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Rethinking Althusser: Ideology, Dialectics, and Critical Social Theory
John Grant Department of Politics Queen Mary, University of London email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Presented at the CPSA Annual Conference May 31-June 3 2005 University of Western Ontario, *Any use or reproduction of this work requires prior consent of the author*
2 Introduction This paper interrogates work by Louis Althusser within the larger context of an ongoing study into the efficacy of a dialectical approach to critical social theory. Althusser’s work occupies a productive place in twentieth century thought: it rejects the existential humanism of Sartre, while upholding the type of determinate political positions sometimes abandoned by poststructuralists such as Foucault or Derrida. My aim is to read Althusser predominantly against himself in order to rework and relocate his rendering of the dialectic. Althusser’s conception of the Marxist dialectic suffers, as I will show, from a number of conceptual deficiencies. Not only does it seem to reproduce the same type of economism he wanted to avoid, it overemphasizes the role of structural determinants. By refusing to employ any concept of the subject the conditions of dialectical analysis are lost, along with the possibility of accounting for political questions concerning experience and resistance. I believe that for social theory the real promise of Althusser’s thought lies in developing a more rigorous dialectical approach. The following is one way of envisioning the route this might take. 1) Refusing, unlike Althusser, to overemphasize the homogeneity of any ideological conjuncture, so that one can begin to identify the contradictory ways in which we are produced as subjects; 2) Maintaining the category of the subject over against Althusser’s strict antihumanism, which allows one to recognize the movements and rhythms of a subject-object dialectic; 3) Althusser’s posthumously published work identifies what he terms “aleatory materialism.” It places significant importance on the ‘encounter’ as a moment of ontological becoming that is open and multiple. By emphasizing the singularity of every encounter
Often Althusser explicates his version of a Marxist dialectic by counterposing it to Hegel’s conception of dialectics. according to him.Althusser’s Marxist Dialectic Althusser’s project of constructing a so-called ‘scientific Marxism’ relies on using the concepts. . that Marx developed as a way of understanding the historical development of social formations as a process without a subject. . Althusser calls the structure in dominance “the most profound characteristic of the Marxist dialectic” (1969: 206). a dialectical approach is produced that allows the subject to identify the contradictory elements of its own. I . This dominance is responsible for the uneven and overdetermined development of the structures that constitute the social whole. production. In any social formation the economy is the dominant structure. For example. This feature of the dialectic is not only a reality for Althusser. and most significantly. famously. 1969: 20002). 1969: 217). the conception of an “overdetermined” contradiction is played off against “simple” one. Finally. which is based on the notion of an original unity that can be restored. always incomplete. it is only dominant “in the last instance” (Althusser. escape the . Overdetermination implies that at any given moment society is characterized by multiple contradictions that are themselves the result of a multitude of different constituent elements (or at least more than two). these elements can then be recast as points of resistance within a larger critical social theory. but is required in order to “. although.3 alongside the insights of (1) and (2). The distinguishing feature of this complexity is a “structure in dominance” that assumes the principal role in organizing and articulating the specific form of any social whole (Althusser. which is what delineates a specifically Marxist contradiction.
