In "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Louis Althusser asks the traditional Marxist question of how are conditions and relations of production being reproduced and maintained is society. Althusser's answer is that two types of mechanisms are at play here: "repressive state apparatuses which gain abidance and cooperation from the public through physical coercion means such as the police, army, prisons, courts etc. the other type of mechanism Althusser notes are the "ideological state apparatuses". ideological state apparatuses are somewhat reminiscent of Gramsci's concept of hegemony and soft power. According to Althusser ideological state apparatuses" are sustained by cultural institutions such as the education system, the church, the family, media and culture. The ideological state apparatuses gain free willed cooperation and a sense of choice of what is in reality imposed.
Althusser holds that both repressive state apparatuses and ideological state apparatuses operate together by combining repression and ideology, with the difference between them being the different nature of their workings. From here Althusser turns to defining the concept of ideology, dominant in the ideological state apparatuses, which serves to perpetuate class subordination and exploitative relations of production over generations.
In "On Ideology" Althusser lists five key features of ideology:
1. ideology has no history
2. ideology operates people
3. ideology "represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
4. Ideology has a material existence.
5. Ideology hails or interpolates concrete individuals as subjects and individuals are always already-subjects.
Althusser's ideological state apparatuses work through material practices which interpolates individuals into subjects of ideology. This action is enables by the existence of a unique and total Subject (in religion: god). This can be understood through the role Althusser grants to his concept of double specularity in ideology, double specularity being a doubled mirror effect.
The structure of ideology for Althusser is a centered one with the subject in its middle and society around him in a way the assures all concerned that indeed they are who they are and he is who he is. In other words, ideology and ideological state apparatuses work as a double mirror in that that they first establish the individual's relation to the reality of his life and then certify that this is really the way things are and could not be otherwise. In this manner ideology gets people to operate on their own free will.