"Assess the contribution of marxism theories and research to our understanding of society today"

Notes from book and class

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Conflict theory- conflict is unavoidable as its embedded in society between the 2 main classes; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx lived from 1818- 1883 whihc was a time of great social upheaval etc.

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A Science of Society

People should be able to understand society and improve social order. Like Durkheim, marx believed in laws governinghuman society. Marxism is structuralist like functionalism. However, they arent basic positivists because people are both the product and producers of their society. We aren't forced into structures! He isn't as deterministic.


We need to use some interpretivist methods as we need to study emotion, for example, in oppression.

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Like Functionalism, all parts of society are linked but economic factors are of primary importance. But don't use the human body analogy they use the infrastructure diagram. See diagram also done by me!!! Classical marxism helps us understand how human society has changed over time. In the beginning of human society, we were living in an ideal way, communistically. Problems only came about when we owned property as were no longer equal. We owned land too. We then became alienated and worked for others (capitalism). there have only been 2 classes, the bourgeoisie and the proleteriat. One has always dominated the other. functionalists believe we have slowly adapted to change and are no longer oppressed .ENGELS= marxism has helped us to understand that all history is the history of class struggle. Dialectical movements of history. There has always been constant conflict and continuous circles of anger, rage etc. Constant adjustment to hegemonic control has helped history to change. Without this, history would never of changed. For hegemonic change there must be challenges e.g. industrialisation.

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Alienation is from the product, from the act of production and from each other. We became separated and had no satisfaction and had little autonomy. Most had very little money and factory work was their main focus. EVAL= we no longer work in factories. Many bosses want creative, autonomic people. We now have a lot more choice and flexibility concerning where, when and how we work. However, on public transport people are still looking oppressed etc. despite working in better conditions. The bourgeoisie and worried about being greedy so go to church to 'cleanse' their souls. Proleteriat use religion to improve their lives. The bourgeoisie are never satisfied. Marxism has also helped us understanf how we all make big mistakes as greed makes us sad etc. RELIGION= marxists believe that religion is a con. It works for capitalism and keeps proletariat working as 'it will improve'. Keeps the theodicy of disprivelege going. They say stop prying to the illusionary sun and help each other out. Don't rely on the invisible.

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Polarisation of The Social Classes

There are 2 social classes. According to most marxists, a revolution will happen when the social classes are further apart. in 2012. we are very apart. Anti- capitalist riots in Bristol... the revolution is starting! The history and the struggle will end and communism will start again. however, from what we have seen so far communist societies don't seem to work e.g. Soviet Union. But these are only experiments one day when done properly they will succeed. EVAL= there is also a middle class which is a high % of today's society. This is also outdated as we aren't all oppressed. Has polarisation actually happened? We also have more leisure time now- we have better homes, more holiday etc. There are other factors that can cause conflict not just social class such as patriarchy and racism. WEBER= He also says that status and power differences can cause conflict. Not everything is caused by economics... people do have autonomy. the super structure model neglects the role of ideas e.g. Weber's calvinistic protestantism which helped bring modern capitalism into being. MARX= his prediction of revolution have yet to have come true. only the economically backward have seen a revolution e.g. russia. In marx's defence, he did consider human actions e.g. the working class would free themselves if they used and listened to their conscious efforts.

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marxism has helped us understand:

1) A particular type of conflict in society- social class conflict                                       2) A purpose to sociology- we should examine society to improve it                            3) The value of the scientific/ positivist approach whilst recognising individual free will (social action theory)                                                                                                     4) The relationship between the infrastructure and superstructure                               5) The history of human society                                                                                    6) They tell us what would make society perfect- communism                                     7) They hope that conflict will end between the 2 social classes                                  8) How working life has been spoilt by capitalism- we should enjoy work                    9) How life should be about enjoyment and satisfaction                                             10) they have helped us see how religion is used by capitalism- the theodicy of disprivelege

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Evaluation of Classical Marxism

Marxism says that there are 2 social classes. Even in the 1800's when Marx stated this we coudl say he was incorrect as there was a middle class. As education expanded and we all became better educated and towards the middle class. Our class system is so complicated as we have at least 3 parts per one social class (upper, middle and lower upper class). He did notice this but he said that they still worked for the bourgeoisie. He also overemphasised conflict in social class. Its one dimensional as they ignore other conflicts e.g. patriarchy. WEBER= why aren't you studying religious conflict? DAHRENDORF= non- marxist conflict theory. there is conflict everywhere e.g. between teachers and pupils etc so feminists are blinkered too. the real issue is between the powerful and powerless. MARX= predicted and wanted a revolution from the working class and for the result to be a communist society but these haven't worked in the past so why will it work in the future? however these experiments were more like dictatorships so wouldn't have worked anyway.

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Since Marx's death in 1883, the absence of revolutions in the west has led to many marxists rejecting the economic determinism at the base of the superstructure model. instead they have tried to explain why capitalism has persisted and how it might be overthrown.  Humanistic/ Critical Marxism- Gramsci etc. He focusses on alienation and subjective experiences. marxism is a political critique of capitalism as they want it to be overthrown. Humans have free will. They are active agents who make their own history. Their consciousness and ideas are vital in changing the world. Socialism will come about when people become conscious of the need to overthrow capitalism. He also encourages political action believing that the time is also right for revolution. Scientific/ Structuralist Marxism- Althusser etc. He focusses on the laws of capitalist development working with iron necessity towards inevitable results. Marxism is a science. It discovers laws that govern how capitalism works. DETERMINISM= how structural factors determine the cause of history. Individuals are seen as passive puppets. Socialism will come about only when the contradictions of capitalism ultimately bring about the systems inevitable collapse.

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Neo- Marxism- (1880's+ Marx's Death onwards)= Gram

1930's. he encouraged rebellion against society. This is similar to social action theory. he examines the idea of free will. He wants us to create a dual consciousness. We need to produce a counter hegemony. We have to challenge instructions. e.g. liberation theology protests were motivated by religion. We need organic intellectuals to push change and challenge hegemony. The bourgeoisie push rules onto us to keep control and call them laws. Working class can create a counter- hegemonic block e.g anti- capitalist riots= a group of working class people who aren't listening to powerful as they have failed us. WILLIS= the lads were trying to challenge hegemony and believed that they were 'winning' but they actually weren't. Often those who create a block regret it as they lose on work etc. E.g. 2012= redundancies often happen to those who create a counter- hegemonic block so due to lack of jobs many just keep quiet. Hegemony tends to win unless there is religion behind it.

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Neo- Marxism- (1880's+ Marx's Death onwards)= Alth

The structuralist approach is more scientific . he doesn't focus on emotion like Gramsci. he focusses on how we can make scientific laws for society. Capitalist structures determine individual actions. compared to gramsci, there is less influence on free will . He discourages social action unlike Gramsci. He doesnt believe in simple long shadow effect of capitalism EVAL= but he is writing 100 years later!.           3 basic structures are political, ideological and economical. Political and ideological have relative autonomy  whilst economical is affected by money. These 3 structures affect each other and society. he also adds on how we are controlled. 1) OPPRESSIVE STATE APPARATUS 2) REPRESSIVE STATE APPARATUS. he predicts that the system will collapse then we can rebuild a better society without structures telling us how to live. EVAL= there is no hope here that we can do our own thing and think for ourselves. The only thing that will help is the collapse. This denies that we have any free will or intelligence.

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Naomi Burt


can't figure out which unit this is for?



This is my last Unit!!

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