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ASN Paper on Culture, Power and Ideology

ASN Paper on Culture, Power and Ideology / U of Pa / March 2003 with DNN Commentary/Questions

DN Title Antonia Ness David Ness
Introduction Breaking apart the unity of the culture-power-ideology schema proposed by Karl Marx in Capital, Volume One, Louis Althusser and Michael Foucault lay the foundation for a role of the individual in effecting social transformation. Through the exploration and the explication of the role ofideology and of power in defining the cultural context in which society exists, Althusser and Foucault broaden the concept of agency in achieving social change beyond the class basis proposed by Marx. I'd usually call it Das Kapital I guess, but maybe that's wrong. Where was `culture-power-ideology' `proposed' (here, or in some other material?)
Marx Marx's presents a theory of social structure as a progression toward a utopian state in which the competing interests vying for control through physically and ideologically violent means cease to struggle. Marx theorizes that society instead would emerge as a coherent totality moving in a single, definite direction. According to the Marxian interpretation of a capitalist system, culture, power and ideology collapse into a single, unitary force that defines the framework for all social and market interactions. I'm not sure I get the C-P-I trilogy yet. For example, France---it seems to me---has had culture of consequence rather independent of its power. But this may need some more thought.
Economic Primacy From this belief in the primacy of economic relationships, Marx centers his conception of a capitalist society around the struggle for control of the means of production. Marx argues that economic relationships in a capitalist system dominate and define all social relations and that to maintain the system, culture, power and ideology function as a cohesive set of mechanisms to reinforce the control of those in possession of the means of production, namely the bourgeoisie. They are necessary tools in the maintenance of the exploitative system under which the bourgeoisie extract the value of the labor of the working class. So far, so good. I think.
Bourgeoisie / Proletariat The economic base of society and all social structures rests on the fundamental economic relation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat according to a Base-Superstructure model. In this social system,"...personal dependence forms the groundwork of society." (325) Marx continues, explaining that this personal dependence "characterizes the social relations of production just as much as it does the other spheres of life organized on the basis of that production." Culture, power, and ideology coexist as a coherent and reinforcing superstructure, determined entirely by the basic economic relations and helping to ensure the continuation of the existing power relations in the productive process insociety. The culture-power-ideology of a society maintain and promote this sense of dependence of the dominated. I'm pretty sure I agree with the Bourgeoisie / Proletariat relationship. In this view what is the role of the Aristocracy, in particular in their relationship to culture? The last sentence I don't get.
Culture and Interaction: As a construct, culture emerges through the interactions that define and that are necessary in a capitalist system. Marx believed that all value produced in society is the direct result of the expenditure of human effort (the labor theory of value). In an exchange-based system, the products of the labor are social; however, "the specific social character of each producer's labor does not show itself except at the point of exchange."(321) The exchange "converts every product into a social hieroglyphic"(322) and the interpretation of these "hieroglyphics" or symbols within the context of a cultural system defined by the dominant ideologies (of the bourgeoisie) reinforces the interests of the ruling class, strengthening the power position of the empowered. I don't get the hieroglyphics stuff yet at all.
Ideology: Ideology is a tool of domination and carries a negative connotation in a Marxian conception based on the association of ideology with "disembodied ideas", rather than with a material force evidenced in and emerging from practice. To overcome the difficulties of describing, analyzing, and critiquing ideology from a material base, Marx asserts not all ideas are ideological. For Marx, an idea only becomes an ideology in connection with the social structures of society, specifically when it is employed in the service of domination. This distinction enables Marx to critique society from outside ideology despite the human reliance on ideas to understand the world. Is this supposed, then, to be forming the base of the Culture/Ideology relationship?
Social Utopia: Ideas are necessary in a Marxian social utopia, as material interests form human consciousness in the realm of ideas, but ideologies are not. The material means of mental production in the current system, however, generate ideologies in support of the bourgeois ruling class that controls them. As a result, the symbols generated as "social hieroglyphics" in the exchange are inherently ideological and define society. Current? What are `hieroglyphics going for here.
Class Interests: Ideology simultaneously masks the class interests it supports, presenting itself as an ideal form, thereby demanding deference and exalting the interests it represents and serves as a weapon against opposing interests. Working not only within the existing cultural framework, ideology also plays a role in the construction of that framework. Is this `adverserial' role necessary or is it only sufficient? This is kind of confusing stuff.
Power Defines Culture: According to Marx, the ideology of the class with the power defines the culture. In a capitalist society, the bourgeois worldview is pervasive. Individual social groups--Marx's classes--do not have distinct cultures because the bourgeois conception of culture dominates. Further, any cultural self-identification by subordinate members of society are dismissed as illusions, conceived entirely based on the position within the bourgeois construction of culture which defines the reality of societal conditions. This is complicated stuff, and I don't get it yet. I guess I see, and agree with, the notion of the class with the power defines the culture. But if this is accepted then it may have some unintended consequences. For example, in today's world, the culture is defined to a much greater extent by the youth than used to be the case. Yet, while they have great `economoic' power, I somehow doubt of most would feel that they really have the power in the sense meant here.

