Karl Marx, a prominent German philosopher, author, and economist in the 19th century, was a key contributor to the field of sociology through his explorations, research, and discoveries. As an author, some of his most important works include “The Communist Manifesto” and “Das Kapital”. These writings inspired generations of political leaders.
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Although, largely shunned and rejected by peers of his generation, Marx was able to successfully forge his own path in developing theories that helped explain the nature of human society’s development. The distinctive quality that separated Marx from other theorist was the fact that he placed so much emphasis on the economic structure and how it affected the rest of society from a materialistic point of view.
Marx directly shaped how we view the relationships between economics, politics, anthropology and sociology; hence Marxism. Marx brought forth a few ideas to the world, among them include how culture and class play meaningful parts in society. The fundamental concept of Karl Marx was the longstanding concern of social classes (broadly rich and poor – worker and owner) are in conflict. Marx’s theories about society argue that all society’s progress through the discussion of class struggle. He was disapproving of the current socio-economic model of society, capitalism, which he referred to it as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, believing it to be operated by the wealthy middle and upper classes solely for their own benefit, and predicted that it would naturally result in internal tensions which would contribute to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system, socialism.
Additionally, Marx’s theories on economics include: labor theory value, surplus value, surplus product, and exploitation. In Marxian theory, production means the generation of value. Like this, economic development is the process of more value generating, labor generates value. However, high level of production is possible through further accumulation of capital and technological advancement. Ultimately, class conflicts climb. Labor conflicts start and there is class uprising. Sooner or later, there is a collapse of capitalism and rise of socialism.
Furthermore, Marx asserts that economic forces in society can be exploitive and destructive, instead of purely competitive and productive. As a notable contributor to conflict theory, Marx argued that culture served to defend inequality. The ruling class produce a culture that upholds their well-being, whilst repressing the interests of the proletariat. His renowned quote to this meaning is that “Religion is the opium of the people”. Marx believed that the “engine of history” was the clash amongst groups of people with diverging economic interests and thus the economy determined the cultural superstructure of values and ideologies.
It should be noted, that throughout his travels in Europe, Marx saw much of poverty and inequality plaguing human society. Within the laboring class, or proletariat, and the ruling class, or bourgeoisie, discrepancies in the forms of resources, economic power, political influence was all too apparent among the two classes. According to Marx, the ruling class maximized their economic power through methods of exploitation against the laboring class.
These methods included paying laborers significantly less than what was owed, extending their working hours in ill suitable working conditions, and by seizing all profits earned from production instead of properly distributing them. Through this method of capitalization, the wealthy became even richer and the poor became even poorer. From this revelation, Marx formed a sociological perspective known as conflict theory that sought to explain that capitalisms growing presence was due to strife involving the ruling and working classes.
In summary, Karl Marx was one of the most influential people of his era. He changed the way people looked at societies and changed the world with his writings, theories, and way of thought.
Sociological theories give us contrasting viewpoints with which to examine our social world. A perspective is simply a way of observing the world. A theory is a set of interconnecting principles created to explain a phenomenon; it provides us with a perspective. Sociological theories allow us to interpret and predict the world we live in. Sociology consist of three main theoretical perspectives: the functionalist perspective, the conflict perspective, and the symbolic interactionist perspective (or simply the micro view). Each perspective presents a range of explanations about the social world and human nature.
As stated in the functionalist perspective of sociology, each facet of society is interdependent and is partly responsible for society’s stability and functioning. The functionalist perspective is rooted mostly in the works of Emile Durkheim. According to functionalism, society is a system of interconnected components that act in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the masses. For instance, if crime was non-existent, the jobs relating to lawyers, policemen, forensics scientists etc., would also not exist, this would result in high rates of unemployment. Another example of functionalism is that the ideal life in America during the 50’s would mean that men and women have each their own set of tasks to accomplish, each complimenting the other so that men would make money and women would care for the household.
Furthermore, functionalists believe that society is held together by social consensus, in which members of the society agree upon, and work together to achieve, what is best for society. This differs from the other two major sociological perspectives: symbolic interactionalism, which focuses on how people act according to their understanding of the meaning of the world they live in, and conflict theory, which focuses on the negative nature of society.
As previously stated, the functionalist perspective views society as composed of different parts working together. Conversely, the conflict perspective views society as composed of different groups and interest competing for power and resources. The conflict perspective explains various aspects of our social world by examining which group of people have power and benefit from a social setup. For example, race conflict approach which is a point of view that focuses on inequality and conflict between people of different racial and ethnic categories. This includes White Privilege which refers to the countless social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race, such as a clerk not following you around in a store or not having people cross the street at night to avoid you.
The basis of the conflict perspective can be drawn back to the notable works of Karl Marx. Marx asserts that all societies go through periods of economic development. As societies evolve from agricultural to industrial, concern over meeting survival needs is replaced by concern over making a profit. Industrialization leads to the development of two classes of people: the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production; and the proletariat, or the workers who earn wages.
Lastly, the symbolic interactionist perspective of sociology views society as a product of everyday social interactions of individuals. Symbolic interactionists also study how the meaning of objects, events, and behaviors comes from the interpretation people give them, with interpretations varying from one group to another.
Both the functionalist and the conflict perspectives are concerned with how broad aspects of society, such as institutions and large social groups, influence the social world. This level of sociological analysis is referred to as macro sociology: It looks at the big picture of society and suggests how social problems are affected at the institutional level. Micro sociology, another level of sociological analysis, is concerned with the social psychological dynamics of individuals interacting in small groups.
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