Preferred Citation: Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Chapter 4 Ideology and Social Subjectivity

Therborn: The Contradictions of Ideological Interpellation

Bourdieu emphasizes habitus as a generative matrix of ideological practice and symbolic capital as the overdetermined effectivity of economic relations within the field of ideological relations. By contrast, Swedish sociologist Göran Therborn, in The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology (1980), emphasizes the contradictory nature of ideological interpellation. Although he accepts Althusser's theory of ideology as his point of departure, Therborn insists first that the ideological apparatuses are unevenly developed as well as structurally integrated and second that the contradictions within the interpellation process take a precise general form stemming from the fact that ideologies not only subject individuals to the existing social order but also qualify them for conscious social action. There is an internal tension within the double functioning of interpellation, which results from a lack of correspondence between subjection and qualification. The dynamic nature of social formations, Therborn contends, makes perfect interpellation impossible:


The reproduction of any social organization, be it an exploitative society or a revolutionary party, entails a basic correspondence between subjection and qualification. Those who have been subjected to a particular patterning of their capacities, to a particular discipline, qualify for the given roles and are capable of carrying them out. But there is always an inherent possibility that a contradiction may develop between the two. New kinds of qualification may be required and provided, new skills that clash with traditional forms of subjection. Or, conversely, new forms of subjection may develop that clash with the provision of still-needed qualifications. The effects of a contradiction between subjection and qualification are opposition and revolt or underperformance and withdrawal. (Therborn 1980, 17)

According to Therborn, ideology subjects and qualifies individuals by telling them what exists, what is good, and what is possible, and there is always a certain "lack of fit" between these three messages. Furthermore, these contradictions within ideology coexist with a multiplicity of contradictions between and within economic and political relations, and these are not independent. They are interrelated by virtue of "relations of overdetermination" determined, in the last instance, by the economy. "Marxism has traditionally focused upon one fundamental contradiction: that is between the forces and relations of production. . . . But it is also quite possible for political and ideological contradictions to develop—contradictions which . . . are essentially located between relations of social domination and the forces of execution of societal tasks in the state, and ideologically between subjection and qualification " (Therborn 1980, 45-46).

The dominance of the economic contradiction, Therborn argues, precludes the possibility of its permanent resolution by political or ideological means. "Marxism asserts that the political contradictions of domination-execution and the ideological contradictions of subjection-qualification are largely governed by, though not reducible to, the economic correspondence or contradiction between the relations and forces of production. . . . But if a contradiction develops between the relations and forces of production, no ideological formation can adequately and harmoniously subject-qualify the new economic subjects for the contradictory economic order. The old matrix of economic affirmations and sanctions then tends to crack" (Therborn 1980, 47). Therborn also rejects the conflation of the ideological and political instances implied by Althusser's term ideological state apparatus.[5] Therborn retains the concept of ideological apparatuses, but he introduces a distinction between these and what he calls "counter-apparatuses."

Even though ideological interpellations occur everywhere [they] tend to cluster at those nodal points in the structure-in-dominance which we may call


ideological apparatuses . . . . All such apparatuses are traversed by the class struggle, but even in a simplified model we should make a distinction between two types of apparatus bearing upon the formation of class members. One is predominantly a manifestation of the ruling-class (or ruling alliance's) organization of power and discourse; the other is made of what we might call counter-apparatuses , which largely express, although in varying degrees, the resistance and discourse of the ruled classes. (Therborn 1980, 85-86)

The term counter-apparatus is useful, for it provides a place for contradiction and class struggle to operate in the realm of the ideological, a place that does not exist in Althusser's essay. Therborn also significantly enhances the concept of interpellation by specifying what he calls the "biographical path" of an individual through a complex of apparatuses and counter-apparatuses—families, neighborhoods, schools, jobs, parties, trade unions—that are themselves complex entities whose "class" content is not nearly as transparent as Althusser seems to imply (Therborn 1980, 84-89). Indeed, Therborn is especially sensitive to the difficulty of relating all ideology to economic class position. He divides the world of ideological interpellation along two bipolar axes, one existential, the other historical. Each axis has two polar positions, an "inclusive" pole (being a member of a meaningful whole) and a "positional" pole (having a particular place in the world in relation to other members). From this typology Therborn infers the existence of four basic types of interpellation: inclusive-existential ideologies, for example, the meaning of life and death; inclusive-historical ideologies, such as nationalism or ethnicity; positional-existential ideologies, for example, gender distinctions; and positional-historical ideologies, such as social class or caste (Therborn 1980, 22-27).

Therborn admits that these are heuristic distinctions and that particular ideologies may exhibit characteristics of more than one of the four dimensions, either at the same time or in different contexts, but what is most interesting for our purposes is the relationship he posits between all these dimensions and class struggle. Therborn does not reduce them to class struggle, even though he does insist that Marxism must see them in terms of class struggle: "All ideologies (in class societies) exist in historical forms of articulation with different classes and class ideologies. This means that forms of individuality, (fe)maleness, religion, secular morality, geographic and ethnic positionality, nationalism are bound up with and affected by different modes of class existence and are linked to and affected by different class ideologies. . . . The patterning of a given set of ideologies is (within class societies) overdeter-


mined by class relations of strength and by the class struggle" (Therborn 1980, 38).

While non-class ideologies have a historical and material existence that cannot be reduced to that of the dominant mode of production, their relative autonomy does not imply that they are unrelated to that mode of production and the class struggles it engenders, for they are always linked with class positions and inscribed within an overall social formation constituted by relations of class struggle. Despite the vagueness of his reference to class struggle, it has an important theoretical benefit since it permits Therborn to rectify the silence of Althusser's original presentation with respect to the problem of the generation of ideology. To explain the emergence of ideology, Therborn advances the following general propositions:

1. The generation of ideologies in human societies is always from the point of view of social science and historiography, a process of change of pre-existing ideologies.

2. Ideological change, and the generation of ideologies, is always dependent upon non-ideological material change.

3. The most important material change is constituted by the internal social dynamics of societies and their modes of production.

4. Every mode of production requires specific economic positional ideologies and in every exploitative mode of production specific class ideologies.

5. Every new mode of production will generate new economic positional ideologies.

6. All human societies exhibit existential- and historical-inclusive as well as historical-positional ideologies.

7. The concrete forms of existential, historical-inclusive and historical-positional ideologies other than the economic are not directly determined by the mode of production, but changes in the former are overdetermined by the latter.

8. New modes of production and new classes will generate forms of existential, historical-inclusive and other historical-positional ideologies that are capable of supporting and reinforcing the new predominant class ideologies, if the former do not already exist. (Therborn 1980, 41-42)

It is possible to advance beyond the general nature of Therborn's remarks and specify precisely the relationship between ideological practice and the practices of the political and economic instances, and we shall take up this task later. At this time, however, I would like to stress a more positive point, the value of Therborn's work as an example of the vitality of the Althusserian problematic. It is a critique, often a fun-


damental one, but it is also an extension of Althusser's concepts. Therborn's efforts, and even more those of Bourdieu, who does not even consider himself a Marxist, seem to me compelling arguments for the scientific nature of Althusser's work; Structural Marxism is not a rigid or finally finished set of dogmas but an open-ended research program capable of correction, clarification, and development. The work proceeds despite the philosophical and political turmoils that continue to swirl around it, and this progress is nowhere more evident than in the case of the theory of ideology.

Chapter 4 Ideology and Social Subjectivity

Preferred Citation: Resch, Robert Paul. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.