4 arbitrary relativism of observable displacements by giving these displacements the necessity of a function” (Althusser and Balibar. is not necessarily as great as it might seem. . 1976: 99. There is a certain implicit. whom he saw as humanists trapped in a philosophy of the subject and consciousness (see Althusser. Indeed. even if for now the concern with structures seems to take priority. The productivity of overdetermination rests in the notion that the specific shape of a social formation is constantly developing (in response to the dominant structure). The explanatory priority of structures cannot be understood apart from Althusser’s rejection of humanism and the category of the subject. In ideology men do indeed express. The apparent tension in Althusser. . This is what invests overdetermination with such theoretical importance. The following quotation introduces Althusser’s notion of ideology. Althusser goes so far as to claim that. from one position to the other. At any given moment the structures that make up the social whole constitute a complex unity. this means that it is possible for a different structure to be dominant at any other instance. In ideology . “From the first moment to the last. which requires an infinite return to the specific moment of conjuncture in order to articulate its form. the lonely hour of the ‘last instance’ never comes” (1969: 113). ‘lived’ relation . albeit for economic reasons. 188). between an emphasis on rather rigid structures and each singular social formation that they compose. Althusser invested great energy in his opposition to Hegelian and existentialist Marxists like Herbert Marcuse and Jean-Paul Sartre. but the way they live the relation between them and their conditions of existence: this presupposes both a real and an ‘imaginary’. not the relation between them and their conditions of existence. which he identifies as a major difference between the Hegelian and Marxist dialectics. which is governed by a specific structure in dominance. 1970: 99). and helps to explain why humanism is an ideological concept. If the economy is only dominant in the last instance. continual movement.
The humanist idea of the subject contains what Althusser calls “the theoretical characters cast in this ideological scenario. and flourish. first and foremost. To wit. rather than describing a reality (1969: 233-34). our foremost considerations. must be thought as a process without a subject. Further. Althusser writes that Marx’s “theoretical anti-humanism” constitutes a philosophical revolution. . a relation that expresses a will (conservative. conformist. “It is impossible to know anything about men except on . or the mode and relations of production. must be devoted to reestablishing conditions that allow this essence to become knowable. by its ability to make unrestricted and transparent personal choices.. then. and the empirical Subject (the perceiving consciousness) . . a hope or a nostalgia.” (1970: 54-5). the scientific Subject (the knowing consciousness). 1 Quite simply. and therefore origin.” which include “the philosophical Subject (the philosophizing consciousness). Althusser’s well-known claim is that there is an epistemological break in Marx’s work around 1845 (and in The German Ideology specifically) that signalled the end of his flirtations with the humanist anthropology of Hegel and Feuerbach.5 the real relation is inevitably invested in the imaginary relation. humanist notions of the subject necessarily rely on some idea of human essence. reformist or revolutionary). In typically provocative fashion. classes. that its relationship to its conditions of existence is shaped. or the category of the subject. This is the basis on which Marx’s early work is often judged. then. The humanist subject is ideological because it imagines that it controls its surroundings. Althusser is rejecting any notion of a constitutive subject that acts as the source of its own thoughts and actions. Political and historical change. say. the individual. when it comes to understanding social relations and change. is an inadequate unit of analysis (indeed an ideological one) compared with. humans have an original essence from which they are currently estranged or alienated.
in the closed circle of which they move” (1970: 55). It is uniquely characterized by the following: a complex set of overdetermined contradictions. Because he thinks the socio-political field as a series of objects.6 the precondition that the philosophical (theoretical) myth of man is reduced to ashes” (1969: 229). essence. origin. it can no longer be articulated using the concepts of subject and object. a structure in dominance that is determined. . 2 This has direct implications for the dialectic. in terms which exclude any recourse to the ideological solution contained in the ideological characters Subject and Object. The existence of subject and object as theoretical terms cannot be made more real by making it look as if they interact with actual concrete social practices. by the economy. 1970: 63). “The concept of mediation is invested with one last role: the magical provision of post-stations in the empty space between theoretical principles and the ‘concrete’. . To think otherwise places one in an ideological closure where the real is merely reduced to the theoretical unity of subject and object. and the concept of a process without a subject. While Althusser’s concept of overdetermination contains a specific understanding of complex contradiction between structural relations. as bricklayers make a chain to pass bricks” (Althusser and Balibar. a form of theoretical anti-humanism that rejects the concepts of the subject. any claim to knowledge must be posed “. But can these concepts actually function together? Can they account for the dialectical production of . and mediation. or to the mutual mirror-recognition structure. Althusser is hostile to any counter-argument that there is always a mediating term or element that displaces the simple subject-object dichotomy (subjectivity and labour are two terms that played this role for Hegel). the uneven development of contradictions. The list of features defining Althusser’s Marxist dialectic has become a long one. in the last instance.
