Marx’s historical materialism is a powerful antidote to culturalist essentialism of the kind that became known as Orientalism after Edward Said. The Marxian perspective allows for a full consideration of the role of Western imperialism in hindering the development of the Middle East as well as in the deliberate preservation of archaic sociopolitical features in the region. The concept of Bonapartism that Marx developed in his writings on the French Second Empire is highly relevant to the analysis of the national-developmental experiences that emerged in the Middle East in the twentieth century. His insight on the reactionary aspiration of sections of the petite bourgeoisie confronted with capitalist transformation provides an important clue to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Marx’s theory of revolution as resulting from the blockage of economic development finds a most striking illustration in what is commonly designated as the Arab Spring.
This chapter argues that rather than being focused on the higher levels of consumption of aesthetic goods on the part of the educated class, Pierre Bourdieu’s main hypothesis in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste was concerned with how differences in class fractions as defined by total educational endowment (parental and individual) predict the extent to which individuals consume more artistically legitimate versus less artistically legitimate cultural forms. This argument leads naturally to Bourdieu’s understanding of the difference between the consumption styles of the educated (and less educated) classes as built from his understanding of differences in the formative experiences of different classes. The chapter develops the implications of this for contemporary debates regarding a more illuminating explanation of the omnivore taste phenomenon and other forms of aestheticized consumption.
Capital is the fundamental concept of modern social theory because capital is the foundation of bourgeois society. Unlike produced means of production, capital is a specific social form of production. A vast gulf separates Marx from the mainstream notion that capital is produced means of production. Inattention to production’s social form, a feature of the “bourgeois horizon,” shackles social theory: it puts capital out of sight. Capital is value whose value is increased. Value is enigmatic; a strange, “supersensible” social form of wealth, it results from commodity-producing labor. The topic of labor’s social form falls outside economics. Capital shapes and subsumes society in various ways. Marx identifies several forms of subsumption: formal, real, and ideal, as well as “hybrid forms.” Commerce makes capitalist society appear classless; however, capital presupposes a class division of the means of production and subsistence. Crises are seeded in the dichotomous character of commodities.
This chapter explicates Marx’s concept of capital and highlights its centrality to his book Capital, arguing that Capital is specifically about capital, not all of capitalist society. In Marx’s conception, capital has two forms, money and means of production, but capital itself is the process of self-expansion of value, or valorization. The commodity fetish and subsumption of labor under capital are explored in relation to this. Employing Marx’s concept of the circuit of capital, the chapter considers his theory that value self-expands by extracting surplus labor and his understanding of the reproduction and accumulation of capital. It also argues that failure to rigorously respect the difference between constant capital and the value of means of production is one source of allegations that Marx’s value theory and falling-rate-of-profit theory are logically inconsistent or incorrect. Finally, his theory of surplus-value is compared to the view that interest is a “return to capital.”
This chapter argues that capital in general and competition are the two main levels of abstraction in Marx’s theory in Capital and that they correspond to the theories of the production of surplus value in Capital I and II and the distribution of surplus value in Capital III. The main question addressed at the level of capital in general is the production of surplus value or the determination of the total surplus value produced in the economy as a whole. The main question addressed at the level of abstraction of competition is the distribution of surplus value, or the division of the total surplus value into individual parts (first the equalization of the rate of profit across industries and then the further division of the total surplus value into commercial profit, interest, and rent).
Capitalist Social Reproduction: The Contradiction between Production and Social Reproduction under Capitalism
Martha E. Gimenez
This entry will look at Marx’s theoretical contributions to social reproduction in relationship to critical assessments of his alleged “neglect” of reproduction and to the development of the social sciences, particularly the “radical” social sciences that emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and continued to develop ever since. Marx, as well as Engels, offered important insights for understanding social reproduction as an abstract feature of human societies that, however, can only be fully understood in its historically specific context (i.e., in the context of the interface between modes of production and social formations). Social reproduction in the twenty-first century is capitalist social reproduction, inherently contradictory, as successful struggles for the reproduction of the working classes, for example, do not necessarily challenge capitalism. Finally, this article argues that radical social scientists, because they identify the capitalist foundations of the social phenomena they study, have made important contributions to the study of capitalist reproduction.
Max Weber’s distinction between class and status, identifying caste as the latter, is the single most important influence on the mainstream sociology of caste. There is ambiguity in Weber’s conceptualization in the sense that the contrast between class and status is marked by precarity in the long run when stabilization of economic power serves as a condition for the predominance of status usurpations. This ambiguity remains unresolved in Weber’s conceptual formulation. Mainstream sociology of caste owing allegiance to Weber reifies the contrast between caste as status and class. In Weber, caste is part of global-historical enquiry. In mainstream sociology, caste is uniquely Indian. It is argued that a critical scrutiny separating the rational and historically verifiable from the irrational empirically-historically unverifiable elements in Weber’s conceptual and theoretical formulations will enrich the Weberian legacy. Similarly, historical, cross-cultural comparative study will liberate caste from the myth of Indian exceptionalism.
