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ASSIGNMENT

Louis Althusser’s ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an


Investigation)’, originally ‘Idéologie et appareils idéologiques d’État (Notes pour une
recherche’) in French, is an essay first published in 1970. It deals with the author’s
theorization of ideology and is fundamental to the modern world’s understanding of ideology
and how it governs both individual and collective consciousness. Althusser advanced the
Marx-Engels’ understanding of ideology as a “false consciousness” by including elements
from the works of eminent Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci and psychoanalysts
Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan.

Althusser’s view on ideology assumes that it is the greatest material power available, and
thus, he expands the traditional Marxist opinion that privileges economy as the ultimate
power of the capitalist society. For him, ideology is “a system of the ideas and
representations (images, myths, ideas or concepts, according to the
case) which dominate the mind of a man or a social group". More significantly, he desires a
discussion on the relationship between the State and its citizens, or “subjects”. He basically
wishes to examine the various powerful ways in which the State exerts and maintains control
over its subjects, both through Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) and Repressive State
Apparatuses (RSA), in order to reproduce its productive power, i.e. the conditions of
production. The question of how conditions and relations of production are reproduced in
capitalist societies is very traditionally Marxist. Althusser’s answer elaborates the workings
of both RSA and ISA: the former consists of those practices and institutions that “gain
abidance and cooperation from the public through physical coercion means such as the
police, army, prisons, courts etc.”, and the latter are somewhat reminiscent of Gramsci's
concept of hegemony and soft power and are sustained by cultural institutions such as the
education system, the church, the family, media and culture. The ideological state
apparatuses gain free willed cooperation and grant a sense of choice in matters that are in
reality imposed. Althusser also implies that the educational apparatus, i.e. the school, is the
dominant Ideological State Apparatus in capitalist formations that secures the reigning
ideology.

For Althusser, ideology is eternal since it is omnipresent in an immutable form, and has a
thriving material existence- “Ideology is a representation of the imaginary relationship of
individuals to their real conditions of existence.” He further adds that there is no practice
except in ideology, and there is no ideology except by the subjects and for the subjects. This
definition of the concept of ideology, which is the key player in ISA, seeks to explain
perpetual class subordination and exploitative relations of production over generations. Here,
Althusser also introduces the concept of ‘Interpellation’ the process by which ideology (as a
structure) gets us to become subjects, and hence be oblivious to our subject positions within
any particular ideological formation: ideology interpellates individuals as subjects. Ideology
is also the basic thing that differentiates ISA from RSA: RSA functions by violence whereas
ISA functions by ideology. Nevertheless, every State Apparatus, whether repressive or
ideological, functions both by violence and by ideology, often simultaneously. It can be said
that RSA initially operates through systematic repression, and later through ideology,
whereas ISA on the other hand initially operates through ideology, and later through
repression. Also, Ideological State Apparatuses must exist in plurality before a single
Repressive State Apparatus can come into existence. The ruling class who hold RSAs can
also easily decree ISAs. In order to hold State power for a long period, the ruling class should
at the same time exercising its hegemony over, and in, the ISA. This is how hegemonic
structures of power and domination function. Moreover, it is easier to lay down laws, which
are codified according to a pre-existing framework of norms, in RSA than in ISA, since RSA
belongs largely to the public domain and ISA to the private. RSA is secured by its unified
and centralized organization under the leadership of classes in power whereas ISA is secured
in contradictory forms by the ruling ideology, the ideology of the ruling class.

In conclusion, Althusser explores the structures of hegemony in capitalist societies through


the concepts of ideology and relations and conditions of production.

ARUSHI BHASKAR
BA (H) ENGLISH, 3RD YEAR
2015/1156