and uneven development. 3 This is not a serious problem if such a demonstration could be made. goes a long way to overturning the impression that he is a structuralist (also see Althusser. structuralism sees the particular as a simple reflection of the general. while dialectics identifies the precise contradiction between the particular and the general. That is. which are then unable to retain their identities. Nonetheless. The difficulty this poses is that there seems to be an unreconcilable difference between structuralism and dialectics.The Impasse of Althusser’s Dialectic Althusser’s version of the dialectic is. However. Concepts such as overdetermination. certainly require us to reconsider our understanding of how the social whole is constituted. It is important at this stage to point out that some of Althusser’s final work. 1976: 126-31). there are times when his work is so burdened by its attention to structures that there seems to be room for little else. rightly thought of as a type of structuralism. To posit an unmediated.7 social life Althusser purports to illustrate? Or might Althusser’s recasting of dialectics itself qualify for revision? II . or uncontradictory identity. is to rule out dialectics. What remains absent in Althusser’s work is an actual demonstration of how these concepts function together. I believe. which will be examined shortly. This can be demonstrated by looking at how Althusser deploys his conceptual tools. structure in dominance. it cannot account for the difference between structures and what they produce. I think the reason why Althusser never demonstrated his dialectic is because it was immobilized by the very (structuralist) categories he used to release it from conceptual determinism (economism in this . To the extent that structuralism is a determinism.
Assuming the last instance can occur.8 case). The result for social critique is that the possibility of a dialectics has been written out because the source of all contradictions has been determined in advance. then it is no longer possible for the economy to be determinant. 4 This a priori causal factor produces a deterministic understanding of how the social is constituted. Further. since any determinant structure other than the economy is in debt to it for this status. The first step is to reexamine his efforts to theorize ideology. then any appeal to the overdetermined conditions of a social whole loses its force. if it can be called one. The idea of a structure in dominance allows for conceptualizing the uneven development of structural contradictions. The last instance ends up being indistinguishable from the first instance. as well as the determinism that would result if the last instance ever arrived. my discussion will be confined to identifying contradictory tendencies and heterogeneous spaces within ideological processes that allow for the possibility of resistant practices. Althusser cannot explain the positional dominance of the economy by referring to any particular configuration of the social whole because it exists for him as a trans-historical fact. But if the last instance never comes. Despite this impasse. or any other.that is.’ even though that moment supposedly never comes. This is partly what Althusser had in . one with transformative intentions and potential . This sleight of hand allows him to avoid conceptual pluralism. is to posit the economy as the determining structure ‘in the last instance.to social critique. Because there has been a massive amount of literature on this very topic. I believe Althusser’s work still contains a number of conceptual tools that can help build a radical approach . How is a dominant structure established? Althusser’s answer. Overdetermined conditions would then rest on the existence of one simple determination: the economy.
for example. which he described in the following way: “[the] primacy of theory over practice. The sophistication of this concept is made evident using Althusser’s previous example of humanism.insofar as it continues to function as a dominant discourse that structures our thoughts and actions. Significantly.9 mind when he described how. Even more important is the fact that for Althusser.behind. Rethinking ideological processes through a dialectical approach gives sufficient priority to political subjectivities while attempting to avoid theoreticism. This suggests that the composition of structuralism left questions of political struggle . or the possibility of social change. in For Marx and Reading Capital. “. or reducing it to nothing more than an effect of structures. there is no ideology except by the subject . ideology is now also said to have a material existence in the practices of apparatuses (kneel and pray in Church.specifically class struggle .and real . . jettisoning the subject. resistance. he had succumbed to “theoreticism”. but more precisely: speculative-rationalism” (1976: 124). one-sided insistence on theory. 5 This accounts for the common objection that ideology-critique is idealist and ignores material practices of subjects. stating that “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” (2001: 109). and you will believe). . To put it another way. eliminated the space for a detailed analysis of experience. III – Reconsidering Ideology I have already made reference to Althusser’s notion of ideology as it appeared in For Marx. The seminal essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” affirms that earlier conception. which is both imaginary . Theoretical questions ended up eliminating the most important political questions.insofar as its purported account of our relationship to our conditions of existence is a fantasy .