Tomás Rotta and Rodrigo Teixeira
This entry presents an analysis of the commodification of knowledge and information in contemporary capitalism. We provide a consistent account of how information as a commodity effects the workings of both capitalism and of Marxist theory. The first part of the chapter critically revisits Marx’s own writings on the commodification of knowledge and how the immaterial labor hypothesis initially interpreted these writings. Based on the new categories knowledge-commodity and knowledge-rent, we then present our own approach in response to the challenges raised by the immaterial labor hypothesis. Lastly, there is an analysis of the more recent contributions on the commodification of knowledge and information within the Marxist literature. The current debate on the value of knowledge has been divided between two camps: the reproduction cost approach and the average cost approach. Finally, there is a look at empirical estimates of the magnitudes of knowledge-rents.
Mark R. Rank
This concluding article proposes a new paradigm in which to understand poverty, focusing primarily on the United States even as several dimensions of the paradigm apply globally across other countries. It first considers the major tenets of the “old” paradigm, which is to a large extent a reflection and affirmation of both the free market economic structure and the culture of individualism that have profoundly shaped the American ideology. It then introduces the new paradigm, which aims to stimulate a fundamental shift in how we conceptualize and act toward the problem of poverty, and some of its major themes: poverty results from structural failings; poverty is a conditional state in which individuals move in and out; poverty constitutes deprivation; poverty as injustice; the condition of poverty affects and undermines each one of us.
Eric J. Arnould and Craig J. Thompson
Consumer culture theory (CCT) refers to a heteroglossic assemblage of theoretical perspectives and methodological orientations that seeks to illuminate the dynamic, interactive relationships among consumer actions, marketplace systems, cultural meanings, and broader sociostructural forces, such as socialization in class and gender practices and ideologies. This chapter traces out the historical evolution of CCT and the four major domains of theoretical interests that organize its research program. Using Jeffrey Alexander’s metaphor of disciplinary fault lines, this chapter profiles the intellectual tangencies that link CCT to cultural sociology and their respective points of differentiation. It further discusses how the future trajectories of CCT research are likely to be shaped by actor-network, flat ontologies, and efforts to more directly address macro-level societal problems emanating from the logics of consumerism and the neoliberalization of global consumer culture.
This article examines Weber’s partial and fragmentary discussions of power and domination. It reconstructs a basis for Weber’s argument through introducing ideas of persuasive and coercive influence and shows how Weber examined these forms of power in structures of class and status and in views of state authority and patterns of domination in economic markets. It is shown that the Weberian conceptualization can illuminate many ongoing debates in studies of corporate power and control over state power. The application of the ideas is considered through current evidence on the financialization and globalization of economic domination and the transformation and globalization of state power in contemporary capitalism.
Erik Olin Wright
Marx’s formulation of a theory of transcending capitalism is unsatisfactory for two main reasons: 1) the dynamics of capitalism may generate great harm, but they do not, as Marx claimed, inherently make capitalism unsustainable or generate the structural foundations of a collective actor with a capacity to overthrow capitalism; 2) the vision of a system-level rupture with capitalism is not a plausible strategy replacing capitalism by a democratic-egalitarian economic system. Nevertheless, there are four central propositions anchored in the Marxist tradition that remain essential for understanding the possibility of transcending capitalism: 1) capitalism obstructs the realization of conditions for human flourishing, 2) another world is possible, 3) capitalism’s dynamics are intrinsically contradictory, 4) emancipatory transformation requires popular mobilization and struggle. These four propositions can underwrite a strategic vision of eroding the dominance of capitalism by building democratic-egalitarian economic relations within the contradictory spaces of capitalism.
This chapter summarizes Marx’s vision of a socialist/Communist society, sets out the defining characteristics of democracy and planning, and assesses the historical experience of the Soviet Union’s model of centralized command planning, the Yugoslav model of self-managed market socialism, and the Latin American attempts at twenty-first century socialism. This is followed by an evaluation of the three principal contemporary theoretical models of a possible future socialist/Communist economy: market socialism; Parecon, a version of electronic socialism; and the author’s own model of democratic planning through social ownership and negotiated coordination. The chapter ends with an exposition of the model of democratic planning, responses to criticisms, and a summarizing conclusion.
Weber’s writings on economic history, economic policy, and schools of economics and his teaching of economics are outlined. His engagement with, and expertise in, economics are revealed to be more extensive than is generally appreciated. The full potential of his major work Economy and Society has yet to be exploited, and this requires a clearer grasp of Weber as an economist. His critique of the scientific claims of modern economics is still relevant, and this is illustrated through his use of the Austrian marginalist school. The appropriation of Weber’s supposed individualist social science by Mises and Hayek is shown to be misplaced. The relevance of Weber’s writings as an economist for the analysis of contemporary “neoliberal” societies is explored. Weber combines a knowledge of neoclassical economics with an awareness of how economic power is deployed to seek out profit opportunities. The similarities between the liberal laissez-faire economics of his day and the neoliberal regime that has taken hold since the 1980s now allow us to appreciate fully his economic sociology and apply it to contemporary capitalist practices. Weber’s analysis of the economic division of labor yields a conceptual distinction between rentier and acquisitive capitalism and explains how rentiers can form a status group and intervene in bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Weber’s distinctive approach makes possible the analysis of the interrelation between economic power, economic ideas, and the spheres of politics and social stratification.
