Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Summary: Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses


Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses : Althusser addresses the question, what is “the reproduction of the conditions of production?” He recognizes that both materials and forces (laborers) are needed to reproduce material goods. He states that the labor power/force is developed through the capitalist education system. Althusser believes that capitalist schools not only teach “know-how,” but schools also “in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology.” Althusser discusses how this is possible through his definition of society, which is made up of infrastructure and superstructure, within which includes the Law, the State, and Ideology.

The State is divided into State Apparatus and State power. The State Apparatus “defines the State as a force of repressive execution and intervention ‘in the interests of the ruling classes’ in the class struggle conducted by the bourgeoisie and its allies against the proletariat”; whereas, State power is held by whatever ruling class is in place. Although the State power can change parties, the State Apparatus is not affected by this change. Althusser then defines Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) as “distinct and specialized institutions” that are private and not public, including churches, schools, and families.

These ISAs, unlike the Marxist-defined Repressive State Apparatus, do not function by violence; rather, they function by ideology. He then discusses ideology as representing “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.” Althusser states that “it is not their real conditions of existence, their real world, that ‘men’ ‘represent to themselves’ in ideology, but above all it is their relation to those conditions of existence which is represented to them there.”

Althusser furthers his argument that all men are subject to ideologies and perpetuate those ideological systems by stating, “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject.” He adds that all individuals are “always-already a subject, even before he is born” because each individual is indoctrinated into their respective ideology before they realize it or have an opportunity to recognize the interpellation or opt out of the interpellation.


Althusser’s idea that the State is divided into an Apparatus and power was interesting. He says that the State is always, by definition, repressive and intervening in the lives of the proletariat on behalf of the ruling class regardless of which ruling class may be in power. He seems to hold the pessimistic approach that Parker mentioned in the book. When Althusser discusses his claim that everyone is born into an ideology and becomes not only a part of it but also a supporter of it, I started to think that Althusser wasn’t only pessimistic, but that he was also in a state of despair and hopelessness.

Perhaps it is my false consciousness, developed in me by my capitalist society and ideology, but I’m still inclined to believe that if an individual (or, subject, as Althusser would call it in his infinitely superior wisdom) wants to break free from their ideology, they have that opportunity as long as there is no consequence of death by State to immediately follow. Yes, I understand that seeing the ideology as broken or flawed in such a way that makes a person wholly commit to leaving it is difficult because individuals can be so interpellated, but I do believe it is possible.

For instance, take a look at Malala Yousafzai, who spoke out against the Pakistani leaders and demanded that girls and women be allowed to receive an education. The women of Pakistan are certainly interpellated under Althusser’s definition, but Malala broke free and risked her life and that of her family to try to change an ideology. Aligning with the readings this week, Bartleby created his own ideology. However, in Bartleby’s case, his ideology was not compatible with the ideology surrounding him. I think people can find an ideology that suits their individuality and flourish in a community that largely supports a different ideology—unlike Bartleby—even if that means they are on an island of their own for a time.

Also, I don’t think ideologies are necessarily all negative. I find it difficult to believe that every State rules the proletariat through repression. I think people can certainly find repression or repressive acts if they look for them or invent them, and in some ideologies or societies (e.g., Pakistan), that repressive regime is painfully apparent, but there are certainly ideologies that do not actively work to repress the lower class at every turn. Additionally, if an individual chooses to subscribe to an ideology, knowing full well what they’re doing but doing it because they want to or because they’re content within that ideology—whether they’re feeling repressed or not—I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.

Those people can be productive and happy members of society without necessarily being a part of the ruling class. Several of Althusser’s points made me question his logic, but again, perhaps it was my false consciousness coming into play. I guess the next question is: do I accept my false consciousness or subscribe to a different ideology?

 Read it also: Marxist Literary Theory

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