Base and superstructure

Base and superstructure

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Base and superstructure'
Start a new discussion about 'Base and superstructure'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
In Marxist theory
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

, human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

 society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 consists of two parts: the base and superstructure; the base comprehends the forces and relations of production
Relations of production
Relations of production is a concept frequently used by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their theory of historical materialism, and in Das Kapital...

 — employer-employee work conditions, the technical division of labour
Division of labour
Division of labour is the specialisation of cooperative labour in specific, circumscribed tasks and likeroles. Historically an increasingly complex division of labour is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialisation...

, and property relations — into which people enter to produce the necessities and amenities of life. These relations determine society’s other relationships and ideas, which are described as its superstructure. The superstructure of a society includes its culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, institution
Institution
An institution is any structure or mechanism of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals within a given human community...

s, political power structures, role
Role
A role or a social role is a set of connected behaviours, rights and obligations as conceptualised by actors in a social situation. It is an expected or free or continuously changing behaviour and may have a given individual social status or social position...

s, ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

s, and state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

. The base determines (conditions) the superstructure, yet their relation is not strictly causal, because the superstructure often influences the base; the influence of the base, however, predominates.

The model and its qualification


In developing Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis de Tocqueville
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution . In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in...

’s observations, Marx identified civil society as the economic base and political society as the political superstructure. Marx postulated the essentials of the base–superstructure concept in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy is a book by Karl Marx, first published in 1859. The book is mainly an analysis of capitalism, achieved by critiquing the writings of the leading theoretical exponents of capitalism at that time: these were the political economists, nowadays often...

(1859):
Marx’s "base determines superstructure" axiom, however, requires qualification:
  1. the base is the whole of productive relationships, not only a given economic element, e.g. the working class
  2. historically, the superstructure varies and develops unevenly in society’s different activities; for example, art, politics, economics, etc.
  3. the base–superstructure relationship is reciprocal; Engels explains that the base determines the superstructure only in the last instance.


Contemporary Marxist interpretations, such as those of critical theory
Critical theory
Critical theory is an examination and critique of society and culture, drawing from knowledge across the social sciences and humanities. The term has two different meanings with different origins and histories: one originating in sociology and the other in literary criticism...

, criticise this conception of the base–superstructure interaction and examine how each affects and conditions the other. Raymond Williams
Raymond Williams
Raymond Henry Williams was a Welsh academic, novelist and critic. He was an influential figure within the New Left and in wider culture. His writings on politics, culture, the mass media and literature are a significant contribution to the Marxist critique of culture and the arts...

, for example, argues against loose, "popular" usages of base and superstructure as discrete entities, which, he explains, are not the intention of Marx and Engels:

See also

  • Economic determinism
    Economic determinism
    Economic determinism is the theory which attributes primacy to the economic structure over politics in the development of human history. It is usually associated with the theories of Karl Marx, although many Marxist thinkers have dismissed plain and unilateral economic determinism as a form of...

  • Louis Althusser
    Louis Althusser
    Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy....

  • Classical Marxism
    Classical Marxism
    Classical Marxism refers to the social theory expounded by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as contrasted with later developments in Marxism.-Karl Marx:...

  • Dialectical Materialism
    Dialectical materialism
    Dialectical materialism is a strand of Marxism synthesizing Hegel's dialectics. The idea was originally invented by Moses Hess and it was later developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...

  • False consciousness
  • German Wikipedia, 2009-08-07 has a substantial article on subject.
  • Historical materialism
    Historical materialism
    Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history, first articulated by Karl Marx as "the materialist conception of history". Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans...

  • Materialism
    Materialism
    In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

  • Reification
    Reification (Marxism)
    Reification or Versachlichung, literally "objectification" or regarding something as a separate business matter) is the consideration of an abstraction, relation or object as if they had human or living existence and abilities, when in reality they do not...


Further reading

  • Althusser, Louis and Balibar, Étienne. Reading Capital. London: Verso, 2009.
  • Bottomore, Tom (ed). A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1991. 45-48.
  • Calhoun, Craig (ed), Dictionary of the Social Sciences Oxford University Press (2002)
  • Hall, Stuart. "Rethinking the Base and Superstructure Metaphor." Papers on Class, Hegemony and Party. Bloomfield, J., ed. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1977.
  • Harvey, David
    David Harvey (geographer)
    David Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York . A leading social theorist of international standing, he received his PhD in Geography from University of Cambridge in 1961. Widely influential, he is among the top 20 most cited...

    . A Companion to Marx's Capital. London: Verso, 2010.
  • Larrain, Jorge. Marxism and Ideology. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1983.
  • Lukács, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1972.
  • Postone, Moishe. Time, Labour, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx's Critical Theory. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
  • Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977.

External links

  1. Basis und Überbau A German Political Lexicon Wiki.
  2. Marxist Media Theory