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The Sociology of Karl Marx Part Two: Classical Social Theory


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Title: The Sociology of Karl Marx Part Two: Classical Social Theory

The Sociology of Karl Marx Part Two Classical
Social Theory
  • Agenda
  • Objective
  • 1. To understand the sociology of Karl Marx and
    its contributions to the field of sociology.
  • Schedule
  • Lecture, Discussion, and Video Clips developing
    the social theory of Karl Marx
  • Homework
  • 1. Country Boys Reflection Due Thurs 9/20
  • 2. Read Marx Packet keep track of evidence
    of your work.
  • 3. Critical Thinking Assignments Due Wed 10/17
  • 4. Marx, Weber, Durkheim Paper Due Wed 10/24

What is Classical Theory?
  • Wrapping Up From Last Class

What is Classical Social Theory? Background
  • Many of the seeds for what would later become
    sociology were first planted in the Enlightenment
    (late 1600s to late 1700s).
  • During the Enlightenment, a number of
    long-standing ideas and beliefs were turned
    upside down.
  • One of the new ideas
  • introduced was the
  • notion that science and
  • reason could be used to
  • understand both the
  • physical and natural
  • world.

What is Classical Social Theory? Background
  • The rise of science in turn gave birth to
    sociology in the mid 1800s.
  • The central idea behind the new discipline of
    sociology was that society could be the subject
    of scientific examination just like biological
    organisms or the physical properties of material
  • In fact, sociology was originally called social
  • The goal of early sociologists was to
    uncover--rationally and scientifically--the laws
    of the social world.

What is Classical Social Theory? Background
  • While sociology as a
  • discipline arises out of the
  • Enlightenment it is the
  • changes brought on by the
  • Industrial Revolution
  • (late 1700s to early 1900s)
  • that gave new impetus to
  • the field.
  • The new field of sociology sought to understand
    the causes and effects of the dramatic economic,
    social, and political developments occurring
    during the Industrial Revolution.
  • The writings of these sociologists form the basis
    of classical theory.

What is Classical Social Theory?
  • Classical social theory refers to the work of
    early sociologists who sought to understand the
    revolutionary change occurring in 19th century
  • We will read works by three classical social
  • Karl Marx
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Max Weber
  • Together they form the
  • trinity of classical
  • sociological thought.

Why Study Classical Social Theory?
  • Many students find it difficult to understand and
    interpret what classical theorists have to say.
  • Many more wonder what the point is of studying
    the ideas of old, dead, white guys how are their
    ideas relevant to our world today.
  • There are two reasons why studying the works of
    classical social theorists are important
  • The ideas articulated by classical theorists lay
    the foundation of sociology as a discipline.
  • The theories they put forth still guide
    contemporary theory and research.
  • For example, we are still concerned with the
    nature of capitalism, the role of authority in
    social life, the dynamics of gender and racial
  • The concepts and ideas introduced by classical
    theorists thus help us to better understand our
    world today.

Plan for Our Study of the Classical Theorists
  • Discuss assignments
  • and plan of study.

The Social Theory of Karl Marx
Karl Marx
  • 1818-1883
  • German
  • Attended the University of Berlin and earned a
    doctorate in Philosophy.
  • While in university he joined a radical leftist
    group called the Young Hegelians.
  • After graduation he earned a reputation as a
    radical and was exiled to London.
  • Spent most of his career living in poverty while
    writing his famous works.

Friederich Engels
  • 1820 1895
  • German
  • Self-educated in philosophy
  • Worked in England for his fathers textile firm
    where he personally observed the working
    conditions of industrial English workers
  • Financially supported Marx throughout his career

  • Marx and Engels

  • Together, Marx and Engels are the founder of
  • Set of political, economic, historical, and
    sociological ideas put forth by Karl Marx and
    Fredrich Engels.
  • Key Texts
  • Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844
  • The German Ideology (1845)
  • The Communist Manifesto (1848)
  • Das Capital (1867)

Marxism Historical Context
  • Like all of the classical theorists we will study
    Marx and Engels are writing against the backdrop
    of the Industrial Revolution.
  • They are particularly appalled at the development
    of capitalism and the problems it created in an
    industrial society.
  • What is capitalism?
  • What problems did it create
  • in an industrialized society?
  • It is in their engagement
  • with and thinking about this
  • new capitalist and industrial
  • world that drives the
  • development of Marxist ideology.

View of Human Nature and History
  • Marxs view of human nature is the starting point
    of his theory.
  • It is from his understanding of human nature that
    all other assumptions derive.
  • Marx says that what is unique about human nature
    is that humans possess species-being.
  • What is species-being?

