What are the Ideological Devices of the State (DIA) and what are they?June 27, 2021
Althusser thought it necessary to understand how society sees the individual in its imagination. In capitalist society, the human individual is generally regarded as a selfish subject. For Althusser, however, a person’s capacity to perceive himself in this way was not an innate trait.
Rather, it is gained within the structure of established social practices that impose on individuals the role (forme) of a subject. Social practices, on the one hand, determine the characteristics of the individual, and on the other hand, give an idea about the degree of characteristics they can have and the limits of each social practice. Althusser argues that many of our roles and behaviors are assigned to us by society: for example, steelworkers’ production is part of economic practice, while lawyers’ work is part of politico-law practice.
However, other characteristics of individuals do not fit into these categories so easily, such as their beliefs about the good life or their metaphysical reflections about their own nature. For Althusser, our values, desires, and preferences are inculcated in us by the practice of ideology, which has the defining characteristic of seeing individuals as subjects while making illuminating explanations about a particular subject. Ideological practice encompasses all the institutions called Ideological Devices of the State (DIA), which includes the family, the media, religious organizations and, most importantly, the education system in terms of the ideas they propagate. However, there is no ISA that makes us think we are selfish. In fact, we learn this belief when we become a girl, a student, a steel worker, a member of parliament.
Despite its many institutional forms, the function and structure of ideology remain unchanged and constant throughout history, just as Althusser said in his first thesis on ideology, “ideology has no history”. All ideologies build a subject, although each ideology differs from the other. Easily imaginable, Althusser illustrates this with the content of interpellation on a particular subject.
He uses the example of an individual walking down the street: upon hearing a police whistle or other warning sound, the individual turns around and now that person has become a subject with this simple body movement. Althusser discusses this process in terms of seeing oneself as the subject of the voice and preparing to respond to it. Although there is nothing suspicious about her walking down the street, the person thinks she is the one being called. This acceptance is a reversible misconception: the individual as matter is always and already a subject of ideology. The transformation of the individual into a subject has always and already happened; Althusser acknowledges here that Spinoza owes a great debt to the theory of immamence. This means that our idea of who we are is presented to us by ideology.
Althusser’s second thesis “ideology has a material existence”:
“Thoughts (insofar as they are endowed with an ideal or spiritual being) become invisible until they reach the precise limit their existence deserves in practice movements governed by rituals defined in the last option by an ideological apparatus. The subject is thus able to move as long as he is moved by the following system (to set out to achieve his true necessity): ideology existing in a material ideological apparatus that defines material practices governed by a material ritual that enacts existence in the concrete actions of a subject acting according to his own belief. …(from Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses)”
These material rituals can be compared with Bourdieu’s content of habitus and the ISA, in a sense, with Foucault’s disciplinary institutions. Althusser cites the example of the voice of God telling a man what his place on earth is and what he must do to receive mercy from Jesus—as an embodiment of Christian Ideology. Here Althusser underlines the point required for a person to identify himself as a Christian; must first be a subject. We gain our identities by seeing ourselves and our social roles in the mirrors of material ideology.