A common objection that often arises at this point is that Althusser has presented a closed system of ideological production. 1995: 8). Ideology produces subjects.10 and for subjects. In other words. but the attendant subject identity as well (2001: 118). along with the focus on the general mechanisms of ideology. but is also motivated by a positive anticipation of identity formation (Butler. The insidious nature of ideology as it currently functions is revealed in the double meaning of the term subject. constantly hailed in other ways: receiving a letter or a phone call. or behaving within the proscribed boundaries of law. that’s me. Althusser refers to the ideological “interpellation” of the subject. Rather than being thought of as incompatible. there is no ideology except for concrete subjects. and this destination for ideology is only made possible by the subject: meaning. where a call from a policeman in the street (“Hey. 6 It refers to both a free-willing individual as well as subjection to a more powerful authority. by construing ‘law’ more broadly. Meaning. you there!”) causes one to turn and acknowledge not only the voice. The dominant ideology seems to enjoy its status simply by virtue of being dominant. to which his needs are adapted. as well as the category of the subject which is conceptualized as a person endowed with the ability to identify the ideas and practices he believes and participates in prior to doing so . all allow a person to think ‘Yes. by the category of the subject and its functioning” (2001: 115). obscures how the various interpellations made by each ideological state . We are. of course. The (produced) individual sees himself reflected in the institutions and practices of a society. the turn toward dominant identities results in part from a fear of being labelled as a social other.’ Judith Butler points out that turning toward the voice of the law is not a result of hailing alone. ideology functions because of this contradiction: only because we believe that we have freely consented to our own subjection do we not resist. which.as an adaptive mechanism.
Resch. 1992: 215. But there is always an inherent possibility that a contradiction may develop between the two. but cannot account for it. Therborn. then. new forms of subjection may develop that clash with the provision of still-needed qualifications. as an apparatus of class struggle ensuring class oppression and guaranteeing the conditions of exploitation and its reproduction. 7 A productive attempt at theorizing the contradictory tendencies of ideological interpellation has been made by Goran Therborn. Or. He believes that ideology is fundamentally contradictory in character because relations of qualification and relations of subjection are unable to seamlessly reflect what the other requires. The effects of a contradiction between subjection and qualification are opposition and revolt or underperformance and withdrawal (1980: 17). entails a basic correspondence between subjection and qualification.11 apparatus can come into conflict (see Lock. and the specific functioning of different ideologies that produce contradictions within and between subjects. qualify for the given roles and are capable of carrying them out. and class struggle of the ruled class. the State and its Apparatuses only have meaning from the point of view of the class struggle. In fact. Those who have been subjected to a particular discipline. Althusser attempts to account for this omission. since it prevents a theorization of the space in which contradictory . New kinds of qualification may be required and provided. Althusser’s postscript gestures at this specific functioning. new skills that clash with traditional forms of subjection.processes take place. between the general functioning of ideology that produces a particular notion of the individual subject. 1996: 31. The reproduction of any social organization. In a postscript added to the essay on ideology one year after it was completed. revolt. conversely. nor even the conflict-free realization of the ideology of the ruling class (2001: 125). . 1980: 79). Whoever says class struggle of the ruling class says resistance. But there is no class struggle without antagonistic classes. be it an exploitative society or a revolutionary party. This is a critical absence.and potentially transformative . A distinction must be made. This is why the ISAs are not the realization of ideology in general.
