Posted May 24, 2011on:
With all the issues with blogger of late, I have decided to take my school posting for the day here (good ol’ reliable WordPress). A personal experience led me to a way to use what we learned yesterday about library databases to search out more information on a subject. Mona recently posted about her world travelling experiences and what she has observed about the influence a parent has on what a child becomes. The post reminded me of a debate we are having in one of my English theory classes about how the community we grow up in influences how we interpret a text and our opinions, beliefs, and unconscious worldview itself.
The most striking theory on the subject, for me, comes from a man named Louis Althusser. I had heard interpretations of two of William Blake‘s poems using Althusser’s theory of Ideological State Apparatuses in a Romantic poetry course and was intrigued by the kernal of truth I found in them (that our ideology is heavily influenced by the institutions we grow up subscribing to). I decided to learn more about this guy.
As an introduction to his theories and to refresh my memory of them a bit, I clicked over to his wikipedia page. It reminded me of a few things:
1. This guy just looks like a creeper (look at his photo!)
2. He was a French Marxist – but please don’t hold that against him. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over and over again in my classes is that Marxism and Communism as Marx originally philosophized them are not equal to what happened in Russia with Stalin. That was totalitarianism, not the Utopia community that Marx idealized with his original theory of communism. Not defending communism as a form of government but this helps you to understand Althusser’s world view a bit better.
3. Oh yeah … I forgot. During a bout of mental illness he murdered his wife. You can hold that one against him.
I linked down to the section on Idealogical State Apparatuses (ISAs) and the gist of it is that these are institutions of society that perpetuate the ideology of a certain society indefinitely. These institutions include the “family, the media, religious organisations and, most importantly in capitalist societies, the education system, as well as the received ideas that they propagate.”
Then I decided to check out one of the databases emphasized to us in our library tutorial yesterday. I went to the library website, scrolled down to databases and selected ones that start with the letter D, then I clicked on the Dictionary of Literary Biography, which Dr. Burton discribed as almost cannonical to those who study literature. I searched Louis Althusser and browsed the article about him. [I apologize to those of my readers who are not BYU students as they will not be able to access this valuable resource online without a password. However if you live near BYU or any school library, they will most likely have hard copy volumes of the DLB.]
I found out that Althusser originally developed the idea of Idealogical State Apparatuses (ISAs) from Marx’s theories as a way to understand how capitalist ideology is socially reproduced and passed on, thus allowing capitalism to perpetuate itself and maintain it’s standing. (Marx thought the natural progression of a society would lead it from capitalism to socialism to (Utopian) communism).
I differed from Althusser in that when I responded to Mona’s post, I agreed with her that the most important/influential ISA in any society (be it capitalist or other) is the family. I’ve pasted my email below so you can read my response.
Blogger is having serious problems lately and won’t let me comment on your post.
I just wanted to let you know I read Riveted today and enjoyed it. We’ve talked about something similar in my poly-sci class: that voter demographics are usually pretty predictable because you tend to vote the same way your parents do. The institution of the family is most powerful for sure. Institutions of religion and education (often controlled by state) follow closely behind. If you can align all three in their life, you have great power over the person a child becomes.
We’ve been discussing this determination v. individualism debate (ie. nature v. nuture if you want to simplify it) in one of my theory classes. I think Louis Althusser’s theories on Ideological State Apparatus’s and the influence of the “interpretive community” that we grow up in are very interesting. You can read more about them here.
What do you think? Are our unconscious ideas about the world determined by the institutions we grow up in? What is the most powerful influence over how and what we think? Can’t a person change by subscribing to new ways of thinking?