Institutions and the Manipulation of the Public Psyche

by The Editor

The following will provide an account of the manipulation of the cultural-political public psyche, with primary reference being to the classification of certain types of behaviour of British school-children as ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’ as an example of the means via which institutions are able to instil particular modes of thinking, which manifests in the formation of an intended ideology.

By Olivia Pistun

The following will provide an account of the manipulation of the cultural-political public psyche, with primary reference being to the classification of certain types of behaviour of British school-children as ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’ as an example of the means via which institutions are able to instil particular modes of thinking, which manifests in the formation of an intended ideology.


Much of this report will contain specific terminology, the definition of which may not initially appear clear. It is for this purpose that this section is dedicated to the clarification of these terms in order to prevent any possible confusion or misunderstanding of the desired denotation of a particular term or phrase.

Def. 1:
By ‘ideology’ or ‘public psyche’, that which is expressed is namely the framework through which one views the world. Specifically, ‘ideology’ is used here to denote a mode of perception or understanding of a particular. The following report will explore the two-tier method of the reinforcement of a desired ideology, namely through the creation of a status quo as a means of legitimising the interests of the ruling class.

Def. 2:
By ‘ruling class’, we refer to the body which utilises the means of production to promulgate its interest(s), specifically those with a degree of authority enabling them to act with certain influence over a significant number.

Def. 3:
The ‘means of production’ is understood best when considered first in its literal sense; that is, the resources and their utilisation as way of generating a particular result. Materially, one can take this to refer to the tools and their application in the production of material items, but in this context we draw on Louis Althusser’s use of the phrase to understand the means of production in terms of that which is able to generate or regenerate ideology (product) - namely state apparatuses.

Def. 4:
By ‘state apparatus’ we may refer to either a) the repressive, or b) the ideological. A ‘state apparatus’ may be said to be a body within a polity which influences, coerces, or controls. The ‘repressive’ refers to the state apparatuses which utilise force – namely the police, the armed forces, courts, and government– coercing directly and overtly. In contrast, the ‘ideological’ state apparatuses act to influence (not necessarily intentionally, but at times simply inevitably) the mode of thought or psyche of an individual or group through the propagation of its own ideology. The family and the Church - both of which by their nature disseminate their customs and values, the media - which is discriminatory in the information it makes available and intentional in the manner in which it offers information, and educational institutions (the influence of which is to be examined in this report) all serve as ideological state apparatuses.


The case in point herein regards the procedures taken, disciplinary and otherwise, by carers and teachers in nurseries and primary schools in response to attitudes and behaviour of children perceived as ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’. Particular reference is to the information published in The Daily Telegraph on the 24th of May 2012 whereby it is stated that there have been 87,915 reported incidents of racism between 2007 and 2011, some concerning children “as young as four”, primarily involving playground name calling, examples of which are supposed insults such as “broccoli head”, “those people”, “chocolate bar”, and “Kala Bander”, meaning “black monkey” and used primarily by Bangladeshi children in Tower Hamlets to tease other Bangladeshi children. [1]

Such action chiefly stems from the 2000 Race Relations Act (amended in 2011 to “allow schools to use their own judgement”) which requires schools to report any cases of “hate speech” to local authorities. This requirement followed the Macpherson Report of 1999 which outlined that a) "A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person", [2] b) “that the term "racist incident" must be understood to include crimes and non-crimes in policing terms. Both must be reported, recorded and investigated with equal commitment” [3] and c) “that this definition should be universally adopted by the Police, local Government and other relevant agencies”. [4]

The implications of these given sections are that what is deemed to be ‘racist’ is subject to the discretion of any one individual; that behaviour deemed to be ‘racist’ is of such gravity that it is to be considered in the same respect as any other criminal offence - victimless or otherwise - and responded to accordingly; that this definition is to be the official standard by which ‘racism’ is identified.


The initial investigation into this subject will concern matters relating to that of the relevance of language. In doing so it is first necessary to briefly comment on the structure and operation of language in order to gain a concept of its significance as a method of manipulation of ideology or of the psyche. Language in its practical application is not a system that works along a rigid set of laws akin to those of mathematics; rather, it is an order heavily dependent on contextual use to convey a particular meaning. Language is learnt not by simply assigning words to objects, but in understanding what is being referred to within the context of discourse.

For clarity, we shall herein speak of terminology and meaning in terms of ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’: the signifier being the word or symbol used to denote or convey a particular meaning or understanding, i.e. that which is signified. The combination of the signifier and the signified produces and overall ‘sign’ – the understanding of the two as a singular: not isolated from each other but inextricably linked in the mind of the receiver.

