Response to Althusser

What do children learn in school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add–i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements …of ‘scientific’ or ‘literary culture’, which are directly useful in the different jobs in production {one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher management, etc). Thus they learn ‘know-how’. (1337)


            Althusser asserts that institutions perpetuate the reproduction of labor power, and this assertion seems to be convincing. The power structure exists even within our educational institutions–which seems very befitting if there is to be sustained hegemonic stability. Althusser states that “children…learn the…attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division labor, according to the job he is ‘destined’ for” (1337). Children are taught, from a very young age, the ‘trades’ of the world, and the attitude one must have toward this trade. We are groomed to continue the process of divided labor.

            Interestingly, labor division amongst the ‘residue’ seems to also be divided in other ways. If children are groomed for specific labor production, wouldn’t it be possible for that labor structure to be divided by gender as well? In a capitalist society it would be very important to appropriate ‘trades’ to be gender specific. This not only appropriates gender roles, but it also keeps the hegemonic structures intact. There will always be someone to perform the divided labor if individuals feel that it is obligatory. We have, according to Althusser, reproduced labor by “submitting to the rules of the established order” (1337).

3 thoughts on “Response to Althusser”

  1. That’s a good observation. I think it plays into some of what we’ve read earlier about the gendering of labor and how that contributes to the wage discrepancy. There is still some novelty in a “male nurse” – and the existence of the term itself suggests that the unmarked nurse is female.

  2. This whole passage reeks of predetermination to me. How does the state determine who moves on in the educational system – who gets to be ‘higher management’? Is it determined by class? Is it determined by gender? Is it determined by intelligence level? Is everyone provided the same educational opportunities? My hunch that in this ideological state there would exist a desire to perpetuate continuity of those in power – i.e., a wealthy family has the opportunity to send a child to an institution of higher education; therefore, he/she (though probably he) has the opportunity to excel. This child obtains a position of power in the State structure – lather, rinse, repeat.

    1. Not just the opportunity, either, but a safety net (which to me seems the most valuable) and support of various kinds along the way.

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