The lawn interpolates the subject

Ideology, according to Louis Althusser (1971), functions by appearing as non-ideological—indeed by denying and repelling its own ideological character. Social agents have ideas (e.g. turf aesthetics) that are actions (e.g. chemical application) inserted into material practices (e.g. lawn care). These practices, however, as Althusser further asserts, are themselves defined by the material ideological apparatus, a system of ideas through which the conditions of production and reproduction of the world (labour, chemicals, surplus, etc.) are represented back to the individual as a system of natural necessity and immediate practice (home, community, and nature).

As such, Althusser insists, ideology exists only by constituting individuals as subjects. The term subject has critical dual meaning here. It asserts a "free" subjectivity and an actor who acts freely—as in the subject of a sentence—while simultaneously implying a "subjected being, who submits to a higher authority". This dual identity is essential to the function of ideology to erase its own ideological character. The individual as subject must act "freely" while submitting fully. Subjects must "work by themselves" without evident coercion (Althusser 1971:182). Only then can the system of production and flow of surplus from the economy remain stable.

Althusser's argument remains somewhat abstract, by his own admission, specifically because the mechanisms through which social participants are "trained" and "have their roles assigned" to them in a capitalist society require a process of recognition, where the subject comes to recognize herself as a subject, and respond accordingly. The subject must be "hailed", named, recognized, self-recognized, or in Althusser's term: interpellated. In explaining this concept, Althusser draws on the example of a policeman calling to an individual on the street; in the moment the individual turns in recognition of the call, guiltily, they are the subject.

Such an explanation seems compelling for social structures like law enforcement, or perhaps the church, but is says little about the daily interactions that actually dominate our human behaviours in nature, economy, and community. In the case of the vast chemical economy, what does the interpellating? Who calls to the lawn chemical user so that they consistently respond as lawn tenders? Who's voice does the lawn owner hear as they open the door and look out on the grass, checking the moisture to determine whether it is time to mow?

The answer is, of course, the lawn itself. Desire and Diazanon, it can be argued, are demanded by turfgrass. When the lawn needs cutting, when its constituent species are rivaled by wild mints or fungi, when it becomes dry, its signals are apparent to the individual, whose response is an act of subjection, not only to the lawn, but to the ideology of community, and the global economy of turf maintenance. And in gazing into their landscapes, responding to the demands of the grass, and answering these calls, individuals become new kinds of subjects. Thus, as the turf draws its demands from the culture and the community, it helps to mould the capitalist economy into specific forms, and helps to produce peculiar kinds of people—turfgrass subjects. It is only these sorts of subjects who can together constitute lawn communities and produce lawn chemical economies. And they do so, working by themselves, in an effort to purify, tend, and maintain an object whose essential ecology is high maintenance, fussy, and energy demanding. Following Donna Haraway, therefore, we can suggest that subjection is not simply a process in which institutions act on the subject. Non-humans, like the lawn, "mere" objects, help to construct the subject (Haraway 1997).

It would not be trivial to add that the benefits of such subjection are passed along to the lawn itself, both as an individual resource-hungry front yard, but also as one of the largest monocultures across the face of North America. Moreover, the specific rhythms of the lawn, the timing of its specific needs, and the material practices required to produce them, all become the rhythms of the neighbourhood, where the chorus of mowers can be heard in near unison during dry daylight weekend afternoons, and the clicking of the Rainbird sprinkler sounds in the early morning hours.

It cannot therefore be argued that the industry and the advertising system it promulgates (showing happy people mowing lawns) produce the desires of the subject in any simple way. Indeed in this context, advertising, including detailed flyers explaining when and how to apply fertilizers and pesticides, must be seen as largely informational. Industry is not producing desire, but is rather responding to the need for information required for the material practice of lawn care by the turfgrass subject. Neither does community pressure, a clear driver for individual behavior, emerge in some simple way through the demands of industry. Rather, it can far more easily be argued that community pressures suit most directly the demands of turfgrass. Neighbors respond to the needs of Poacea not shareholders, staring over their back fences at brown patches and dandelions.

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