Thursday, June 13, 2013

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes on an Investigation) Part I

In the first part of this essay, Althusser explains how exploitation continues under capitalism as a self-proliferating mechanism that produces its own conditions of reproduction along with its own existence. For this, he divides these conditions of production under two main aspects:
  1. Reproduction of productive forces
  2. Reproduction of relations of production

He says that the reproduction of productive forces basically means reproduction of labor power. This is done by providing them with wages/material means. Interestingly, these wages are not determined by the labor class’s biological needs but by their historical needs that are imposed by proletariat class struggle in each country. He gives the example of beer for Englishmen and wine for Frenchmen (an example Marx cited of historical needs). Also, the conditions of reproduction of labor include their schooling, training and ideological conditioning, which all go into the creation of productive forces that will help propagate capitalism.

In order to approach the reproduction of relations of production, he first states that it is necessary to ask what a society is. This in turn, takes us to the concept of the base and superstructure. Althusser notes that this concept is topographic, it is a spatial metaphor. This implies certain relations between the base (the productive forces) and the superstructure (State and ideological apparatuses). For instance, one is based on the effectivity of the other and their relative autonomy from one another. Althusser cautiously begins, that although he agrees with Marx’s theory he finds its descriptive in nature – that which is metaphorical and can only be seen as a beginning of later development theory.
Repressive State Apparatus vs Ideological State Apparatus:
Marx only charts out the State as a machine of repression that enabled the ruling classes to ensure their domination over the working class. Althusser calls this the repressive State apparatus that includes the police, army, administration etc and differentiates them from ideological State Apparatuses  which consists of schools, cultural institutions, theater, cinema, communication forms etc. The prime difference between RSA and ISA is that the former uses physical coercion and violence as the dominant mode of control while the latter relies on ideological conditioning along with socially validated physical punishment (like in schools) to control productive forces. Now, coming back to the reproduction of the relations of production, it is precisely in the exercise of State power by RSAs and ISAs that this reproduction of relations of production is secured.
In fact Althusser elaborates on the rise of the School as the most powerful ideological state apparatus in capitalist societies and not the Church. He explains how the Church-Family couple got replaced by the School family couple in order to produce labourers who would be ideal citizens and the institution would eject them at different levels depending on their class.

Author: Noopur Raval

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation) Part II

In the second part of his essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, Louis Althusser talks about the idea of what ‘Ideology’ actually stands for.  Looking at the historical evolution of the term, he narrates how the term ‘Ideology’ first coined by Cabanis, Destutt  de Tracy and their friends who ‘assigned to it as an object the theory of ideas’ was given a completely different meaning by Marx fifty years later. According to Marx, ideology is the system of ideas and representations which dominate the mind of man or a social group.
Althusser, however, formulates different theses on Ideology based on the project of a theory of ideology in general and a theory of particular ideologies. Both these premises involve class positions at some point in time. He also finally explains how the theory of ideologies is not possible as it always depends on history of social formations, whose determination is situated outside ideologies alone. He thus proposes the project of a theory of ideology in general which is based on the idea that “Ideology has no history”.
The thesis that “Ideology has no history” is inspired by Marx’s definition of ideology in The German Ideology as a pure illusion, a pure dream, i.e as nothingness. Here Althusser draws comparison as to how the same terms he adopts from The German Ideology (Ideology has no history) is starkly different in meaning to his definition. He says that even though he theorises that Ideology has no history, he thinks that ideologies have a history of their own which is ascertained in the last instance by the class struggle. On the other hand, he also proposes that ideology in general has a history which is external to it, thus ‘it is endowed with a structure and a functioning such as to make it a non-historical reality i.e. an omni historical reality”. Relating the idea of ideology as an imaginary construct to Freud’s proposition that unconscious is eternal; Althusser surmises that ideology is eternal. He thus justifies in proposing the theory of ideology in general as Freud also presented a theory of the unconscious in general.
In his discourse on the structure and function of ideology, he presents two contradictory theses:
Thesis I: Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
According to him, so many of the ‘world outlooks’ are all imaginary and they are only required to be interpreted so that we are able to discover the reality of the world. Among the various interpretations, the most popular one is the mechanistic and the hermeneutic types which is based on the fact that ‘men represent their real conditions of existence to themselves in an imaginary form’. In answering why men needed this imaginary transposition he proposes two solutions. First, priests and despots with their beautiful lies dominated and exploited other people on a falsified representation of the world. Second, the material alienation which reigns in the conditions of existence of men themselves.

Thesis II: Ideology has a material existence.
By this he does not mean to compare the existence of ideology to the existence of a physical object but referring to his discussion of the ideological state apparatuses and their practices, he means to say that an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice or practices. This existence is material. Thus according to him, the ‘ideas’ of a human subject exists in his actions.

Althusser concludes his essay by ‘interpellating individuals as subjects’. In discussing this he says that there is no ideology except by the subject and for the subjects. The category of the subject is a primary obviousness and at work in this reaction is the ideological recognition function. The subjects thus are habituated to constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition which establishes that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and irreplaceable subjects. 

Author Sagorika Singha