Althusser, Louis

(1918–1990)
   A hugely influential French Marxist theorist, Althusser put forward an innovative structuralist reading of Karl Marx. He portrayed Marxism as a science, rejecting humanist interpretations of Marx, and promoting the view that there is a radical break between Marx’s early humanist writings and his later scientific works. Born in Birmandreïs, Algeria, Althusser studied in Lyons and later at the prestigious École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he became a professor of philosophy. He was an activist in the Catholic youth movement in the 1930s, imprisoned in a German prison of war camp during World War II, and joined the French Communist Party in 1948.
   Althusser’s most significant publications are For Marx (1965), Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1971), Essays in Self-Criticism (1976), and ReadingCapital” (1970 with Étienne Balibar). In these and other works he advanced the thesis that Marx’s work could be divided into two: the pre-1848 writings which were concerned with human nature, alienation and self-realization; and the writings of 1848 and after which outlined a scientific theory of history and society. These later works superceded the earlier pre-scientific ones and involved a rejection of any notion of human nature or of human beings as the crucial active agents of change in society. Rather, Althusser argued, society is composed of different structural levels that determine human actions and outlooks. The early works were separated from the mature works by what Althusser called an “epistemological break.” This break demarcated two distinct “problematics” or theoretical frameworks characterized by different concepts, presuppositions, values, and questions. The early works, according to Althusser, represented an ideological pre-history of the Marxist science that followed.
   Althusser, though, did not embrace some form of economic determinism, but instead offered a much more complex and sophisticated model of society and change based on multiple determining factors. Specifically, he introduced the notion of “relative autonomy,” suggesting that the different levels of the social whole were decentered and operated with relative autonomy. In terms of the orthodox Marxist model of society as composed of an economic base that determined the noneconomic superstructure, Althusser’s approach understands the superstructure to be relatively autonomous from the economic base and to act back upon it.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Althusser, Louis — (1918 90) One of the most original and influential of twentieth century Marxist social philosophers, Louis Althusser provoked a spectacular, but deeply controversial renewal of Marxist scholarship across a whole range of humanities and social… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Althusser, Louis — ▪ French scholar born October 16, 1918, Birmandreis, Algeria died October 22, 1990, near Paris, France       French philosopher who attained international renown in the 1960s for his attempt to fuse Marxism and structuralism.       Inducted into… …   Universalium

  • Althusser, Louis — (1918 1990)    philosopher    Best known for his views concerning the origin and developments of the theories of Karl Marx, Louis Althusser was born in Birmandreis, Algeria. A professor at the École Normale Supérieure, Althusser, in his many… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Althusser, Louis — (1918–1990) French Marxist, noted for dismissing the early work of Marx in favour of the later emphasis on dialectical materialism. This is seen through a structuralist filter, whereby interlocking combinations of political, economic, ideological …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Althusser, Louis — See Marxism ( …   History of philosophy

  • Althusser, Louis — ► (1918 90) Filósofo marxista francés. Aplicó un método estructuralista al análisis del pensamiento. Obras: Leer El Capital (1965) y Por Marx (1969), entre otras …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Althusser, Louis —   (1918 1990)   see political economy of the sign …   The Baudrillard dictionary

  • Althusser — Althusser, Louis …   Philosophy dictionary

  • Althusser — Althusser, Louis …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Althusser — Althusser, Louis …   Dictionary of sociology

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.