Summer Camp & Social Reproduction

Before doing much research at all on my case study project, the first applicable theorist was Althusser and his views on social reproduction and interpellation. As a longtime camper and counselor, I will admit that I have been a shameless “interpellatee” and “inerpellater” at my own summer camp.  In many instances I have both followed and preached the “YMCA Core Values” at camp without giving much thought to the implications of this action or these values as larger societal norms. And when campers have inquired as to “why” certain rules are in place at camp, I am often quick to give the standard answer about respecting ourselves, the environment, and others.

As a camp director dealing with more difficult campers I would often take them through the disciplinary process – without even giving a second thought to whether or not this child deserved to be punished for their behavior! Thus, I have certainly been a “subject” of what Althusser would deem an ISA (Ideological State Apparatus), as summer camp is certainly well entrenched in socio-political affairs in the United States.

Though American summer camps are in many ways different from formal educational institutions, Althusser’s explanation of education as the ultimate tool of capitalism can still be applied to summer camp. Ultimately, the mission of many summer camps is to prepare individuals for the role in society – similar to education as it is explained more broadly by Althusser.

The basic history of summer camp as a means of socializing American youth translates quite well into Althusser’s theory of social reproduction. Yet I have had to grapple with Althusser’s explications of ISAs and interpellation, because I find it difficult to believe that education serves only the interests of ISAs and RSAs. Personally I have found some sense of personal fulfillment in both summer camp and formal education, and this kind of cultural belonging is something I would like to explore moving forward with my case study.

Ally Friedman

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