Resisting Ideology: On Butler’s Critique of Althusser


Judith Butler has built her theory of interpellation through critical engagement with the work of Louis Althusser. For Butler, interpellation explains how the subject emerges in and through language, and her critique of Althusser is meant to open up psychic and discursive space for resisting status quo interpellations and the dominant ideology. In this essay, I argue that Butler’s account of interpellation suffers from two problems: first, she misreads Althusser; second (and more importantly), her account is isolating and politically demotivating. I then show that rereading Althusser provides us both with a criticism (albeit avant la lettre) of Butler’s position, and a new account of the resources at our disposal for resisting (and even opposing) the dominant ideology.