feminist studies, feminist theory, philosophy, political theory

Essay Review: Louis Althusser, “Ideology and The Ideological State Apparatus,” in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971) 127-186.

How a nation-state is formed, sustains and then is able to acquires a legacy of nationalism is the driving question of theorist Lois Althusser. The author discusses in the selected pages entitled, “Ideology and The Ideological State Apparatus,” inner workings of institutions that manifest nationalism. This mode of thought engenders a Marxist theoretical lens, which produces an inquiry of nationalism, bodies, and production. Althusser is trying to explain the power of  idealogical forces in the history of capitalism, the infrastructure and superstructure; which he discusses through the notion of ideology and its apparatuses. Thus, Althusser’s “basic thesis” states, that in order to discuss the intricacies of power and production we must start “from the point of view of reproduction” (138). Although Althusser goes on to have a series of thesis[ “thesis 1: ideology” is an “illusion/allusion”…. “thesis 2: “ideoldogy has a material existence” ] the “basic thesis” and his central thesis will be discussed here (162 &165). The main entry points into his discussion of ideology is within the state. Althusser asserts, “the definition of the State as a class State, existing in the repressive State apparatus [such as: legal practice, police, courts, prisons, army, and gov.] casts a brilliant light on all the facts observable in the various orders of repression” (137 &139).

The major offering Althusser provides academics is his theoretical framework in identifying as two major societal systems. The first is the Ideological State Apparatus [ISA] such as: church, school, family, legal, political, trade union, press/radio/T.V., arts and sports (143). The second apparatus is defined as the Repressive State Apparatus [RSA] such as: police, jail, prisons, doctors, and politics— “which function by violence” (143).

Moreover, Althusser is quite helpful in understudying the inner or subversive vs. overt workings of state making and nationalism. Althusser offers an explanation in how an “independent” subjects become a subject of the state. Although the theoretical offing is dense, it is useful in the history of the state and understanding where ideas come from that promote radical and passive notions of sacrifice to the state. It is also important in theorizing  reproduction and the meaning making of citizenship, gender, race, and class. An essential read for theorists, feminists, and the like.

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