Perhaps a line worth following is to consider the possibility that---to a much greater extent than used to be the case---power is bestowed by individuals via gifting (investigate the role of guilt here). Those who generated the economic values used to be pretty much exclusively responsible for disposing of it. Now, a great deal of it is `given' (to descendents) in the form of day-to-day stipends, and it is spent by these surrogates.

Products of Class Struggle: Culture, power and ideology emerge as products of class struggle. Class divisions are economically determined and fixed within a system, but the emergent culture-power-ideology is unitary, but not static. In Theses on Feuerbach, Marx asserts that "...it is men who change circumstances..." (TOF144), suggesting competing ideas lead to the formulation of the culture-power-ideology scheme that defines a societal system. Viewing history as an economically determined progression, Marx proposes a theory for social change through human practice since all "Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory into mysticism find the irrational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice." (TOF 145) I lose it here. But will think about it further.
Marx and Social Change: Marx theorizes that social change will result naturally from rational, class-based action once the illusions of the dominant ideologies are evident. It is at this point that the role of power within the unitary construct emerges. For Marx, power depends on the material conditions of mobilization. The bourgeoisie are best positioned to mobilize these material conditions because the capitalist network provides a structure to facilitate the exchange of ideas, a shared vocabulary, and a general concentration of class interests that all serve to bolster the bourgeois control of the means of mental production.
Repressed Classes: While the obstacles facing the repressed, subordinated classes are great,as ideology and culture reinforce the power and the interests of the bourgeois elite in maintaining the status quo and in facilitating the exploitation of the working class, the dominant cultural schema and ruling ideology can change. For Marx, the classes are the agents of this change and their actions within the framework can lead to the to the emergence of anew dominant culture-power-ideology, redefining the economic, therefore the social systems of society. The supplanting of the old culture-power-ideology regime by the new is only possible, according to Marx, through radical, disjunctive class action. Societies are generated through conflictand as marginal balances of power shift, social systems can be redefined.
Making room for the Individual There is no role for individual to enact gradual, systemic change in Marx's construct: a single, cohesive culture-power-ideology emerges from the class struggle and dominates all members of society regardless of class position until it is supplanted by a new culture-power-ideology that emergesas a result of a shift in the balance of power on the class level. Louis Althusser attempts to reformulate Marx‘s theory, shifting the focus from production to reproduction. Althusser proposes that "in order to exist, every social formation must reproduce the conditions of its production atthe same time as it produces and in order to be able to reproduce." (133)
Challenging Economic Determinism: To understand the forces of reproduction, Althusser questions the economic determinism in the Marxian Base-Superstructure construct and explores the possibility of a "reciprocal action" (135) between the two,going as far as to suggest a degree of autonomy of the superstructure. Focusing on aspects Marx viewed as subordinate to the economic basis ofsociety, Althusser proposes that the only relevant form of power is statepower, which is held by the ruling class (146), identifying that power centers on the state as the center of political class struggle. In his conception of the state, power in fact transcends the state and functions independent of stated political ideology. The two primary mechanisms ofpower, therefore, are the Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs), characterizedby their primary means of function through physical violence, and the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) which function primarily through ideology. These two mechanisms work together to secure the existing cultural-political superstructure of society.
Ideology: From a Marxian definition of ideology as the "system of the ideas and representations which dominate the mind of man or a social group" (158) and an acceptance of Marx‘s belief that ideology can be used to hide underlying social reality, Althusser attempts expand upon Marx. Careful to distinguish his aim of constructing a theory of ideology in general from efforts present theories of any particular ideologies, as such ideologies "always expressclass positions" (159), Althusser acknowledges ideology is not a unitary construction. Ideologies exist in the service of the dominant social class,as the various ideologies are unified in function, "despite its diversityand its contradictions, beneath the ruling ideology." (146)
