Word Count: 442
Karl Marx & Critical Sociology— E. Hummer (Week 2)
The framework of critical sociology came from a man named Karl Marx. Marx believed that sociology should be used to not just analyze society but to change it (Little 13). This is where the basis of critical sociology began, and within that something else called historical materialism— a “materialist conception of history” (Little 13). Historical materialism is one of the five paradigms of sociology, and it focuses on “the study of how our everyday lives are structured by the connections between relations of power and economic power” (Little 30). Marx developed an intriguing theory that if a society is put into a pyramid, the base of that pyramid will be the economy of that society; everything else, the culture, family, religion, will be determined by the society’s economic mode of production (Little 175). This concept can be readily apparent when analyzing the shift to capitalism in American society.
When society started shifting from feudalism to capitalism, the capitalist class, which had power in having private ownership of industrial property, became revolutionary in this radical change (Little 176). However, the development of capitalism “brought into existence the class of ‘free’ wage laborers” (Little 176). Capitalism in America really took off around the beginning of the 20th Century, a few decades after the Civil War (“A Short History of American Capitalism”). What might not be obvious is that most of the people who came to be those “free” wage laborers were former slaves who had been freed from their indentured labor (Little 176). These workers were only now considered “free” because their labor was based on a contract, rather than being “bound to their masters” (Little 176). As Marx wrote, “this meant in effect that workers could sell their labor as a commodity to whomever they wanted, but if they did not sell their labor they would starve” (Little 176). So now, these “free” workers are constantly fighting to maintain a reasonable wage while still having to provide for their family. Additionally, the capitalists did not need to provide security or a place to live for their workers, as masters were forced to (Little 176). This whole system is an example of this societal pyramid with the economy being the foundation. This concept is mentioned by Hegel in the discussion of the Master and Slave dialect.
The entire point philosophers want to make when proclaiming critical sociology is that society can change and exploring history through this materialist approach can show why it needs to change. The work of Karl Marx is designed to show a “comprehensive explanation of the workings of the capitalist system – identifying exploitation, and therefore injustice, at its core” (McCabe).
“A Short History of American Capitalism: CAPITALISM DOMINANT, 1865-1920.” Newhistory.org, 2021, newhistory.org/CH07.htm. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.
Little, W. (2016). Introduction to Sociology: 2nd Canadian Edition. Retrieved from
https://opentextbc.ca/ introductiontosociology2ndedition. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.
McCabe, Eddie. “Karl Marx’s Theory of Class Struggle: The Working Class & Revolution.” Socialist Alternative, 6 May 2018, www.socialistalternative.org/2018/05/05/karl-marxs-theory-class-struggle-working-class-revolution/. Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.