8 If Althusser has tried to describe the type of subject that is produced when ideology succeeds. because the reproduction of the social world cannot occur without it. Since even specific and localized ideologies operate to reproduce large numbers (or types) of subjects. the result of not taking into account the contradictory demands of subjection and qualification is another example of structural stasis. In other words. This is why it is necessary to retain the notion of the subject. albeit as one that is itself in process. we lack any means to differentiate between dominant and subordinate ideologies. a dialectical sense of ideological interpellation as an ongoing process would preclude any resolution free from contradiction. Although Althusser manages to retain the category of the subject by claiming that no society can be free of ideology (we are always-already subjects 9 ). ideological contradictions .12 Ideology operates to reproduce the present form of social organization.because they cannot be fully closed or sutured by ideology . On the other hand. Further. This occurs when a subject must choose between . The ability of a subject-object dialectic to account for spaces that can become antagonistic sites of contestation . is the exact nature of the subject that would emerge in and through such spaces of resistance. What cannot be determined in advance. there is a complex set of dependent relations between subject and object (ideology.is what makes it overtly political. as well as ideologies that do not have an ideological state apparatus as their source. This alternative approach would allow for a certain type of subject to be theorized: one that is not originary or constitutive. ISAs. but produced within a social context that contains spaces for resistance against that context. but nevertheless produces subject positions that prevent exact social reproduction. socio-economic relations) that proceed by way of dialectical contradiction.a number of conflicting subjectivities. however.or even simultaneously act out . it is equally important to ask what type of subject is produced when ideology fails.
of .The Challenge of Aleatory Materialism In the 1980s Althusser began developing the concept of the aleatory in order to theorize the singularity of any material encounter. and anti-humanism. a “casus. the subject can be theorized so that intervention in social processes is possible. “Encounter. Nevertheless. or end” (1997: 14). but can no longer account all on their own for its expression. I agree with Althusser that political significance lies far more with group based subjectivities than individual ones.which had so often been a problem .” a factual accident without origin. while avoiding most of the anti-humanist critique. One of the biggest obstacles to this is humanist (or liberal) ideology. My use of the term seeks to locate it within a reading of Althusser that is dialectical. as well as faithful to the general development of his thought. In moving toward a philosophy of the encounter. cause. social structures remain vital to the constitution of the social whole. Again. it has been toward retheorizing Althusser’s strict positions on dialectics. I do not want to dismiss any individual subject that is produced out of ideological contradictions.” a “case. but to make his work less restrictive. The next section looks at Althusser’s own efforts to relax his emphasis on structures and apparatuses by radicalizing what he refers to as the ‘conjuncture. which would continue to reproduce atomized subjects unless it was itself fatally caught in the contradictory conjuncture. and has so far resisted assimilation to any specific methodological approach. For instance.13 contain the possibility of mobilizing a group subject. the role of structures. If there has been a trend so far in this paper.’ The provocative concept of ‘aleatory materialism’ stresses contingency rather than structural determinism. IV . My arguments are not designed to dismiss Althusser. Althusser is again confronting the question .
There is a “. . and subjectivities. in order to act and conceive the horizon of our actions in a different manner. . to speak differently. not by generalities but repetitive constants . and its attention to continuity and discontinuity. and propose. Althusser invokes the (Machiavellian) instinct of the fox to describe the approach required to control the political opportunities available during an encounter.) The political lesson to be drawn is that an aleatory encounter provides a moment of radical openness where the “relation of appropriation that the human subject enters into with others” can be remade (Althusser. The reading of aleatory materialism I want to propose makes it compatible with the dialectical understanding of ideology. How is one to theorize a political moment within an encounter that cannot be anticipated. Althusser tries to make the nature of the encounter more explicit: . “This instinct is in fact the instinctive intuition of the conjuncture and of possible fortune to be seized: a new “encounter. perhaps the phrase ‘disjunctive conjuncture’ reflects more accurately what I am trying to capture.14 how theory can provide a necessary place for politics. for these singularities are as if traversed and haunted by repetitive or constant invariants. (Given my emphasis – as well as Althusser’s – on contradiction.that one can rediscover under their singular variations in other singularities of the same species and genus (1997: 9). . that does not announce its arrival or have any apparent reasons for being? The answer to this question is critical because it determines. set out in the last section. in order finally to reach. . 1997: 9). This suggests that each encounter represents an unpredictable conjuncture of structures. 1998: 97). practices. need to think differently. a different conception of history: materialist and aleatory” (quoted in Navarro. . really singular . it is only in the individual and social life of singularities (nominalisms).but universal.” but this time controlled and prepared as in advance” (1997:16). out of a number of possibilities. which direction aleatory materialism can take.
