Interpellation, Counterinterpellation, and Education

David I Backer


In a recent essay in Rethinking Marxism, as part of a special issue on the legacy of Louis Althusser’s thinking, Tyson E. Lewis takes up Althusser’s thinking on schooling, trade unionism, and seminars to delimit the concepts of interpellation, counterinterpellation, and disinterpellation respectively. While Lewis’s work is a crucial first step for understanding the little-known contours of Althusserian pedagogical theory, he does not elaborate key theoretical work done on the concept of counterinterpellation, namely that of the Marxist philosopher of language Jean-Jacques Lercecle. Engaging with Lecercle’s work deepens Lewis’s novel argument around the newly-coined term disinterpellation, which he distinguishes as fundamentally educational, as opposed to interpellation and counterinterpellation, which he calls forms of political activism. If one considers Lecercle’s derivation of the concept, Lewis’s characterization of disinterpellation as educational and counterinterpellation as political activism changes somewhat, and broaches fundamental questions for Marxist educational theory. In this essay - which is a comment on Lewis’s important step towards Althusserian pedagogical theory - I will present Lecercle’s account of counterinterpellation, setting this concept within the larger context of Althusserian philosophy. I then respond to the equivalence Lewis draws between counterinterpellation and interpellation to advocate disinterpellation as a model for Marxist educational theory and practice, a move which poses two important questions for critical educational theory in the Marxist tradition: Is there a forceless force within what both Gramsci and Althusser called balance of forces of the political terrain, and must education be that forceless force? I show these questions and their implications have important theoretical consequences for Marxist educational theory and practice in general, and the specific theory and practice Lewis advocates.



Marxism; Althusser

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education