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Althusser and the Theory of Ideology.

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Douglas Simkin

on 3 September 2013

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Transcript of Althusser and the Theory of Ideology.

Althusser and the Theory of Ideology.
By: Paul Q. Hirst
Critical discussion of Althusser's text 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses'
Althusser's challenge consists in essence in rejecting the sociologistic and reductionist methods of analysis of ideology dominant in Marxism.
Rejects two positions central in Marxist theories:
i. That Ideology is a false representation of the real.
ii. That ideology is a distorted reflection in consciousness of real social relations.
Marx's 'False Consciousness'
The theory that people are unable to see things, especially exploitation, oppression, and social relations, as they really are; the hypothesized inability of the human mind to develop a sophisticated awareness of how it is developed and shaped by circumstances.
Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses
"The social position of the subject is not the origin of its ideological position; ideology has conditions of existence which cannot be 'read off' from the place of the subject in the relations of production."
"Ideology is not 'consciousness', it is a representation of the 'imaginary'".
Althusser rejects the reductionist interpretation of ideology, i.e, that the system is nothing more than the sum of its parts.
i. The theory of the Ideological State Apparatus ideology is articulated as a system of institutions unified by the ideology of the dominant class, these institutions form and condition subjects to accept the dominant relations of production;

ii. The theory of the formation of subjects through the mechanism of 'interpellation', the constitution of the subject in the recognition structure of the 'imaginary'.
Interpellation:
"The process by which ideology, embodied in major social and political institutions, constitutes the nature of individual subjects' identities through the very process of institutions and discourses of 'hailing' them in social interactions."
Hirst
A. The problem of the reproduction of the relations of production.
B. Ideological State Apparatuses.
C. The mechanism of Ideology.
D. The genesis of the subject individual.
E. 'Representation'
A. The problem of the reproduction of the relations of production.
Althusser:
'How is it possible for capitalist social relations to exist?'
&
'How is the reproduction of the relations of production secured?'
"He resolves the problem of 'the reproduction of the relations of production' into the distribution of agents suitably equipped as 'supports' for the 'places' of the social division of labour, the 'places' are thus provided with subjectivities adequate and appropriate to them."
Hirst
Three main errors.
The relations of production include not only agents but forms of relation between agents.
Not all economic agents are human subjects.
The social division of labour and the structure of the labour force are not the same thing.
B. Ideological state apparatuses.
All state apparatuses are ultimately unified by the political and ideological dominance of the ruling class;
Althusser
The class struggle extends beyond the ideological state apparatus.
Economy is conceived as a thing with needs
Hirst
The evaluation of ideologies always entails political calculation and always takes place from a political perspective.
C. The Mechanism of Ideology
Althusser
Ideology and ‘imaginary’ are equivalent.
"The subject is formed in the mechanism of ideology through the recognition of an imaginary Subject which 'hails' its recognisor, recognising him as a subject and thereby giving recognition by the subject the effect of subjectivity."
The 'real overdetermines the imaginary'
Hirst
Althussers system fails to pose the notion of a subject in such a way that it could lead to further theoretical work
Hirst believes Althusser fails to answer the question of the subjects relationship with the imaginary.
Basically then, can a subject exist outside the realms of ideology?
D. Genesis of the subject individual.
Althusser
How are concrete individuals formed as subjects?
Dual mirror relationship between the subject (s) and the master subject (S).
(S)---->(s)
The social function of ideology is to constitute concrete individuals (not-yet-subjects) as subjects
Hirst
Descartes & infinite regress
E. Representation
Althusser
The 'represented' (object) exists as the source or measure of its representations.
Uses the conception of 'representation' rather than that of signification
Ideology 'represents' an 'imaginary' relation of men to their conditions of existence.
Hirst
"The consequence of rejecting the concept of 'representation' is to destroy the classic Marxist problem of ideology. Althusser's advances had already rendered this concept problematic."
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