(1918 – 1990) Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. Born in Algeria and educated at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Althusser eventually became Professor of Philosophy.
Althusser was a member and critic of the French Communist Party. According to Wikipedia, "His arguments and theses were set against the threats that he saw attacking the theoretical foundations of Marxism. These included both the influence of empiricism on Marxist theory, and humanist and reformist socialist orientations which manifested as divisions in the European communist parties, as well as the problem of the "cult of personality" and of ideology itself.
"Althusser is commonly referred to as a Structural Marxist, although his relationship to other schools of French structuralism is not a simple affiliation and he was critical of many aspects of structuralism."
Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses Edit
In this primary work, Althusser extends ideas of Marx's state power and state apparatus into a more nuanced formulation to explain wherein the state reproduces the conditions of its own production. Summarizing that wages are the primary means by which the state reproduces its means of production (wages permit the worker to come again to the factory), Althusser extends his consideration to the state education system, suggesting that it transfers both know-how, but also a "reproduction of submission to the rules of the established order. Thus, the school is part of a repressive state apparatus, extending state power through ideology.
Taking the time to distinguish between state power and the state apparatus, Althusser also insists that we must distinguish the state apparatus from the ideological state apparatus (ISA)--not to be confused with the repressive state apparatus (RSA). The distinguishing measure is that RSA's ultimately function by violence (repression) (Government, administration, army, police, prison), whereas ISAs function via ideology. Thus, ISAs are formed from religious, educational, family, legal, political, communications, cultural and economic institutions. While there is one public RSA, there are a plurality of private ISAs. Thus, the function of a family or school is to police and discipline behaviors and bodies (highly Foucauldian, although Althusser is not necessarily interested in a historical explication). Necessarily, both ISAs and RSAs have a double functioning--each function by both violence and ideology, but one is constituted as their primary mode over the secondary.
It is not contradictory for Althusser that the many, private ISAs can be so unified in their execution of ruling class ideology. As the ruling class holds State power, and exercises it through RSAs, it is logical that such ruling classes have a hand in constructing and maintaining the ruling ideology, which manifests in ISAs. Indeed, exercising hegemony over ISAs is a pre-requisite for the ruling class to maintain their state power. Nevertheless, ISAs are a space of class struggle, for the ruling classes cannot exercise their rule as decisively as with RSAs. The exploited class "is able to find means and occasions to express itself there, either by the utilization of their contraditctions, or by conquering combat positions in them in struggle" (1491).
Thus, the reproduction of the relations of production are secured through the legal-political and ideological superstructure, through the exercise of power in the State Apparatuses, both Repressive and Ideological.The RSA secures the political conditions of the reproduction of relations of production, essentially relations of exploitation, and secures by repression the political conditions for the action of ISAs. The School emerges as the primary ISA (rather than the Church of the medieval and Ren/Ref period).
Althusser aligns his theory of ideology in general which Freud's theory of the unconscious in general, suggesting that both are omni-present and transhistorical.
Althusser proposes two thesis for ideology: "ideology represents the imaginary relations of individuals to their real conditions of existence" and "ideology has material existence" insofar as it is expressed and enacted through practices and rituals of ISAs.