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State Apparatuses + Message and Meaning Encoding/Decoding_Final Mindmap Update


Mindmap update_April 27th

Mindmap update_April 27th

For this final mindmap update, I created nodes for Louis Althusser’s State Apparatuses (ideological and repressive) and Stuart Hall’s principles for “Encoding/Decoding,” under the heading Cultural Studies. I decided on naming this collection Cultural Studies I had previously read these two essays in a Cultural Studies course and they deal with how the populace is (in a manner) indoctrinated by the dominant class to stay subsurvient as cheap labor within the cycle of means of production, or how the masses are actually receiving messages and meanings through media outlets and changing those meanings in response. I linked out this heading to Rhetorical Theories, CHAT, Social Network Theory, and Foucault because I feel like what is going on within each of these, what is moving within those networks has to do with how and what people are processing.

For Althusser, I made a node that lists his examples of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) as well as a smaller list of his examples of his Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs). The last node I made for Althusser was his discussions about ISAs being around us from birth onwards and how school is the most influential of these because students are obligated to attend an institution that is constantly having them operate within ideology (especially ideology that promotes ideas of freedom and liberty equated with education, though the reality is often quite different).

For Hall, I made nodes that included two quotes about the circuit of production, and an image of the two-way communication between producers and consumers of media. I linked the node with the heading Encoding/Decoding with a quote from Foucault about “Enunciative levels of formation” because I feel like, for many of us, the discursive moments Foucault is talking about requires a constant taking in and releasing back out of messages and meanings as we come across them, as we produce our own responses, and as our responses reach other people, with the cycle moving on with or without further input from us.

Must Not Forget the Music:

Reading Notes: Althusser and Hall, Tip-Toeing Toward Ambient Rhetoric

Several interesting take-aways from this week’s reading – although I will only focus on a few that really struck me as intriguing points of intersections. Indeed, I really seem to have more questions than connections this time around, and so … Continue reading

Reading Notes #13: Encoding/Decoding and the ISA

Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding,” in which he argues about the struggle within communicative exchange that occurs between the producers and consumers or encoders and decoders. Hall presents the idea that the producer encodes the message with intended meaning. This message is sent to the receiver who then decodes the message. There is a movement: encoder –>message—> […]

Reading Notes: Althusser and Hall

What Althusser (1971) refers to as “the ideology of the ruling class” (emphasis mine), become the ruling ideology “by the installation of the ISAs [Ideological State Apparatuses]” is analogous to Hall’s (1973/2007) “dominant-hegemonic position” (emphasis mine) set in place by the metacode “which the professional broadcasters assume when encoding a message which has already been signified in a hegemonic manner” (p. 485, emphasis original). What Althusser abstracts as ISAs, Hall particularizes in the form of television broadcasters.

Althusser (1971) identifies school as the dominant ISA: “the Church has been replaced today in its role as the dominant Ideological State Apparatus by the School. It is coupled with the Family just as the Church was once coupled with the Family.” As dominant ISA, School functions by ideology, “the system of the ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or a social group.” This statement more clearly delineates the connection between Althusser’s ideology and Hall’s dominant-hegemonic position. Hall (1973/2007) notes that, in many cases, the television “viewer is operating inside the dominant code” (p. 485, emphasis original). In short, Hall’s viewer is dominated by the the ideas and representations (to pull directly from Althusser) of the metacode operating in acts of encoding by professional broadcasters.

Misunderstandings and Class Struggle

Hall (1973/2007) seeks to examine the origin of misunderstandings in mass, and especially television, communications. He theorizes that misunderstandings or distortions emerge from lack of equivalence between encoding and decoding processes. When certain frameworks of knowledge, relations of production, and technical infrastructure — Scott appears to refer to these as “ideological apparatus” — are used in encoding meaning in a television program, the frameworks of knowledge, relations of production, and technical infrastructure of the viewers decode the program’s meaningful discourse (see diagram, p. 480). If the “ideology” of the encoders is not equivalent to the “ideology” of the decoders, then misunderstandings occur. This seems to be Hall’s way of characterizing class struggle. In a similar way, Althusser describes class struggle within the framework of ideology. Ideology of the ruling class gets disseminated and enforced via ISAs.

Althusser (1971) concludes with an examination of the subject in/of ideology to mean both “a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions” and “a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting this submission.” The misunderstanding that necessarily occurs from this opposition is the unwillingness to recognize the “the reproduction of the relations of production and of the relations deriving from them.” Hall concludes similarly. Reproducing the relations of production — the ideological positions of television broadcasters — is necessary for Hall’s (1973/2007) “perfectly transparent communication” (p. 485), the equivalence of encoding and decoding. Because perfectly transparent communication does not exist — because the relations of production cannot be perfectly reproduced on both sides of Hall’s encoding/decoding diagram — misunderstanding occurs. We miss the vital importance of ideological positions in communication, just as Althusser suggests we miss the vital importance of ideological positions (beyond the State itself) in the struggle of the subject to be free of State ideology.


Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation). In B. Brewster (transl.) & A. Blunden (trans.), Louis Althusser archive. Retrieved from (Original work published in Lenin philosophy and other essays)

Hall, S. (2007). Encoding, decoding. In S. During (ed.), The cultural studies reader (3rd ed.). London, UK: Routledge. (Original work published 1973)

[ Feature image: The Control Room. CC licensed image from Flickr user Jonathan ]