yet fragile (1996: 62. 67). is that dialectical rhythms can no longer account for the operations of power. The assumption that capitalism would be the primary opponent. .”. . any possibility of a dialectics.15 Singularities and repetitions. regulates aleatory materialism in the same way that the structure in dominance was determined in the last instance by the economy. “In postmodern society. dialectics is nothing else but a figure for idealism . there is no longer even space for the fiction of the dialectic” (1996: 61. In an article on Althusser’s later thought. . I think. the identification of the necessary terrain for an antagonistic response to capitalist restructuring” (1996: 60).”. thereby preventing any possible space for dialectics. But throughout his article. . Antonio Negri also identifies how an appeal to subjectivity is a valid theoretical course. as we have seen. since some of its elements will have been encountered before. I will try to show that it is precisely this double movement of singularity and repetition that has been eliminated from competing accounts of aleatory materialism. The theoretical force of the aleatory is that one cannot predict the location or type of space that might become available to oppositional political forces. Negri seems to reduce the role of resistant subjectivities to the well-worn model of class struggle against capitalism. and class struggle the primary means. thereby closing off the aleatory moment in the production of subjectivity. 67). What Negri is arguing. but on the margins of a society that is totalitarian. This means that the singularity of the event is located in the unique organization of its elements. . Resistance does not emerge from within a contradictory whole. which the action of the ISAs has constructed as a compactly ideological society. the postmodern totalization of power removes. and aleatory materialism in particular. Negri continues on to repeatedly argue that aleatory materialism signals the end of dialectics. “To be sure. calling it “. Undeterred. 63. “As a matter of fact.
16 It is striking to consider the extreme distance Negri has taken from Althusser’s formulations in For Marx concerning the contradictory unity of the social whole. Singularities do not emerge out of nothing. . In other words. to conceive of the aleatory as a disjunctive conjuncture. therefore. it also guards against the opposite extreme of immaculate conception. because while eschewing any absolute origin. as well as a process of rupture that establishes new repetitions. Negri’s reading of aleatory materialism is reduced to a postmodern social theory. Althusser’s allowance for repetitive invariants provides a theoretical space for dialectics. On the one hand. which is characterized by what can be termed a rupture in process.that still traverse the singular moment. I think this reading retains the type of problematic that Althusser engaged with throughout all of his work: how can we best understand the nature of the social at any specific moment. which offers no reason to think a communist struggle is any more likely than a conservative. aleatory materialism is more abstract than his previous work. or anarchist one. and the political opportunities that accompany that moment? It shows that Althusser is still having to contend with theoreticism as well. liberal. but are driven by the very repetitions they come to threaten and eliminate. I think. Because his event has no antecedents and does not. Without recognizing this.the repetitions . Negri’s only political option is to rely on an empty proclamation “of the communist struggle to come” (1997: 67). It is better. Negri’s appropriation of aleatory materialism does not take into account the repetitions that for Althusser “haunt” each and every singularity. the aleatory takes the form of a process that challenges the processes . Conversely. precipitate other events. which at least named structures or apparatuses that could then be examined. The double meaning is quite deliberate: the aleatory is a moment of rupture in established processes.
