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Althusser - a Critique

Uploaded by palma on Oct 05, 2000

Sam Vaknin's Psychology, Philosophy, Economics and Foreign Affairs Web Sites


With the exception of Nietzsche, no other madman has contributed so much to human sanity as has Louis Althusser. He is mentioned twice in the Encyclopaedia Britannica as someone's teacher. There could be no greater lapse: for two important decades (the 60s and the 70s), Althusser was at the eye of all the important cultural storms. He fathered quite a few of them.

This newly-found obscurity forces me to summarize his work before suggesting a few (minor) modifications to it.

(1) Society consists of practices: economic, political and ideological.

Althusser defines a practice as:

"Any process of transformation of a determinate product, affected
by a determinate human labour, using determinate means (of production)"

The economic practice (the historically specific mode of production) transforms raw materials to finished products using human labour and other means of production, all organized within defined webs of inter-relations. The political practice does the same with social relations as the raw materials. Finally, ideology is the transformation of the way that a subject relates to his real life conditions of existence.

This is a rejection of the mechanistic worldview (replete with bases and superstructures). It is a rejection of the Marxist theorization of ideology. It is a rejection of the Hegelian fascist "social totality". It is a dynamic, revealing, modern day model.

In it, the very existence and reproduction of the social base (not merely its expression) is dependent upon the social superstructure. The superstructure is "relatively autonomous" and ideology has a central part in it - see entry about Marx and Engels and entry concerning Hegel.

The economic structure is determinant but another structure could be dominant, depending on the historical conjuncture. Determination (now called over-determination - see Note) specifies the form of economic production upon which the dominant practice depends. Put otherwise: the economic is determinant not because the practices of the social formation (political and ideological) are the social formation's expressive epiphenomena - but because it determines WHICH of them is dominant.

(2) People relate to the conditions of existence through the practice of ideology. Contradictions are smoothed over and (real) problems are offered false (though seemingly true) solutions. Thus, ideology has a realistic dimension - and a dimension of representations (myths, concepts, ideas, images). There is (harsh, conflicting) reality - and the way that we represent it both to ourselves and to others....

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Uploaded by:   palma

Date:   10/05/2000

Category:   Science And Technology

Length:   10 pages (2,304 words)

Views:   2001

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