Monday, July 17, 2017

Marxist Influences in Sociology

Marxism remains a vibrant presence on its own and within several social science disciplines.  Sociologists Erik Wright and Michael Burawoy talk about two ways that sociologists incorporate Marxism into their thinking, “Using Marxism” and “Building Marxism.”   

Many sociologists use Marxism by adding Marxist ideas to those of others.  There is a kind of “common-sense” sociology today that focuses on issues of inequality and conflict, which combines the ideas of Marx with those of Weber and many others. You can see this in theories of social movements and collective action, for example, Charles Tilly’s From Mobilization to Revolution.

A smaller number of sociologists commit themselves to building Marxism as a distinct theory of society, history, and social change.   Accepting the failure of socialist revolution, many Marxists over the last eighty years or so have focused on the “social reproduction” of capitalism.   This means looking at the mechanisms that mitigate the contradictions of the system and dampen tendencies toward militancy. The work of Gramsci and several generations of critical theory are devoted to this. Other Marxists have focused on capitalism as a world system, in which contradictions and inequalities play out between core and peripheral societies. Still other Marxists have worked at unpacking the idea of socialism and coming up with specific changes in capitalist societies that might counter the logic of the market and exploitation.    Erik Wright’s  “Real Utopias” project is especially interesting. 

The specter of  Marx also haunts most other radical theories of society, which often begin as a critique of Marxism, especially in societies like France where Marxism was once so powerful.   Foucault, Bourdieu, and many other important “post-modern” social theorists developed their ideas as arguments with Marx.

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