What one understands about dialectics often depends on the order in which it is presented. This article begins with the philosophy of internal relations, in which everything is conceived of in terms of relations and processes, and its accompanying process of abstraction, which enables us to focus on and separate out the part(s) of these relations and processes that are best suited for studying the problem(s) at hand. All the other steps Marx takes in his dialectical method, such as “dialectical laws,” “inquiry,” “self-clarification,” “exposition,” and “the identity of theory and practice” can only work as well as they do on the basis of these foundations.
Paul Prew, Tomás Rotta, Tony Smith, and Matt Vidal
This chapter is the introduction to The Oxford Handbook of Karl Marx. It demonstrates the continuing applicability of Marx’s concepts and theories to understanding twenty-first century capitalism, its crises, and the historical development of human society across varying modes of production. It presents an intellectual biography linking the major moments in Marx’s life to his ideas and theories. The biography also gives insight into Marx’s approach to research by focusing more closely on the method he outlined in the Grundrisse. It demonstrates, among other things, that Marx continually revised his ideas in light of new evidence or theoretical understanding. The chapter concludes with brief summaries of the handbook’s contributions, paying specific attention to the ongoing relevance of each chapter to societal concerns. While the introduction introduces the reader to the varied chapters in the handbook, it goes beyond mere summary to provide fresh insight into Marx’s life, work, and promise.
Robert J. Antonio
Distinguished by extreme, systematized rationalism, Weber argued, bourgeois culture makes the social world in some ways more predictable and more comfortable but precludes a widely shared good life and social justice. He stressed emphatically that free-market capitalism, by maximizing formal rationality oriented to capital accounting and profitability, produces substantively “irrational” consequences that undermine the sociocultural and material fabric needed to sustain it. More than forty years of neoliberal restructuring, designed to accelerate capital accumulation at almost any cost, has generated massive corporate scandals, extreme economic inequalities, and global environmental problems that threaten its political legitimacy and social and ecological foundations. This chapter explores how Weber anticipated the types of substantive irrationalities suffered by today’s neoliberal regimes.
Labor unions occupy a paradoxical position within Marxist theory. They are an essential yet limited vehicle for shaping the working class into a collective actor, as unions’ role is to manage the employment relationship, not transform it. This chapter assesses how that paradox has shaped Marxist debates surrounding trade unions. Unlike previous socialists, Marx and Engels highlighted unions’ necessity, while noting their structural limitations. Capitalism’s resilience after their deaths, combined with working class weakness and conservatism, led some Marxists to conclude that unions were irredeemable, destined to obstruct revolutionary impulses and create a conservative “labor aristocracy.” Others resisted this conclusion, focusing on the need for mass action and organic working-class leadership to ensure unions’ vitality. As the postwar “consensus” between labor and capital pushed revolution off the table, many Marxists adapted, with some abandoning the working class as a revolutionary agent. For the minority who did not, their task was not simply to denounce the bureaucratic and conservative character of existing unions, but how to rebuild dynamic working-class organizations in a context where labor and the left were separated. This task became more challenging as the postwar expansion came to a halt in the 1970s. While neoliberal restructuring and attacks on unions led some to pronounce the “death of class,” others cautioned not to confuse class recomposition with class disappearance. The challenge was how to rebuild power as workers’ traditional organizational vehicles faltered. This problem persists today, although some signs of renewed working-class dynamism are emerging.
This article reviews the three conceptual stages of the determinants of the commodities’ value in Marx’s Capital. It concludes that the dynamic second stage (designed in 1866–1867) overrules the third stage—of prices of production (designed 1864–1865). The first stage (Capital I, Part 1) is an important, though static averages account, positing that the commodities’ value is determined by average socially necessary labor time. The second stage (Capital I, Part 4) is a dynamic account of the “intensity of labour” and the mainly technology determined “productive power of labour,” each one implying, first, that clock-time of labor is an insufficient measure and, second, that rates of surplus value diverge between sectors of production. Whereas intensity determined intersector rates of surplus value might equalize due to intralabor competition, Marx posits no mechanism for such equalization regarding the technology determined productive power. The third stage posits the transformation of values into prices of production (Capital III, Part 2—its text being based on a manuscript from 1864–1865). The article’s main finding is that the determinant of the “technology associated productive power” was a novel result of Marx’s 1866–1867 final version of Capital I (1867). It makes Marx’s earlier third stage redundant.
This entry begins with a summary of the almost universally accepted “standard view” of technological change in capitalism. Marx’s alternative account of the role of technology in capitalist society is then presented, followed by a survey of essential tendencies regarding technological change associated with each phase in the circuit of capital. The chapter concludes with an examination of four long-term consequences of technological change in the course of capitalism’s historical development: environmental crises, limits to wage labor as a social form, severe global inequality, and persisting overaccumulation difficulties. Together they establish that more than ever the fundamental question confronting our historical moment is the stark alternative: “Socialism or barbarism?”