  • What makes humans unique from animals is that
    humans create.
  • Moreover, in the act of creating humans come to
    see their own nature.
  • When we create, we come alive, we become most
  • We relish in the act of creation, we see
  • We achieve our Platonic Form
  • Material production is supposed to be the
    conduit through which human nature is expressed,
    and the product ought to act as a mirror that
    reflects back our own nature - Allen (p. 43)

From Human Nature to Human History
  • Because creating is what makes a human a human,
    if we want o understand how man has experienced
    life over time, we must understand his
    relationship to production over time.
  • Marx is an Economic Determinist The economy is
    the defining factor of human existence.
  • It is the substructure from
  • which all other superstructures (politics,
    education, art, culture, religion, etc) is

Marxs Theory of History
  • To understand mans experience across
    time/history we have to understand mans
    experience in the economy.
  • Marx Theory of History is Material Dialectic (or
    Dialectical Materialism)

Hegelian Dialectic
  • Hegel saw history as a dialectic driven by ideas
  • For Hegel history was always moving forward
    toward some end point by the clashing of old
    ideas (thesis) with new ideas (antithesis) and
    eventually settling at a new equilibrium (the
    synthesis) until the whole process starts over

Hegelian Dialectic Example
Belief in the absolute rule of kings
The belief in the ideas of liberty, equality, and
fraternity generated by the French Revolution
The creation of constitutional monarchies
Marxs Dialect Material Dialectic
  • Marx, however, disagrees with Hegel that history
    is driven by the clashing of ideas.
  • Instead, Marx believes that what drives history?

Material Dialectic
  • Changes in the
  • means of
  • production, not
  • ideas, are what
  • drive history
  • The dynamics of
  • history are to be found in the economic
    system. In particular, class conflict and class

Class Conflict
  • What are classes?
  • Economic groups defined in terms of their
    relationship to the means of production
  • In any given society, there have always been two
  • Oppressing Class
  • Those that own the means of production
  • Oppressed Class
  • Those that do not own the means of production
  • But use the means of production for the benefit
  • of the oppressing class.

(No Transcript)
Stages of History and Class Conflict at Each Stage
Marxs Dialectic
  • Says, Yes Hegel, History is a dialectic process,
    but class conflict, not the conflict of ideas,
    drives history.
  • In any given society
  • when those two
  • opposing classes
  • come into conflict
  • it propels history
  • forward into a new
  • stage of history and
  • new classes emerge.
  • Ultimately these new classes will also come into
    conflict until history reaches its end point the
    classless society Marx and Engels call communism.
  • Scientific View of History

Communism The End of History
  • The final stage of history
  • Temporarily ruled by a
  • dictatorship of the
  • proletariat.
  • This gives way over time to
  • rule by a loose association.
  • In a communist society the state owns the means
    of production, but they do not dictate
  • Production is done from each according to his
    abilities to each according to his needs.

Social Life is Characterized by Conflict
  • According to the material dialectic, the engine
    of history is class conflict.
  • Thus for Marx, the engine of social change is
  • Social change occurs episodically through social
  • For Marx, revolution is unavoidable.

Economic Determinism (Again)
  • Marx thus believes in Economic Determinism
    economics determines the course of all human
  • Clashes between classes over changes in the means
    of production drive history forward.
  • Everything else in society comes from economics.

Two Important Pieces of Information Implied From
Marxs Theory of Knowledge
  • Knowledge is socially constructed
  • Power (both economic, intellectual, and
    political) stems from the ownership of the means
    of production

Two Social Classes in the Industrial Age
Bourgeoisie vs. Proletariat
  • Marx argued that the emergence of capitalism had
    ushered in a new stage of history in which there
    were two new opposing social classes.
  • Bourgeoisie (Oppressing Class)
  • Own the means of production
  • Factory owners, bankers
  • Proletariat (Oppressed Class)
  • Sell their labor and do not own the means of
  • Factory workers

View of Alienation
  • Proletariat experience three
  • types of alienation
  • 1. Alienation from
  • Species-Being
  • 2. Alienation from their
  • Product
  • 3. Alienation from Fellow Worker
  • Watch clip from Food Inc. Where do you see the
    three types of alienation?

False Consciousness
  • George Carlin Clip
  • (until 227)
  • What is false consciousness?
  • What does Marx argue is the role of religion in
    false consciousness?

Class Consciousness
  • Marx argues that the communism revolution -- the
    end of history -- will only come through the
    attainment of class consciousness.
  • The awakening that
  • comes when we overcome
  • our false consciousness
  • and recognize our class
  • position.
  • Clip The Philosophy
  • of Fight Club

Class Conflict in the Modern Age (Or the Coming
of the Communist Revolution)
2. Proletariat develop class consciousness and
come together as a class to realize their shared
interest in overthrowing capitalism
1. Individual members of the proletariat become
angry and may clash with individual members of
the bourgeoisie or may destroy the means of
3. Proletariat overthrow the bourgeoisie in a
violent and inevitable revolution leading the
creation of a communist society.
(No Transcript)
Marxs Contributions to Sociology
  • View of the individual/human nature
  • View of religion
  • View of inequality/stratification
  • View of knowledge/ideas
  • View of alienation
  • View of power
  • Society as consensus or conflict
  • View of the future (pessimist or optimist?)
  • Method (Way of Doing Sociology)
  • Aim of Sociology