Althusser insists on this concept because any partial formation is capable of appearing free from contradiction. Determinate negations are in part a measure of one’s political commitment. How.17 there is now an overt attempt to understand how each moment has the potential opening for a radical political intervention. Althusser’s work did not always allow for this. Indeed. resistant subjectivities. This is what makes the reading of aleatory materialism similar to the one on ideology: the political moment is located in the contradictions between repetitions. They are what they are: they carry the stamp of Marxism-Leninism” (1977: 164). then. At the beginning of a lecture on Hegel he announced: “I shall begin at the end. Politically. Although he seems to have the requisite concepts for . Althusser set a standard of rigour for himself that required a continuous set of determinate negations. which was part of the difficulty with his conceptualization of the dialectic. do these concepts contribute to a critical social theory? V – Conclusion: Some Directions for Critical Social Theory Althusser finds great value in the concept of ‘the whole’ (or society). this meant that Althusser was never reluctant to show what position he occupied. just as the attempt of ideologies to reproduce a certain type of subject and social relations results in contradictions that produce fissures for new. More significant is whether or not the concepts one chooses to employ allow for sufficient determinations to be made. In true dialectical fashion. preventing any unity from being achieved. In response to the disjunctures that structure social life. I shall lay my cards on the table so everyone can see them. and may not contain the specific structure in dominance that directs the whole. which produce singularities. unlike other French thinkers such as J-F Lyotard. it is only by identifying the whole that the extent of its internal inadequacies are revealed.
Althusser’s stress on the aleatory nature of any political encounter attempts to redress this problem by showing that any moment contains fissures and cracks where resistance might find a beginning. in my mind. This is not to say that . or lacking a type of reflexive mechanism .18 determinate negations (the structure in dominance. ideology critique can be used more broadly to designate those systems that are closed. and it illustrates the importance of determinate negations to critical social theory. to understand the current distribution of the possible. were never demonstrated. however. the various theses on ideology. The role of the structure in dominance. Althusser’s concepts of ideology and ideology-critique allow social theory to make determinate claims that distinguish what is real from what is thought or imagined to be real. rather than just gesture to how resistance might be possible. whether in the form of a class. individuals. or the movements of uneven development.to test its claims against its own standard of argument. and under what circumstances. to conceptualize actual political resistance. It remains difficult. or otherwise.such as immanent critique . I tried to show how placing Althusser’s concept of ideology within a broader dialectical approach ensures its productivity as a critique of the ideological characters he identified. determination in the last instance. This is one of the main reasons why Althusser’s dialectic is unpersuasive. for example). His reference to singularities and repetitions endeavours. they sometimes close off the theoretical space necessary for their own operation. 10 Related to systems of thought. This is where one of the limits of Althusser is met: his excellent work on the role and influence of social structures leaves no space for the intervention of a human subject. and as a way of identifying contradictions in the production of subjectivity that might turn into spaces of possible resistance.
