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Cultural Studies: Identity and Representation 

Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

by Louis Althusser

Jessica Huang

 I.      The capitalist mode of production
II.   The Reproduction of the Relations of Production

III.   Ideology

I.      A Preface of the capitalist mode of production

The continuity of a social formation is decided by the reproduction of the conditions of production, which includes the reproduction of the means of production and the reproduction of labor power.  If a social formation arises from a dominant mode of production, the social formation must reproduce:

1.     Reproduction of the Means of Production

A.  It is a way to understand the evolution of society. 

Capitalism society machine

Contemporary electronic production

B.    It is a kind of endless chain in terms of conditions of production.

C.    Reproduction of the means of production can be satisfied by the supply.


2. Reproduction of Labor-Power

A.    How is the reproduction of labor power ensured?

1.         By wages.

2.     The proletarian reproduces himself as labor power for the need of supplement of daily life.

3.     Labor power has to be skilled to fit its different jobs in different positions.

  B. In a capitalist nation, where are the skills taught?

1.     They are decreasingly provided for on the spot, but achieved more and more outside production: by the capitalist education system.

2.     Children learn from school including:

i.   Techniques, which are directly useful in the different jobs of production

ii. Learn “ Know-how”

iii.   The rule of good behavior, which suits him to the job he is destined for.

A.                                                                                 3.The function of school: to ensure the subjection to the ruling ideology or the practice of that ideology


II.   The Reproduction of the Relations of Production

1.Why do we need to reproduce the relation of production?

A.  A means that Capitalism uses to consolidate and to function their state-nations.

B.    In order to strength the power of the class of capitalist, it is necessary to separate the subordinate and the dominant.

C.    It could be generally applied to the relation of teachers and schools, writers and publishers and etc.


2. Base and Superstructure

                 A. Althusser’s view of Base and Superstructure

i.   Relative autonomy

ii. Reciprocal action

( Althusser uses a spatial metaphor to explain the relation between the base and the upper: that is the upper floors can not stay up in the air alone, they need to rest in their base, the economic base has the determination in the last stance)

iii.   Overdeternmination, not monodetermination (Both the infrastructure and superstructure are determinant in their own and are determinated by the other.)

iv.   Ideology will happen in both stages.


B. Marxist Theory of the State

i.   State power

a. The State is the repressive State apparatus.

b. The State has no meaning except as a function of State power.

c. The proletariat must seize State power in order to destroy the existing bourgeois State apparatus.

ii. State apparatuses: Two ways that the government uses to control the people

a.  RSAs

b.     ISAs    


Differences between ISAs and RSAs





the Government

the Army

the Police

the Court…

the religious systems

the educational systems

the political systems

the family ISA…








Functioning predominately by repression secondarily by ideology

Functioning predominately by ideology secondarily by repression

Main point: How do they function?

What unifies diversity and contradictions of ISAs?

The ruling ideology

No class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the Ideological State Apparatuses.

Gramsci’s theory of hegemony (both in political way and cultural way)

to rationalize the ruling ideology over people

a willing acceptance of one social group’s dominance and control by another.



III.   Ideology

1.     Different types in different eras.

A. Pre- capitalism: Church ( the function of religion, education, and culture)

   B. Capitalism: School- family apparatus

2.     The most powerful institution to function ISAs is the educational system, especially school.

3.     Ideology has no history

A. No society could exist without ideology, and that ideology like Freud’s unconscious, has no history.

                     B. Although specific ideologies may come and go, the realm of ideology in general is eternal.

4.   Ideology is a ‘Representation’ of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals to Their Real Conditions of Existence

A.     Different types of interpretation:

i.   Mechanistic type (King is God)

ii. Hermeneutic type (God is the essence of real Man)

iii.   For instance, people accept different stories or fairy tales to know about themselves.

B. Why do men need this imaginary transposition?

i.   Priest or despots are responsible; building another hierarchy in the world. (154)

ii. The material alienation reigns in the conditions of existence of men themselves. (154)

iii.   An ideology is the conditions of existence of men, that is, imaginary, representation of the real world, a kind of connection of self and the world.

iv.   Men represent to themselves in ideology. However, it causes the imaginary distortion of the ideological representation of the real world. 

C. What will be represented in ideology?

i.   The imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live.

ii. Imaginary distortion

iii.  Ideology is the mechanism through which the bourgeoisie is able to reproduce its class domination.  Through ideology, succeeding generations continue to adapt to the status quo.

5. Ideology has a material existence

A. Key terms: subject, consciousness, belief, and actions.

B. Ideology always exists in an apparatus and its practice. This existence is material, that means, ideology must be practiced in a certain kind of institution.

C. Ideology gives individuals the identity necessary to the functioning of the existing state of affairs.

D. The individual behaves in such and such a way, participates in certain practices which are those of ideological apparatus on which he chooses what to believe.

6. Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects

A.       Interpellation

i.   It refers to the central operation by which ideology assigns to the individual human being an identity as a subject.

ii. Interpellation is a moment of recognition.

a.      Ex.: the police hailing, “Hey, you there,”

iii.   We have always existed in ideology and cite the ritual of anticipation that surrounds the birth of a child.

B.        Subject

i.   According to Althusser, an individual always already exists in ideology and therefore is also an “always already subject.”

ii. The subject can exist only in ideology, and he is hailed or interpellated by ideology.

iii.   Ideology reinforces a sense of self as a center of existence.

iv.   The ambiguity of the term subject

a.      The Absolute Subject (God)

b.     The individual: the subject to the Subject.


IV.  Questions

1.     What is the structure and function of ideology?

2.     What is the link between ideology, reproduction and interpellation?

3.     How does ideology function on individuals?