55 An Introduction to Ideology

Carmen Maura; Edward Lossman; Samantha Latos; and Bradley Rucker

In Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1968), Louis Althusser discusses how Ideological State Apparatuses impose ideologies upon society and ideologies are always tied to apparatuses. Under ISA, Althusser uses the following examples: Church, Family, Media, and Culture. The family example states that we are all subjects before we are born. “[I]t is certain in advance that it will bear it’s father’s name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable,” (Rivkin and Ryan 302). We are expected to carry out certain ideologies even before birth; human identities are born before humans themselves. Our identities are partly prescribed to us by our parents. Ideological State Apparatuses interpellate subjects into the ideology by getting subjects to agree with the ideology. This is partly achieved by the ideology ensuring, “the absolute guarantee that everything really is so, and that on condition that the subjects recognize what they are and behave accordingly, everything will be all right…” (Rivkin and Ryan 701). This shows us how the rules of ideology are imaginary and are just our connection to the real world through our participation in the imaginary guidelines. These Ideological State Apparatuses allow for the ideologies to continue to operate, unmanned, in society as a functioning machine.

However, when subjects are not good and do not behave according to the ideological guidelines, the Repressive State Apparatuses must take physical action to ensure the continued function of the ideology. The Repressive State Apparatuses are institutions such as prisons, military, court systems or police.

An example of this system can be viewed with the ideology of liberty within the United States. Liberty is an ideology that is imposed upon the subject from their beginning. It is said that to be born an American is to be born free, assuming that Liberty is something that is prescribed in the being of an American. The education systems further this idea by ensuring that students understand their freedoms as Americans and demonstrate how we have spread liberty and how it is America’s mantle of responsibility to uphold this ideology. This can be seen when history textbooks discuss the Vietnam War and our fight against communism, or the Manifest Destiny as the advancement of civilization westward. We then become ingrained in the ideology of what it means to have liberty in the capitalist-American views. The Repressive State Apparatuses uphold this via police, fear of incarceration for draft-dodging (Vietnam War), military, outside individuals threatening the ideology of liberty, the National Surveillance Agency, monitoring subjects behaviors, etc.

The Ideological State Apparatuses and the Repressive State Apparatuses work cohesively to ensure the clockwork of an ideology operate smoothly. Subjects are interpellated into the ideology through the Ideological State Apparatuses, thus tying all ideologies directly to their apparatuses. The subjects are then expected to play by the given rules and guidelines of the ideology and be good subjects. Those who act outside of the prescribed rules threaten the functioning, mechanical state of the ideology and therefore must be enforced to abide by the guidelines. These bad subjects are then physically coerced into complying by the Repressive State Apparatuses to punish these subjects and bring them back into the boundaries of their relationship to the ideology.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Carmen Maura; Edward Lossman; Samantha Latos; and Bradley Rucker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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