Louis Althusser, “Ideology & Ideological State Apparatuses”


Althusser builds on a Marxist notion of ideology here by arguing for how “ideological interpellation” constitutes a self-conscious subject. Like the naturalization of the commodity and the illusion of consumer choice, subjectification is the process by which the state inculcates the individual’s belief of his position in society as a natural one. This occurs through the presentation of various institutions (ISAs) which espouse ideologies supportive of the overall power structures. In an illusion of choice, individuals can join these ISAs, believing she does so by individual choice, and come to recognize herself in/as these institutional categories. When this occurs, the subject has been interpellated and will go on to reproduce hegemonic social relations.

Althusser’s neo-Marxist concept of the ideological state apparatus seeks to expose the social causes that permit continual class exploitation via the “reproduction of the conditions of production” as the “ultimate condition of production” (85). For Althusser, “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 rules of the established order” (89). The superstructure, or ‘upper floor’ of the societal ‘house,’ so to speak, is sustained by the production of the ‘lower floors,’ whose “know-how” is generated by the members of the superstructure “in forms which ensure subjection to the ruling ideology” (89). Though the ruling ISA (alongside the family) was once the church, Athusser claims that it is now the school, which at every phase holds its young audience captive five or six days a week and has a number of different disciplines through which to disseminate its coded ‘know-how.’ It is important that ideology is somewhat coded, because it is thus self-effacing; its erasure of its own coming-into-being gives the illusion of consciousness and free will to the subjects which it actually materially constructs, or “interpellates” (113). What is important in ideology as “a representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” is the relation to those conditions that is represented therein (109, 111). The ISA finally constitutes “the reproduction of the relations of production and of the relations deriving from them” (124).


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