RSA / ISA : While there is only one RSA, a plurality of ISAs exist and function by numerous ideologies (145). Althusser argues that these ideologies exist in the apparatus and in its practice(s) and, therefore, are a material forcewhen examined as the ideas of the human subject, manifested in action. These ideologies function by teaching "know-how" (133) as "Each mass ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role ithas to fulfill in class society." (155) "The ideology of the ruling class does not become the ideology of the ruling class by grace of God, nor evenby virtue of the seizure of state power alone. It is the installation of the ISAs in which this ideology is realized and realizes itself that it becomes the ruling ideology." (185)
Goal: Ideologies goal is to ensure the reproduction of the ideological superstructure. To achieve this, an ideology must be effective in the exertion of power. This requires that an ideology connect with the social forces at work in society. To achieve this connection, Althusser argues that there is no action except by and in ideology and that no ideology exists except in the subject and for the subjects; ideologies thus interpellate individuals as subjects. An effective ideology must produce anotion of a subject that permits the occupation of certain "types" as these ideologies do not represent the real conditions of society. Instead, he maintains they represent the "relation to those conditions of existence"(160) that reflect the "imaginary relations of those individuals to the real relations in which they live." (165)
Spaces of Culture: Althusser broadens Marx's theory to open the spaces of culture as sites, rather than simply products, of class struggle. Ideology emerges as "not only a stake, but also as the site of class struggle." (147) Michael Foucault further opens the idea of cultural change by once again shifting the focus of the analysis. For Foucault, power relationships define all forms of social relationships and underlie all social interactions. Foucault challenges the notion that ideology is a coherent system of beliefs that emerges as the result of a discourse. Instead of emerging from debate and struggle, Foucault argues that ideology is coherent in articulation and deployment. As a result, ideology is shared with opponents in struggles. This removes ideology from the center of the struggle and leads Foucault to focus on power.
Struggle for Control: The struggle for control remains central, but the pervasiveness of power is identified as the force driving societal change. "There is no escaping from power… it is always-already present, constituting the very thing whichone attempts to counter with it." (HOS, 82) Borrowing from Marx, power is not simply prohibitive for Foucault. It is a productive force that not only restricts but also enables action. It is "not an institution, and not astructure, neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategically situation in a particular society." (HOS 93).
Exercise of Power: To understand the exercise of power, Foucault focuses on resistance. "As power is not exterior to social relations, resistance is not exterior to power. Power relationships depend on the existence of resistance. As there is no one locus of power, resistance, too, has many points of origin and activity that are mobile and transitory." (96) As Althusser did with ideology, Foucault opens up the unitary concept of power proposed by Marx. Defining "the exercise of power as a mode of action upon the actions ofothers, when one characterizes these actions by the government of men by other men--in the broadest sense of the term--one includes an important element: freedom." (790) He continues, "Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free." (790) "It is the strategic codification of these points of resistance that makes a revolution possible,somewhat similar to the way in which the state relies on the institutional integration of power relationships." (96)
Individual Agency: Foucault has introduced the possibility for individual agency in enacting social change based on his model of transversal struggles aimed at effecting power relations (780). Through the exploration of power and the identification of the key role of strategy in power struggles, Foucault has made room for the individual within the Marxist class struggle.
Conclusion Culture remains difficult to pinpoint; it is at once a dynamic force and a framework--each aspect not only defining, but also changing the other. As a force, culture shapes the individual's world view, beliefs, and identity. Culture also serves as a framework for the interpretation, allowing us todefine ourselves relative to the culture we observe--either through alignment or through opposition. Defined by the collective, culture is produced through human interaction. A dynamic force, culture provides a context for the interpretation of communications necessary in interaction.
Dynamic Transformation: The dynamic transformation of culture as a force and a framework relies on the exercises of power within and upon the framework constructed as culture. The existence of power limited to human interaction, ideology is aprimary mechanism in the exertion of power. Power plays not only within the established cultural framework, but also act upon the very framework inwhich they occur. At the base is the force of ideas. Culture, power and ideology are intertwined, often working in concert; however, the through the explication of the unitary culture-power-ideology construct, it is possible to create a space for individual agency in social change.

© Copyright 2003 David Ness.
Last update: 2003-03-17 12:59:47 EST