Louis Althusser

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Louis Althusser

Louis Althusser (16 October 1918, Algeria – 22 October 1990, France) was a French philospher. He often gets categorized as a structuralist and was strongly influenced by Marx.



During the second worldwar Althusser spent five years in a German concentration camp where he first learned about communism. After the war Althusser finished his studies in philosphy. In 1948 he joined the Communist Party. Althusser was relatively unknown until he published two collections of essays in 1965, namely 'Pour Marx' and 'Lire de Capital'. He became internationally known for his re-thinking Marxist philosophy. In his personal life he married Rytman, who was a member of the Communist Party as well. He is suspected of killing her in 1980 by strangling her to death. After this, in the last ten years of his life, he wasn’t productive in philosophy anymore due to illness. During his life Althusser suffered from severe depressions and was admitted several times to psychiatric hospitals.


Louis Althusser was one of the most influential Marxist philosophers of the twentieth Century. He was the teacher of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. His work was debated worldwide as they seemed to offer a renewal of Marxist thought. Althusser recast the concept of ideology in a way that it is even noticed in a cultural theory. In his opinion ideology is not something people could be liberated from, but it’s a dimension of all social formations. For Althusser ideology is referred to the ‘representation of the imaginary’ relationships to their real existence in this contemporary world. Relationships are thus always mediated by the ways of their images (Gregory, 2009). This was his most important work:

- Montesquieu: La politique l'histoire, 1959 (Translation: Mostesquieu: Politics and History)

- Pour Marx, 1965 (Translation: For Marx)

- Lire de Capital, 1965 (Translation: Reading Capital)

- Lénine et la philosophie, 1969 (Translation: Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays)

- Eléments d'autocritique, 1974 (Translation: Elements of Self-Criticism)

- Philosophie et philosophie spontanée des savants, 1974 (Translation: Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists and Other Essays)

An geographical example

Althusser states that people be addressed as subjects. People are submissive to a certain system, but at the same time the topic of that system. For example: Good evening ladies and gentleman, fine that you are all watching our performance, you are now going to see the youngest group of the evening. This example states that you, as onlooker, know your place and you are willing to take that place.

Althusser states also that people aren't a reflection of their social position, but people are a reflection of imagined relations. According to Althusser, that is the result of a proces called salutation or interpellation. An example is, that when you are walking on the street and you hear: Hé, you over there!"' At that moment you know that the shouting is meant for you. It's exactly ideology, because at the moment you are called, you recognize yourself in that ideology and you feel recognized at the same time.


Gregory, D., Johnston, R., Pratt, G., Watts, M., Whatmore, S. (2009). The dictionary of human geography (5th edition). United Kingdom; Wiley-Blackwell.

Kirjasto (n.d.). Louis Althusser. Retrieved from[1] at 20 October 2010.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2009). Louis Althusser. Retrieved from [2] at 20 October 2010.


  • Page edited by Rens Mennen, 23 October 2012
  • Page edited by Marleen Revenberg, 25 October 2012
  • Picture added by Doris Roelvink, 25 october 2012
  • Edited by Renate van Haaren,--RenateVanHaaren 12:50, 26 October 2012 (CEST)
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