Monday, April 21, 2014

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 4/21/14

Louis Althusser - Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses:

Network Growth as Regeneration:

When examining our objects of study, we have been asked to consider how networks grow, emerge, and dissolve. In the thinking I have done on this concept thus far, I do not think I have considered that regeneration is one of the most powerful ways for a network to (re)grow. Althusser opens his text with a discussion of reproduction, writing "no production is possible which does not allow for the reproduction of the material conditions of production: the reproduction of the means of production." The ability to maintain production requires the continual resetting of the required conditions - raw materials need to be replaces, machinery needs to be kept up and serviced, and laborers must arrive "again at the factory gate the next day."

Replenishment and renewal are interesting concepts for a network. Where does a network become depleted? How is it replenished? In thinking of my OoS, people are one of these depletion points. It is common knowledge that staff at many of the underground papers were transitory and even the papers themselves ephemeral. However, as the movement (network) dispersed information to new readers, new staff members and papers emerged to replace the ones leaving and folding. It was not until the replacements slowed that the movement itself collapsed. This raises the question of limited resources. At some point, raw materials needed to sustain replenishment will be exhausted. This is perhaps another way to think of how networks dissolve: when the resources needed for reproduction are exhausted.

The State Apparatus and Asignifying Rupture:

Later in the text, Althusser is describing how the State Apparatus resists dissolution. Althusser writes that the State Apparatus "may survive political events which affect the possession of State power," and that "even after a social revolution like that of 1917, a large part of the State Apparatus survived after the seizure of State power by the alliance of the proletariat and the small peasantry: Lenin repeated the fact again and again."  

Russian Revolution of 1917 did not dissolve the State Apparatus in its entirety. A heterogeneous power has the ability to resist rupture. Image posted by Wikipedia

This strongly reminded me of the asignifying rupture principle of a rhizome from Deleuze and Guattari. The State Apparatus cannot be broken if there is damage to one part. If power shifts from the State to the people, the rhizomatic apparatus can remain in ultimate control, largely unchanged. Perhaps this is due to another principle that is shared by the rhizome and the state: heterogeneity.


It is interesting that in this week's mind map, I decided to focus on the concept of heterogeneity as it appears in several theories. Then in this reading, the idea of diversity should also be a factor. I am conflating diversity and heterogeneity, and I hope that this does not overlook any important distinctions between the two words. In the section above, I argue that heterogeneity allows for the survival of the State Apparatus. Gibson makes the argument that diversity is necessary for survival, and Deleuze and Guattari suggest that rhizomes are difficult to disrupt. They also argue that they are heterogeneous and made of many types of structures. 

Heterogeneity = Resistant to decay as other structures can compensate for any damage to another part = Survival

Althusser hints at diversity within the State Apparatus when writing about labor. He explains, "The labour power has to be (diversely) skilled and therefore reproduced as such. Diversely: according to the requirements of the socio-technical division of labour, its different ‘jobs’ and ‘posts’." Then again when discussing how repression occurs both from the State Apparatus and through Ideological State Apparatuses, he writes, "Whereas the (Repressive) State Apparatus constitutes an organized whole whose different parts are centralized beneath a commanding unity, that of the politics of class struggle applied by the political representatives of the ruling classes in possession of State power, the Ideological State Apparatuses are multiple, distinct, ‘relatively autonomous’" (emphasis added). Some of these multiple Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) are religion, education, family, the legal system, the political system, trade-unions, media, and culture. 

The diversity of labor and of ideologies helps preserve the system of the State even when aspects of it are threatened. This is a common thread now in network theory - to build in resistance and ensure survival, diversification and variation are necessary. This is interesting as I consider my OoS literature review. There is a body of scholarship suggesting that homogeneity led to the decline of the underground. This discussion here certainly lends credence to that view.  


It is also ironic that I began to see constraints as a theme running through Althusser since I had added that node to the mind map this week as well. 

