Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses Summary by Althusser


Althusser was a Structuralist Marxist. He wrote ideology and ideological state apparatuses in French which was published in 1970. In this essay, Althusser tells how the conditions of means of production and productive forces are reproduced and maintained in society.

Reproduction of Conditions of Production

According to Althusser the reproduction of the productive forces is ensured by the wage system that pays a minimum amount to the working class so that they may have to work every day and also may not raise in status. Wages are set not by biological needs but by the historical minimum.

On the other hand, the conditions of production are also needed to be reproduced. The conditions of production include machinery, skills, raw material etc.

The reproduction of conditions of production and reproduction of relations of production takes place through the state apparatuses which are controlled by the ruling ideology of the capitalist class.

The capitalist class is the base and the working class is the superstructure. Capitalist class at the base controls the superstructure through two tools:

  1. Repressive state apparatuses
  2. Ideological state apparatuses

Repressive State Apparatuses

According to Althusser state is a repressive apparatus. It is a machine of repression that makes the ruling class dominate the working class. This is done through police, courts, prisons, government, administration etc.

The repressive state apparatuses function as a unified entity. Whenever an individual or a group of individuals challenge the dominant ideology of the state, the latter uses repressive state apparatuses in order to stabilize the former. These apparatuses are always violent.

Ideological State Apparatuses

Ideological state apparatuses on the other hand function behind the shield in the form of morals and ethics. Ideological state apparatuses are quite different from the repressive state apparatuses as these are not violent.

They include educational institutions, religious institutions, family, media outlets, trade unions, cultural groups, political groups, legal groups etc.

In all ideological state apparatuses, the set of ideological discourses at work are always dominated by the ruling ideology.

According to Althusser, the educational institution is the core of ideological state apparatuses. In earlier times Church used to shape the minds of the people and today it is the school which makes the children learn morals and ethics.

The students are taught the proper ways of behavior, ways of talking, interacting, thinking and acting. Those who dominate become capitalists while others become workers. Ruling ideologies do not enjoy freedom in ideological state apparatuses. Thus they form subjects.

Features of Ideology

  1. According to Althusser ideology has no history as history represents change and ideology has remained the same throughout the ages.
  2. Ideology has a material existence. It is in the Repressive State Apparatuses and hence controls their actions.
  3. It represents an imaginary relationship of the individuals to their conditions of existence.
  4. It makes the people subjects.
  5. Ideology controls people.


Interpellation means giving identity to a person. Althusser considers ideology to be an important factor in terms of interpellation. According to him, there are two functions of interpellation-

  1. recognition, and,
  2. misrecognition.

The ideological state apparatuses like a family, religion, institution, educational system, and media give us an identity. It is a truth that through this identity that we recognize each other.

For example, we may recognize our friends in the street and shake hand with him that shows that we have recognized him. In different areas, there are different rituals to express recognition.

Here is another important article on Louis Althusser and his work Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)