Althusser 2001

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Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation." In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. by Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2001 [1969]. 85-126

Marx says that "a social formation which did not reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produced would not last a year. The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production." (85)

"the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rulse of the established orders, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so taht they, too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class 'in words'." (89)

birth of ideology (89)

two aspects of Marxism:

  • base-superstructure spatial metaphor: shows that base determines superstructure, but also that superstructure has a relative autonomy, and enacts reciprocal action on the base (90-91)
  • State apparatus is repressive

these are both descriptive

description is the beginning of a theory but description "requires, precisely as an effect of this 'contradiction', a development of the theory which goes beyond the form of 'description'" (93)

  • description is essential, but runs the risk of "blocking" the theory's development (94)


  • 1) is repressive State apparatus,
  • 2) State power and State appartus must be distinguished
  • 3) class struggle's object is State power
  • 4) proletariat must seize State power to destroy bourgeois State apparatus and replace it with something that leads to ultimate destruction of State

RSAs, repressive State apparatuses: operate by violence; police, army, courts, prisons, etc.

ISAs, ideological State apparatuses: "a certain number of realities, which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions" (96); religions, education, family, law

one RSA; plurality of ISAs (97); RSA is public, ISAs tend to be private

"What distinguishes the ISAs from the (Repressive) State Apparatus is the following basic difference: the Repressive State Apparatus functions 'by violence', whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function 'by ideology'." (97)

both function by violence and by ideology (no pure repression without ideology)

diversity of ISAs is unified by the ruling ideology, or the ideology of the ruling class (98)

RSA: secures by force "the political conditions of the reproduction of relations of roduction, which are in the last resort relations of exploitation" (101)

ISA: secures the reproduction of the relationships of production behind "shield" provided by RSA

pre-capitalist, one dominant ISA: the Church (102)

"I believe that the ideological State apparatus which has been installed in the dominant position in mature capitalist social formations as a result of a violent political and ideological class struggle against the old dominant ideological State apparatus, is the educational ideological apparatus." (103)

"the School-Family couple has replaced the Church-Family couple" (104)

ideology for Marx is an "imaginary assemblage", a pure dream (108)

"on the one hand, I think it is possible to hold that ideologies have a history of their own (although it is determined in the last instance by the class struggle); and on the other, I think it is possible to hold that ideology in general has no history, not in a negative sense (its history is external to it), but in an absolutely positive sense." (108)

ideology is eternal, like the unconscious

"Thesis I: Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence." (109)

these ideological "outlooks" don't correspond to reality but make allusion to reality and "need only be 'interpreted' to discover the reality of the world behind their imaginary representation of that world" (110)

ideology = illusion/allusion

"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. It is this relation, which is at the center of every ideological, i.e. imaginary, representation of the real world." (111)
"What is represented in ideology is therefore not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live." (111)
"Thesis II: Ideology has a material existence." (112)

ideology = an imaginary relation to real relations

"the ideological representation of ideology is itself forced to recognize that every 'subject' endowed with a 'consciousness' and believing in the 'ideas' that his 'consciousness' inspires in him and freely accepts, must act according to his ideas', must therefore inscribe his own ideas as a free subject in the actions of his material practice.'" (113)


  • "there is no practice except by and in an ideology;
  • there is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects" (115)

category of the subject "is the constitutive category of all ideology" (116), but only "insofar as all ideology has the function (which defines it) of 'constituting' concrete individuals as subjects" (116)

"obviousnesses" to constituted subject (116)

  • recognition of rightness in subjectness
  • e.g. shaking of hands
"you and I are always already subjects, and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects" (117)
"while speaking in ideology, and from within ideology we have to outline a discourse which tries to break with ideology, in order to dare to be the beginning of a scientific (i.e. subject-less) discourse on ideology." (117)
"all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject." (117)

hailing in the street (118)

"ideology has no outside (for itself), but at the same time that it is nothing but outside (for science and reality)" (119)
"individuals are always-already subjects. Hence individuals are 'abstract' with respect to the subjects, which they always-already are." (119)
"We observe that the structure of all ideology, interpellating individuals as subjects in the name of a Unique and Absolute Subject is speculary, i.e. a mirror-structure, and doubly speculary: this mirror duplication is constitutive of ideology and ensures its functioning." (122)

all ideology as centered with Absolute Subject at Center "and interpellates around it the infinity of individuals into subjects in a double mirror-connection such that it subjects the subjects to the Subject, while giving them in the Subject in which each subject can contemplate its own image (present and future) the guarantee that this really concerns them and Him" (122)