Referring at last to the case in point: Children who appear to use language or behave in a way that suggests differentiation between themselves and a particular ‘other’ are reprimanded and reported as ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’ despite the likelihood of the ‘signifier’ relating to a completely different ‘signified’ in the mind of a child than in that of an adult. For example, the playground insult “gaylord” is unlikely to mean to signify any form of homophobia given its primary use is among children of an age when they are unaware of sex of any form, whereas an adult will likely have a different conception of the term due to the prevalence of issues relating to sex and sexuality (and the language associated with the matter) in their world, that the initial means of understanding the playground term is in the context of the adult’s world as opposed to the child’s. However in the mind of the adult forms a definitive sign representing to them an instance of homophobia, with section 12 of chapter 47 of the Macpherson Report outlining that as such the final judgement of the matter does indeed lie with the adult in this case.

In reference again to differentiation, it is apparent that there has been a clear disregard for the historical definition of race as taken to mean the greater division of the human species, primarily based on physical constitution and temperament, categorised by J. F. Blumenbach into six groups: Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Negroid, and American. [5] What is occurring is a manipulation of context as a means of redefinition. In assigning the term ‘racist’ to, and condemning, a situation of differentiation in which the point of reference (race) is not the historic conception as outlined above, but refers now to almost any group of people who share a certain commonality different to those of the subject - be they ethnic, national, regional, or without nation (gypsies, asylum seekers, refugees [6]), or any thing relating to the culture of these groups - there develop in the mind of the subject negative overtones relating to recognising a particular inherent difference between persons x and y.

What can be witnessed is a deliberate attempt to create a type of ‘myth’ whereby the signifier is to henceforth represent - without reference to the historical definition and construction of a particular term - a newly constructed conception, namely that of any recognition of difference between certain groups as connoting something entirely negative.

The above serves as a prime example of the workings of what Louis Althusser defines as an Ideological State Apparatus (see Def. 4). In the creation and maintenance of said myth, what occurs is the production and reproduction of the desired ideology. Stemming from the institutions (courts) that formally redefined the way in which a ‘racist incident’ may be identified, administrators of educational institutions put into practice the behaviours intended by this initial redefinition, subsequently altering not only the ideology of the ‘mass’ (in this instance, schoolchildren) but also that of themselves, for in the continuous practical application of a new manner of thinking, this manner quickly becomes ingrained.

What is evinced in this example is the manner in which the Ideological and the Repressive state apparatuses work in harmony, and the cyclical reinforcement of ideology between the ruling classes and the ruled.

In creating a myth among a generation whereby such negative emphasis is placed on the manner of differentiation outlined above, what occurs is a form of negative interpellation. Rather than experiencing a strong sense of identity with a particular, one’s concern for one’s own reputation and ability to assert one’s social standing results in stronger consideration for the negative view in which differentiation is held by others, thereby culminating in a sense of necessity to form an ideology against the new subject of contempt, and to be in favour with the apparent ‘mass’ which harbours this disdain.

The eventual outcome of this myth creation/generation and regeneration of this ideology (termed here as ideology because what is produced is a new means of understanding) is a status quo not only amongst the new generation but also between this generation and the ruling classes which sought to implement this mode of thought.

This common ideology - which in this case manifests itself in changes of behaviour (namely in ceasing to exhibit manners indicative of recognition of difference by schoolchildren, and the methods of identifying recognition of difference by schoolteachers) – is what serves as justification for (or at least enables) further measures to be taken by the Repressive State Apparatus. The passing and enforcement of legislation, for example, related to the effective classification of ‘racism’ by this new definition as criminal behaviour will not be opposed by those who now think in a like manner.


Whether or not the examples of supposed racism or homophobia noted in the above are representative of common causes for report or whether they are extreme examples isolated by journalists to illustrate a particular absurdity is unclear. What is relevant however, is that educational institutions have the power to subjectively deliberate over what constitutes racism, homophobia, or other hate speech and take affective disciplinary measures in response to this - powers bestowed upon them by another ruling class as a means of reproducing the specified ideology which will in turn trickle down and become incorporated into the consciousness of an age that will see no need to oppose any measures taken to further enshrine such conceptions of ‘hate’ speech/behaviour both in law and , in effect, the public psyche.



[1] Hart, A. 2009. Anti-Racist Policy and the Regulation of School Life. Manifesto Club. London, UK.

[2] Section 12, Chapter 47, Macpherson Report, 1999

[3] Section 13, Chapter 47, Macpherson Report, 1999

[4] Section 14, Chapter 47, Macpherson Report, 1999

[5] Blumenbach, J. F. 1865. Anthropological Treatises of Blumenbach and Hunter.Anthropological Society. London, UK.


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