Category Archives: Althusser, Louis

Marxism: Althusser’s ‘Ideology’

For Althusser ‘ideology’ is a very particular term that he theorizes very carefully. Explain in your own words, using quotes from Althusser’s essay, what he means by ‘ideology’? How is Althusser’s notion of ideology different from 18th and 19th century theorizations of the relationship between an individual and his social conditions?


He begins with Thesis 1: “Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.”

Thesis 1 ideology is saying that what we refer to as “religious ideology, ethical ideology, [etc.],” (693) are “largely imaginary,” and “do not correspond to reality,” (693). He does say that ideologies make “allusion to reality,” (693) and therefore need to be interpreted so we can see the real world that exists behind these imaginary representations of our world. In other words it’s like the René Magritte’s painting The Human Condition where we’re looking behind what the canvas (the canvas in the painting) is hiding.

He then explains there are two ways we can interpret reality: mechanistic, which he relates to the relationship between the King being a representation of God, and hermeneutic, which says “God is the essence of real Man,”(693). He sums this up by saying we use the imaginary to represent reality.

Next he explains that one way this worked was that those in power (Priests or Despots) were the responsible agents that “forged,” (694) an ideology to control the people. Another way was through “material alienation,” (694) in which we create an imaginary (alienating) “representation of [our] condition,” (694) because we have been alienated by these representations. Not quite sure what he’s getting at with material alienation – why would we create that which we has already alienated us?

He explains, “What is represented in ideology is therefore not the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live,” (695). In other words, Thesis 1 ideology is our relationship with our condition of existence.