56 Introduction to Interpellation

Dalton Puffer; Jared Gendron; Jessica Chretien; and Brianna Romiglio

In the final pages of Althusser’s Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (1968), he coins the term “interpellation”: that ideology can only exist if there is a subject that can produce a performative role attached to that ideology, therefore creating the subject. Thus, the paradigm of a subject and an ideology are intertwined; ideology can only exist if there is a subject to hail it, and a subject is created by an ideology. Althusser defines this unique relationship as a “duplicate mirror-structure.” Interpellation is the abstract binding of the subject to the ideology. Ideology is a ubiquitous concept that is created by a subject, of which subjects become immersed in and identify themselves with. They are systems of thought production and processes that influence interpretations of reality and the senses. “There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects” (697). The subject and the ideology cannot exist without the process of interpellation, because an ideology must be recognized for it to become real. And it is by this recognition of one’s ‘role’ or one’s ‘performance’ into that subjection of ideology that they have successfully been interpellated. Perhaps the best way to understand interpellation is through a simple narrative used by Althusser in his essay of being ‘hailed’ by an officer–a member of the Ideological (and sometimes Repressive) State Apparatus. It begins with the officer calling for you, this being the officer’s hailing. You then recognize the officer’s call and at that moment choose whether or not accept his call. By accepting this call, you have become a subject of the authority calling you. If you refuse to turn, then you are still a subject but are acting along the principles of a different ideology. Either way, interpellation occurs and the subject is placed within a corresponding ideology.
Respect the patrol pig
The acknowledgment of these words and sentences, for all intents and purposes, is an ideology that engages a subject (the reader) and an ideology (the discourse of the processes of interpellation). In itself, interpellation is occurring as you read this because an engagement of subject and ideology is inherent within literature, the ideology of language and verbal / textual communication. Althusser says himself in his writing, “The writing I am currently executing and the reading you are currently performing are also in this respect rituals of ideological recognition [interpellation], including the ‘obviousness’ with which the ‘truth’ or ‘error’ of my reflections may impose itself on you” (699). With this idea in mind, everything that we do and think falls within an ideological circumstance. Every thought you’ve ever had is determined by an ideology and works within said ideologies. And it is these ideologies that have been interpellated upon you by the process of which we recognize our subjection to what that ideology may be. We are always being interpellated into more ideologies through every thought and performative action we make. Interpellation is perpetual, and ideology is omnipotent. We are, as Althusser says, “an ideological animal by nature” (698).  


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory by Dalton Puffer; Jared Gendron; Jessica Chretien; and Brianna Romiglio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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