We are asked to read chapter 19 in ‘Visual Culture: a reader’, our course book, published by Sage in association with the open university (2013 edition, edited by Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall) This chapter on ‘Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards an investigation) by Louis Althusser (1918-1990) (this chapter originally published in 1969, is taken from Mapping ideology, edited by S Zizek (London, Verso, 1994), pp100-140.
How does Althussers structuralism show here?
In the last project I looked at Marxism, base and superstructure, theorising that the economy was at the base of society and influenced the media on the basis that the owners of the media decided the content and as such material content wanted by and available for the consumer.
Structuralism as put forward by Althusser was a continuation of marxist theory but was more critical, it puts a lot of ideologies into one basket to find the commonalities in the theories of how they work. ‘If underlying patterns or structures govern language (structuralists said), doesn’t that mean that underlying patterns or structures shape all human experience?’ -(Shmoop Editorial Team)
Structualism is visible here in the way that ideology is dissected and all ideaologies are grouped together.
What does Althusser mean by ‘ideology’?
Ideologies referred to in Althusser’s text:-
Ethics (does this lean towards culture? in which case we are partially back to religion)
Law (which in any given land have a basis back to religion)
Gender (this one is decided before we are born as the chromosomes split, the gender we pop out as then informs how we are treated, how we are expected to behave etc.
Work (although this is linked back to religion in the text, rather than economic)
Ideologies are things we believe whole heartedly to be true. Murder is wrong, girls play with dolls, the state should support the nation, England means a green and pleasant land with added cricket.
These are then all explained as things we participate in as material existence (referring to more than a thing we can physically touch), we are subjects who mirror the ideology as a fact rather than an imaginary object we can relate to in our real lives (this is the main difference in theses I and II as I understand it. The first theses is much more of a person in charge deciding how we will live over a choice by us to live this view because we have chosen to) The person/subject following the view, believes it communicates to them so they live their life following these rules, to not act accordingly is ‘wrong’.
However, as much as we choose to live by these rules, does that make them right? The ideology of law is different in every culture on the planet, so we can’t all be right? Also, how much of a choice is it?
I am lucky, I was born into a middle class middle England family which has to an extent given me free reign to become what I want when I want, with the caveat of motherhood, I would have been able to go straight back to work if I had had a strong desire to or it had been financially worthwhile however, I felt aas my husband earnt enough, that my place was bringing up the two children we put on the planet. However, I still appreciate and to an extent expect to have the door held open for me. Which is kind of at odds to the feminist ideal…
However, that is how I was brought up, with dolls and dresses, being taught to knit (my brother wasn’t, he was never given a sewing kit in the same way I never recieved technical lego). So subjected to an ideology of gender of which I became a subject and have subjected my own children too.
Is there an area of visual culture where this idea may seem to act in an overt way? find examples and make notes on them.
-TV gender roles were highlighted in the commentary on this years Olympics in Rio, where how the female athletes looked was referred to whilst the male athletes was not.
-TV, there are programmes and a full channel you can tune into for religious programmes and views. In fact there are several.
-Brexit advertising emphasised the cultural ideology of the country over a shared common goal in Europe and the cultural differences outside these borders.
-But then the Daily Mail is overtly grounded into several ideologies, ie gender, cultural, law. Whatever takes their fancy really. (current online headline guessing at immigrants drowning off the coast of sussex)
-Trump is using the same ploy
-ISIS are using social media to put their views on religion across, whichever of Althusser’s theses they fit into.
-Twitter is a whole bunch of ideologies and subjects who like to argue about them. The only view Twitter itself follows is one that keeps it the right side of the law, which is an ideology which is as discussed different in every country.
-Supermarkets sell food based on gender ideology, the mother provides food for the family. As visible in any given Asda, Tesco advert.
-Waitrose openly aim at a class ideology, as does M&S food.
-Most magazines aim at at least one ideology, if not two, gender/class(Vogue), law/class, ethics. This must increase circulation.
-So, do I like a piece of art because its showing me something from an ideology? That it is re-enforcing my position within that ideology? or something I wish to achieve because of my perceived view of life due to ideology?
That constable view of life is an English cultural ideal, the Hockney paintings of the 70’s appealed to a class ideology.
Do my pictures have to appeal to an ideology to sell?
Do we(the subjects) choose to view these mediums and self perpetuate the ‘myths’ within them? As Althusser ends:-
Yes, the subjects ‘work by themselves’.(…) I’m fairly sure this is actually a question rather than a statement.
I had to look up a more involved view on Althussers structuralist approach to understand it and the questions we are asked to answer, I refer to
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Structuralism.” Shmoop University, Inc. Last modified November 11, 2008. [accessed 25th August 2016]
http://visual-memory.co.uk/daniel/Documents/marxism/marxism02.html [accessed 25th August 2016]