For weeks, I have been commenting that I draw the most connections to ideas I am seemingly "primed" to see. The concepts that are interesting, that I feel strongly connected to by comprehension or relevance to other research, are the ones that come up in each blog post. I want to see if there is a network connection to that. Perhaps the nodes in a network to which we connect the most are the ones that seem the most familiar? We can more easily traverse deep snow by repeatedly following the same path, compacting the trail and making it ever-easier to go down. Image by Richie Preiss on Flickr.

There are several ways that Althusser describes what can be understood as constraints, or as I have come to understand the word, influences that shape action and discourse by encouraging or discouraging possible responses. 

The State constrains the people it needs to keep repressed in order to maintain control. He writes, "The State is a ‘machine’ of repression, which enables the ruling classes (in the nineteenth century the bourgeois class and the ‘class’ of big landowners) to ensure their domination over the working class." The State constrains freedom.

This repression  is exerted through ideology, which is a mental process primarily, but Althusser notes that ideology is sometimes enforced through physical means and violence. He writes, "But besides these techniques and knowledges, and in learning them, children at school also learn the ‘rules’ of good behaviour, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, according to the job he is ‘destined’ for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination." Education is then about training the people in the rules for acceptable living. I see these rules as a kind of constraint on thinking and behavior. The rules constrain the possible actions a person could take and funnels them into a manner of living that is conducive to the State's desired maintenance of the status quo.

Education or indoctrination? Is education an ideology that serves to maintain the State's power by constraining the minds of children? Image by The Teaching World.

While all ISAs constrain people, he argues that education is the most dominant ideology in its repressive qualities. He concludes, "It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most ‘vulnerable’, squeezed between the Family State Apparatus and the Educational State Apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology." 

Things like education and media are supposedly designed to encourage us to think freely as we are exposed to new and challenging ideas. However, is this just a myth built into the repressive ideology of the State? Are we merely looking at shadows on the back wall of a cave?  Where does our agency begin and the State's power end? For me, this discussion forces me to consider boundaries in a way I have not been successful at doing so far. What are the limits of agency is perhaps a better way to frame that last sentence. How much of any network is attributable to the creator and how much is owed to the constraints shaping the person and place out of which the network emerged? We cannot be free of all constraints, but is there a way to mitigate their influence over our thinking and production of discourse? 


I should probably add a node to my new mind map for assemblage. It is a concept that I have been encountering in this course for some time. I first recall hearing about it from Daniel's blog explaining how Crow from DWAE argues that composition portfolios are a form of surveillant assemblages. I came to understand the term as a way of connoting layered but disparate elements gathered together. I love this concept as it relates to networks because nodes in a network have relationships with one another, but it can be difficult to imagine what those relationships look like aside from simply being connected. It almost requires thinking about network relationships in three dimensions, how they are situated within space - above, below, proximal, behind, or even overlapping. Assemblage is another way to understand how nodes are related - compiled to create a whole picture not able to be rendered with the entities separated.

Rhizomes has a principle of multiplicity and plateaus which seems to suggest the same idea that in order to truly understand the rhizome, you must assemble all the beginnings and ends, all the surfaces and routes. It is is just one thing, but a collection of many disparate things.

Then Althusser writes, "Ideology, then, is for Marx an imaginary assemblage." Ideologies cannot be understood as a single thing with a single example or definition, but it is a collection of related systems that in their collection come to take on greater significance than they do when divided. Networks are very much like this in general. The thrust of the network is greater than the individual nodes working on their own. Just look at out class. Our network allows us greater knowledge than what we would create on our own. The assemblage of people and readings and ideas leads us to that place. It is as if an intangible metaphysical component emerges in an assemblage that lifts the whole to an otherwise unattainable plane.

Assemblages lead to a higher plane than the same objects disjointed. This image is commonly associated with Gestalt psychology, which was discussed in last week's blog. Finding this image was synchronous, and seeing a connection between assemblages and social network analysis was entirely unexpected (but really cool). Image posted by Foothill Tech.

Works Cited:

Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes towards an Investigation." La Pensee. 1970. Translator Ben Brewster. Transcriber Andy Blunden. Marxists Internet Archive. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Studies and its Theoretical Legacies." The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd ed. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 2007. 33-44. Print.

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P, 2013. Print.

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