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Chapter 4 Ideology and Social Subjectivity
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Ideological Apparatuses and State Power

The concept of an "ideological apparatus" is a second major innovation of the essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," and it is by means of this concept that Althusser grounds the process of interpellation in concrete social practices and institutions. Ideology is a domain of consciousness, according to Althusser, but it is also a material practice that exists within the context of concrete practices and rituals: "I shall talk of actions inserted into practices. And I shall point out that these practices are governed by the rituals in which these practices are inscribed, within the material existence of an ideological apparatus " (Althusser 1971, 168). Such apparatuses cannot be adequately expressed in terms of the traditional metaphor of a superstructure, for the latter term disguises their formative influence on the reproduction of existing relations of production. Nor can the traditional Marxist emphasis on the state as a repressive tool of the ruling class be allowed to obscure the many non-repressive ways in which the power of the ruling class is maintained. Althusser contends, following Gramsci (for the relationship between them, see Buci-Glucksmann 1980), that we must see the political power of a ruling class as consisting not only of their monopoly of the repressive apparatus of the state (the army, police, and so on) but also of their ideological hegemony over society, a hegemony


embodied in the institutionalization of their ideology in various apparatuses usually considered "private," what Gramsci calls "civil society." Althusser maintains that one must distinguish between state power, the objective of the political class struggle, and the state apparatus. Power may change without necessarily affecting the apparatus, he points out, and a communist revolution must insure not only the transfer of power but also the destruction of the apparatus. However, to accomplish this end, "it is indispensable to take into account not only the distinction between State power and State apparatus, but also another reality which is clearly on the side of the (repressive) State apparatus, but must not be confused with it. I shall call this reality by its concept: the ideological State apparatuses" (Althusser 1971, 142).

Ideological state apparatuses are different from the formal state apparatus, which includes the government, the administration, the army, the police, the courts, the prisons, and so on; these institutions make up what Althusser calls the repressive state apparatus. The ideological state apparatuses, in contrast, exist for the most part outside the public sphere and include such institutions as churches, schools, the family, political parties, trade unions, mass media, and culture. Althusser sums up the distinctions between the two types of state apparatuses in the following manner:

1. All the State Apparatuses function both by repression and by ideology, with the difference that the (Repressive) State Apparatuses function massively and predominantly by repression, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function massively and predominantly by ideology.

2. Whereas the (Repressive) State Apparatus constitutes an organized whole whose different parts are centralized beneath a commanding unity, that of the politics of class struggle applied by the political representatives of the ruling classes in possession of State power, the Ideological State Apparatuses are multiple, distinct, "relatively autonomous" and capable of providing an objective field to contradictions which express, in forms which may be limited or extreme, the effects of the clashes between the capitalist class struggle and the proletarian class struggle, as well as their subordinate forms.

3. Whereas the unity of the (Repressive) State Apparatus is secured by its unified and centralized organization under the leadership of the representatives of the classes in power, the unity of the different Ideological State Apparatuses is secured, usually in contradictory forms, by the ruling ideology, the ideology of the ruling class. (Althusser 1971, 149)

The role of the repressive state apparatus consists essentially in se-


curing by force (physical or otherwise) the political conditions of the reproduction of production, which are, above all, the political conditions for the action of the ideological state apparatuses: "it is the latter which largely secure the reproduction specifically of the relations of production, behind a 'shield' provided by the repressive State apparatuses. It is here that the role of the ruling ideology is heavily concentrated, the ideology of the ruling class, which holds State power" (Althusser 1971, 150). The ideological state apparatuses are "unified," despite their diversity and contradictions, beneath the ruling ideology or, in the language of structural causality, the "ideology in dominance" that permeates even oppositional ideologies in such a way that every subject is interpellated in relation to a common center. It is in the concept of the ideological state apparatuses and the explanation of the reproduction of the existing relations of production by means of the hegemony of the dominant ideology that Althusser's concept of history as a "process without a subject" and his theory of ideology find their common ground. As Callinicos perceptively remarks, "Ideology is the way in which men and women are formed in order to participate in a process of which they are not the makers, and ideology performs this function by giving them the illusion that history was made for them" (Callinicos 1976, 70).

Althusser's concepts of interpellation and ideological apparatuses are enormously suggestive for social theory, and as we shall see, Structural Marxists have applied them with profit to the realms of aesthetics and political theory. However, the form in which they are introduced in the 1969 essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" tended (understandably enough, given Althusser's initial focus on the reproduction of the existing relations of production) to identify the concept of ideology with a particular form of ideology, namely, the dominant ideology. This reduction has the unfortunate consequence of understating the complexity of the interpellation process as well as its contradictory nature. In addition, if Althusser may be said to have ignored the relationship between ideology and politics in For Marx and Reading Capital , in his later essay ideology and politics have become all but indistinguishable. All ideologies, it would seem, are appendages of the state, and the latter assumes an almost monolithic aura of invincibility. This view, as we shall see, distorts not only the concepts of ideology and politics but the relationship between them as well.[4]

Althusser has since attached a postscript to his essay in which he


acknowledges the fact that ideologies are "determined in the last instance by class struggle" and explicitly rejects the idea that the ruling ideology is some sort of "ideology in general" or even the "conflict-free realization of the ideology of the ruling class." However, it remains difficult, within the stated framework of the concepts of interpellation and ideological state apparatus, to discern the possibility of contradiction and opposition within the ideological sphere. The slogan "class struggle" is invoked as if these two (theoretically) empty words are sufficient to banish the (politically) debilitating effects of the theory to which they are appended. The fact of the matter is that certain of the issues raised by the new concepts can be answered only by penetrating beneath the rhetorical surface of the term "class struggle" to their theoretical content, a task we will take up in due course. Certain other questions, however, may be dealt with immediately, and first among these is whether or not the individual-subject may be viewed as something more than a robot fabricated by the dominant ideology: how, in other words, are we to conceptualize interpellation, not as a univocal process, but as one that remains contradictory despite the domination of the ruling ideology?

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