The Gold and the Dross

Althusser for Educators


In the last decade, there has been an international resurgence of interest in the philosophy of Louis Althusser. New essays, journalism, collections, secondary literature, and even manuscripts by Althusser himself are emerging, speaking in fresh ways to audiences of theorists and activists. Althusser is especially important in educational thought, as he famously claimed that school is the most impactful ideological state apparatus in modern society. This insight inspired a generation of educational researchers, but Althusser’s philosophy—unique in a number of ways, one of which was its emphasis on education—largely lost popularity.

Despite this resurgence of interest, and while Althusser’s philosophy is important for educators and activists to know about, it remains difficult to understand. The Gold and the Dross: Althusser for Educators, with succinct prose and a creative organization, introduces readers to Althusser’s thinking. Intended for those who have never encountered Althusser’s theory before, and even those who are new to philosophy and critical theory in general, the book elaborates the basic tenets of Althusser’s philosophy using examples and personal stories juxtaposed with selected passages of Althusser’s writing. Starting with a beginner’s guide to interpellation and Althusser’s concept of ideology, the book continues by elaborating the epistemology and ontology Althusser produced, and concludes with his concepts of society and science. The Gold and the Dross makes Althusser’s philosophy more available to contemporary audiences of educators and activists.

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Biographical Note

David I. Backer, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, is an assistant professor of Social and Cultural Foundations of Education. His work on school in its social context can be found in Harvard Educational Review, Educational Theory, Issues in Teacher Education and elsewhere. Based in Philadelphia, he is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Table of contents

 General Plan and Purpose of This Book
 Althusser’s Context
 Althusser’s Life
 Author’s Context
 Note on Passages

1 A Beginner’s Guide to Interpellation
 Getting in Trouble
 At School
 Get with the Program
 Not Anything Impactful
 I Don’t Remember What I Learned in School
 Where Did My Friends Go?
 Falling in Love
 Is Interpellation Passive?
 Ideology = Imagined Relations to Real Conditions
 Race and Gender
 Being Guided
 Interpellation Machine
 A Grain of Sand
 A Play
 Our Society: Capitalism and Democracy

2 The Law of Dislocation
 Concrete-Real vs. Concrete-in-Thought
 Snakes, Ropes, and Concepts
 The Gold and the Dross
 Straying from Dislocation: Empiricism and Surplus Value
 Petty, Laplace, and Capital Vol. 1
 Leaves, Monads, and Other Simple Internal Essences
 Shades of Hegel
 Expressivism: (Dig Here)
 Human Nature
 Concepts behind ‘Words’
 A Theory of Reading: Listening to Silence

3 The Law of Uneven Development
 Every Thing Is a Mess
 The dsa
 Theory of Combination
 Theory of Formation
 Theory of Relative Autonomy
 Theory of Determination
 The Wrong Side of History
 Teleology on the Train
 Concepts of Structure: Captain Planet vs. Voltron
 The Two Laws: Three Reflections

4 Theory of Social Formations
 Geology as Analogy for Society
 Forces, Elements, and Variations in Society: Overview
 Economic Region
 Ideological Region
 Culture and Agency
 Repressive Region
 The Three Social Forces: Productive, Reproductive, Repressive
 The Hut and the Theater
 Naked Capitalism
 Home Ownership
 An Allegory for Social Structure
 In the Last Instance: Theory of Moveable Types

5 Conclusion: Ideology, Truth, Science
 Truth as Correctness
 Science as Sweet Science

Afterword: Studying the Dross
Tyson E. Lewis



Those interested in critical theory, critical pedagogy, and becoming familiar with Louis Althusser’s philosophy.

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