Derived from Baruch Spinoza's conception of God as the immanent cause of all things, Louis Althusser used this term to characterize the causal relationship between abstract entities like the social totality and concrete entities such as economic, political, and ideological institutions (e.g. banks, political parties, and schools). The structure is thus said to be immanent in its effects, which means it only exists in its effects and therefore cannot be separated from its effects. It is for this reason also defined as an absent cause because it is nowhere present in and of itself as an actual element. The most straightforward example of this is the notion of the universe: it is literally everywhere, but can in no way be separated out as a singular entity. Similarly, one can say we live in society, but the abstract entity ‘society’ is nowhere in evidence. Applied to God, as in Spinoza's thought, this notion was seen as heretical by Spinoza's peers because it denied the idea of a transcendental God distinct from His creation. In The Political Unconscious (1981), Fredric Jameson shows that the idea of structural causality can be mobilized to develop political readings of cultural texts by treating the economy in the fullest sense of the word as an absent cause. See also ideological state apparatus; interpellation.
L. Althusser Lire le capital (1968), translated as Reading Capital (1970).G. Elliott Althusser: The Detour of Theory (1987).
Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.