Bringing Althusser Back

I think I’ve had a break through.

So my case study is a more culturally-focused derivative of my SYE on the significance of grape wine in China. I’ve honestly been wrestling with the topic for over a year, been muddled by my own observations, and fighting with myself and the endless contradictions of China to reach a theoretical grounding.

At the end of my presentation last week, Anna suggested that I deploy Althusser and interpellation to explain how the myth of wine consumption disguises the greater consequences of capitalism. I replied that I was hesitant about using interpellation, as it seems restrictive to the point that those who are interpellated do not have agency as actors—they identify themselves within the ideology, then live it in practice

After reading into the Chinese Communist Party more, especially its crisis of governance and constant scramble for performance legitimacy, I realized that Althusser may actually be the best way to explain how wine functions in China. Within the last decade, political theorists have examined the foreign policy of the CCP and determined it is guided by three major goals: maintaining the status quo, economic development, and enhancing nationalism. I won’t explain too much of that here, but essentially I believe that the economic satisfactions of the middle class—provided through wine, luxury consumption, and market capitalism—reinforce regime legitimacy for the CCP.

Although the Chinese middle class, according to income alone, is over 200 million, and that there are several million-millionaires, this is a group of power that do not have any political leverage. Seriously—if you’re not in the CCP, you don’t have any institutional legitimacy, though perhaps some cultural leverage. This again rules out Gramsci, because if this middle and upper-middle class of people continue receiving the perceived benefits of the market system and enjoying fine wines from China and around the world, I can’t imagine them seeking alternatives. This could be a dangerous assumption, but I’m working with the historical reality that the Chinese were restrained from these lifestyles during Mao’s socialist period, thus the rapid introduction of the western world simply allowed capital, speculation, and development to skyrocket. It also just so happens that many of the CCP are also millionaires. Althusser tells us that Ideological State Apparatuses such as family, media, religious organizations, and the education system create the discourse that signals people ideologically, and then they materially reproduce the lifestyle. And because the majority of Chinese ISAs (particularly media outlets) are still state-controlled, this means that the CCP control not only the forces of material reproduction, but also cultural reproduction.

For my SYE, I may have to discuss the influence of media and branding (bringing back Naomi Klein) as it functions within interpellation and the myth of wine, luxury consumption, and capitalist advancement. We’ll see how it fits within the word count of the final paper for GS 302.

I also really appreciated Ally’s question about if there is a theorist that could possibly predict the future for China. I’m again hesitant to say yes, because the majority of the theorists, particularly political economists, are steeped in Eurocentrism. I already pointed out that China needs to be considered in terms of postmodernity because it has not fulfilled the teleological trajectory of Marxism, so at the same time I feel like all the other economists and political scientists who are waving their hands trying to capture this monolith culture. However, if China continues to integrate itself globally and develop unevenly without ameliorating the social inequities, the CCP’s regime legitimacy will be in face of a new crisis. Can it be theorized by Polanyi, and the instability of capitalism? I don’t think anyone is sure yet.

About nleigb10

I'm a food geek, traveller, and senior at St. Lawrence double majoring Global Studies and Multi-Language Major.
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