not ideology.19 singularities evoke great potential. but still does not explain why the economy plays the dominant determining role. for example) which functions primarily through violence and repression. police. see Norman Geras (1983) Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend (London: Verso). Examples of ideological state apparatuses include organized religion. while repetitions close down that potential. in the last instance. prisons. In is rather their unique interplay that constructs the contradictions and disjunctions that help make resistance possible. Thompson’s (1978) bombastic polemic in The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays (London: Merlin Press). which Althusser says is the most important one. that it promotes the inhumane and deprecates the dignity of man. government. 1990: 29). is one of the few helpful insights in E. They are different from the repressive state apparatus (the army. See Althusser. and the educational system. along with his charge that Althusser falls prey to structuralism. on their class consciousness. not on techniques but on militants. convenient because of the contrasting effect it produces” (Althusser. 6 .P. I should also note the point made by Martin Heidegger. For a strong set of arguments against Althusser’s position. Althusser’s essay (“Marxism and Humanism” in For Marx) was published two years prior to Foucault’s work.” See “Letter on Humanism.lacks a certain political urgency once it is divorced from the ethical underpinnings of alienation. 233. ed. This is not to say that alienation is a concept we cannot go without. I am not going to comment in any length on Althusser’s claim. 3 4 Althusser does discuss how the feudal and capitalist modes of production have different ruling ideological state apparatuses. 2001: 120n). that a theoretical rejection of humanism “does not mean that such thinking aligns itself against the humane and advocates the inhuman. 2001: 100-106. Note how Althusser’s earlier hostility toward the concept of the subject has dissipated. on their devotion. but that it is one that Marx could not go without. 5 See the comment that “Although we know that the individual is always already a subject. legal structures. While I think that there is a general shift in Marx’s work away from humanism and toward his ‘scientific’ notion of historical materialism. and on their courage” (in Ferry and Renaut.” in Basic Writings (1993). I disagree with the notion of a break. See Althusser. 2 1 It is interesting to note that although it has become much more common to cite Foucault’s attack on the notion of Man in The Order of Things. Marx’s later work . we go on using this term. 2001: 112-113. To my mind. This. It is this move – from theorizing social criticism to social action – that remains virtually irresolvable.especially Capital . at least in this instance. yet so necessary for Althusser: “Everything depends. the family. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper Collins). which inspired so much literature that there is little left to say on this matter.
” Rethinking Marxism 10: 93-98. and Alain Renaut. Essays in Self-Criticism. London: NLB.” see Althusser. 10 Reference List Althusser. 9 For someone like Theodor Adorno. Louis. Ben Brewster. For Marx.20 I should point out that in For Marx (1969: 62-63) Althusser does refer to how individual ideologies function. Interpellation. 8 7 Therborn uses the example of how the student movement in the 1960s emerged out of a contradiction “involving a massive increase in tertiary education and training to which the old forms of academic subjection no longer effectively corresponded in the given conjuncture” (1980: 46). 1995. Reading Capital. Judith. 1969. trans. “Conscience Doth Make Subjects of Us All. Ben Brewster. Louis. Mary H. One can only be freed from ideology if difference and heterogeneity is acknowledged and established.” In Lenin and Philosophy and other essays. Navarro. 1997. Fernanda.” and the first footnotes states: “The ideas expounded should not be regarded as more than the introduction to a discussion” (2001: 85). between this and the postscript quoted above. and Etienne Balibar. Grahame. Althusser. Ferry. 1998. Althusser. trans. 1996. I think there is too much to presume. “The Only Materialist Tradition. Part I: Spinoza. Louis. For the claim that we are “always-already subjects. trans. Marx. In Althusser’s defence. London: University Press of New England. . Louis. 2001: 177. 1969: 232. “An Encounter with Althusser. Grahame Lock. trans. New York: Monthly Review Press. Althusser. but it obviously contributed to the type of dialectical reading of ideology and subject formation proposed in this paper. Althusser. that Althusser took this into account sufficiently. Butler. 1977.S. Mass: The University of Massachusetts Press. The subtitle of his essay on ideology is “Notes Toward an Investigation. London: NLB. and Ideology. Ben Brewster. Politics and History: Montesquieu.’ and also incorrect. Hegel. it is too easy to speak of his ‘theory of ideology. Rousseau. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press. London: Penguin Books Althusser. However. 1990.” In Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory. 1970.” Yale French Studies 88: 6-26. French Philosophy of the Sixties: An Essay on AntiHumanism.” in The New Spinoza. Cattani. London: NLB. 2001. Lock. Ben Brewster. This is a different formulation than Althusser’s. Amherst. trans. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation. Louis. trans. Louis. “Subject. 1976. ideology is identity thinking. Luc.
Goran.” In Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory. 1996. 1992. Oxford: University of California Press.21 Negri. “Notes on the Evolution of the Thought of the Later Althusser. Althusser and the Renewal of Marxist Social Theory. London: Verso. Antonio. London: University Press of New England. 1980. Robert Paul. Resch. The Ideology of Power and the Power of Ideology. . Therborn.
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