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A Blog About Culture

Recognition, Situation, Identity, Reality

Apparently there were two or three classes that really stuck with me during History of Cultural Theory in undergrad, because the analogy of Althusser’s cultural “interpellation” is a subject that I frequently ponder. Makes me wonder how much more productive I could be if I had actually persevered through monotone lectures a little bit more attentively. Still,  something stuck, even if that idea is just a golden trophy to be sought through the maze of fog that’s my murky recollection. (Wait, I think that’s the fourth Harry Potter.) I’ve written about interpellation before, and in fact it’s the very notion behind this whole blog.

One of the analogies Althusser uses to describe the process of interpellation or cultural hailing is that of the policeman. You’re walking down the street, minding your own business, staring down at your iPhone and tweeting to the world that you’re walking down the street and minding your own business, when a cop shouts “Hey, you!”

  • a. He knows. Run!
  • b. Me? You talkin’ to me?

Somehow, for whatever reason, you know he’s talking to you. You hear his voice, translate his words into meaning, and figure it out. He might not actually be talking to you but you access that ability and do, for a second, think he means you.

It’s the same way when a lifeguard blows her whistle at a kid running on a pool deck. He might not even look up; he might just stop running. He might stumble but keep running. He knows he’s breaking the rules, and he knows that the whistle was meant for him: the guard can see his reaction.

It was the same way when I was out in Clarendon with a few girlfriends last night. We were talking happily, but in my peripheral vision I sensed a guy in a blue shirt looking at meThere’s one. Like a cat scoping bigger and badder predators, I stopped using my logical brain and instead kicked into my intuition. I could sense a shark circling, ready to chat. Yeah, he was looking at us. Yeah, he’s interested. So was I surprised when I noticed that he and his other blue shirt buddies had posted up near the windows behind us? No. I kept talking to Erin about my graduate program (because I am a N.E.R.D.), gestures included, but when I hear one voice in a crowded room say, “Excuse me,” Yes, I know you’re talking to us. 

So what’s happening? A combination of intuition, observation, interpellation? All three, I guess.

If all three happen in real life, then all three must also happen in theory, scholarship, activism, and ideas. Just an obvious little thought.


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