RSA vs ISA

One of the most prominent points that I retained from sociology class is that of social structure. From birth, morals and values are thrust upon us, and they become an unspoken social code that humans in a culture live by; but where do these ideologies come from? French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser explained this through two concepts: the Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) and the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA). When concerning media studies, the latter is especially important. In this post, I will explain what exactly RSA’s and ISA’s, how they work in relation to media and media studies, and give some examples.

Repressive State Apparatus

For society to run smoothly, states have instituted certain authorities to make sure that everyone obeys the rules. The values and morals that I mentioned before are communicated to people through institutions, one of which are the RSA’s. Repressive State Apparatuses include all of the institutions that function by the use of violence and repression. These include the courts, army, police, and any other institution that enforces rules and regulations with an “iron fist.” This state apparatus, however, does not concern my endeavors involving communications and media studies.

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Ideological State Apparatus 

In contrast to RSA’s, ISA’s include all the institutions that communicate ideas through, surprise, ideology! Examples of ISA’s include churches, schools, sports teams, and family. Basically ISA’s include any social institution that does not use violence of fear to communicate ideas. These ideas, however, come from a system called the “cultural elite.” These ISA’s are on feeding ideas of nationalism, conservatism, liberalism, and many other “-isms” on  daily basis. To relate this to a more Marxist theory, the “ruling class,” in this case the cultural elite, communicate the dominant ideology to all citizens. As citizens consume, they become the basis of economics. In other words, the ideology that is dominant is communicated from the cultural elite and is reproduced through the citizens, maintaining that base.

Examples

An example of how this works goes back to my days spent in the United States public education system. Every morning from the time we enter school we are taught to stand, place our hands over our hearts, and recite the age-old “Pledge of Allegiance.” It’s taught to us and constantly reinforced to teach us patriotism and respect when we are too young to even know what it means. The Pledge of Allegiance is basically an oath to the United States of America. The ISA of the school systems and those who implemented the rules chose to start every school day with children pledging their allegiance to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God (another ISA influence) with liberty and justice for all.

Another example dealing with the schooling system of the United States is the ideology of “knowledge is power.” I’ve heard this from my mother as long as I can remember, and it was reinforced all throughout my public school career. All public school is worth is getting to college, where education becomes a good to be sold. After public education, anyone hoping to continue their educations must pay tuition, books, housing fees, dining plans, and many other expenses known to all college students and graduates. People pursuing a college degree must pay for the knowledge and in a sense, must pay for the power. In society, it is statistically proven that people who pursue higher education earn more money. I have also heard the ideology “money is power.” Following this thought, one needs knowledge to make money, and money is power, but to have knowledge one must pay for it, continuing this capitalistic cycle that ideology has instilled in people.

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