Interpellation (philosophy)

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In Marxist theory, interpellation is the process by which ideology, embodied in major social and political institutions, constitutes the nature of individual subjects' identities through the process of institutions and discourses of 'hailing' them in social interactions.

Interpellation is associated in particular with the work of the philosopher Louis Althusser.[1] Althusser goes against the classical definition of the subject as cause and substance, emphasizing instead how the situation always precedes the (individual or collective) subject, which precisely as subject is "always-already interpellated." Individual subjects are presented principally as produced by social forces, rather than acting as powerful independent agents with self-produced identities. Althusser's argument here strongly draws from Jacques Lacan's concept of the mirror stage.

Althusser's concept has been roundly confused over the last decades with concepts associated with Michel Foucault, in part because both thinkers manifest an antihumanist insistence on the secondary status of the subject as mere effect of social relations and not vice versa. Another source of this confusion is the shared use of the word but different concepts of discourse.[2] Interpellation, Althusser's idea based on Lacan, specifically involves the moment and process of recognition of interaction with the ideology at hand. Foucault eschews the notion of ideology and his quasi-structuralist analytics are quite antithetical to Lacanian notions of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary.


  1. ^ Louis Althusser (1971). "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)". Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. (Verso: 1970, p.11)
  2. ^ R. Keith Sawyer (2002). "A Discourse on Discourse: An Archaeological History of an Intellectual Concept". Cultural Studies 16 (3): 433–456. doi:10.1080/09502380210128324.