not gone from the scene. And yet there is little organized economic struggle going on in the world today. Perhaps critical thinkers in developing countries are turning to false consciousness as a possible diagnosis.
Second, the rhetoric of globalization suggests that everyone gains from these processes of international trade and the global movement of capital. And yet the locally visible realities appear quite different in Chiapas or Manila. So perhaps the mis-match that appears to exist between representation and reality about the effects of globalization brings thoughtful observers back to the theory of false consciousness.
Third, it is a fact that media (including the Internet) have massive and growing ability to shape public consciousness and ideas. Perhaps this is the most visible mark of the twenty-first century. It is natural to ask, in whose interests does this shaping take place? And what kinds of systematic and deliberate bias are embedded in this media stream? What is the connection between “interest” and “representation”? Perhaps it is logical that third-world thinkers are turning to Lukacs and Gramsci in order to find tools for analyzing this system of consciousness-formation.
So perhaps the interest we found on the topic of false consciousness is understandable, a response to some current and powerful features of the current economic and social system.