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Class, state and ideology: An introduction to social science in the marxist tradition

Опубликовано на портале: 23-12-2002
Факультет: Department of Sociology
Дисциплина: Социальная стратификация
Язык: Английский
Язык оригинала: английский
Тематические разделы: Социология, Социальная стратификация

The course will revolve around six broad topics: The theory of history; class structure; class formation and class struggle; the theory of the state and politics; ideology and consciousness; socialism and emancipation.

From the middle of the 19th century until the last decade of the 20th, the Marxist Tradition provided the most systematic body of ideas and social theory for radical critics of capitalism as an economic system and social order. Even those critics of capitalism who did not directly identify with Marxism relied heavily on Marxist ideas about class, exploitation, commodification, the state, ideology. And while many anticapitalists felt that the specific political project that came to be identified with Marxism -- the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism -- was deeply flawed, they nevertheless shared the emancipatory vision of a socialist society within which class inequalities attenuated and the economy was democratically controlled in the interests of everyone. Above all it was this defense of a vision of an emancipatory alternative to capitalism which gave Marxism its emotional and ideological power: we might live in a world of great misery, inequality and oppression, but an alternative was both imaginable and achievable. In recent years, particularly since the end of Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Marxism has declined as an intellectual force. TINA there is no alternative has replaced confidence in the possibility of radical alternatives. Instead of being viewed as a threat to capitalism, talk of socialism now seems more like idle utopian musing. Culture, discourse and identity have replaced class and economic inequality as the central themes in critical social theory. Some critical sociologists have even proclaimed the Death of Class, seeing it as a virtually irrelevant dimension of social life in the postmodern era. When you add to this dismissal of class as an object of inquiry the equally prevalent postmodernist methodological distaste for social structural arguments in general, Marxistinspired class analysis may seem to many students to be a retrograde approach to understanding social issues, plagued by a host of metatheoretical sins: determinism, economism, materialism, structuralism, positivism. Yet, ironically, we also live in a period in which inequality and economic polarization in many developed societies has been deepening; in which the commodification of labor has reached unparalleled heights with the entry of masses of women into the labor force; in which capital has become increasingly footloose, deeply constraining the activities of states; in which the market appears ever-more like a law of nature uncontrollable by human device; in which politics is ever-more dominated by money. We live in an era in which social dynamics intimately linked to class are increasingly potent, and yet class analysis is increasingly marginalized. In this political and intellectual context, many students will be skeptical that it is still worthwhile to devote concentrated attention to the Marxist tradition of social theory and social science. There are three reasons why I feel it is indeed worth the time and effort. First, and most importantly from my point of view, I believe that the Marxist theoretical tradition continues to offer indispensable theoretical tools for understanding the conditions for the future advance of a radical egalitarian project of social change. Marx is famous for saying in the eleventh thesis on Feurbach that philosophers have only tried to understand the world, but that the real point is to change it. It is equally true, however, that without effectively understanding the world we cannot know how to change it in the ways we desire. Marxism may not provide all of the theoretical tools we need for understanding the world, but it provides some of the fundamental ingredients, and for this reason it is worth studying. Second, I also believe that the Marxist tradition has a great deal offer to sociology in general even if one does not identify strongly with the vision of human emancipation in that tradition. In particular I think that class analysis in the Marxist tradition has considerable explanatory power for a wide range of issues of sociological importance. Third, the Marxist tradition of social thought is interesting and provocative. It contains some of the most elegant and ambitious theoretical constructions in all of social science and raises all sorts of intriguing puzzles and problems. Even if one rejects the substantive theses of the Marxist tradition, it is worth taking the time to understand them deeply as part of the general process developing ones analytical skills in social theory. This course will explore a broad range of issues in the Marxist tradition of social theory and social science. I refer deliberately to the Marxist tradition rather than Marxism as such. Marxism, like other isms, suggests a doctrine, a closed system of thought rather than an open theoretical framework of scientific inquiry. It is for this reason, for Introduction iii example, that Creationists (religious opponents to the theory of biological evolution) refer to evolutionary theory as Darwinism. They want to juxtapose Creationism and Darwinism as alternative doctrines, each grounded in different articles of faith. It has been a significant liability of the Marxist tradition that it has been named after a particular historical person and generally referred to as an ism. This reinforces a tendency for the theoretical practice of Marxists to often look more like ideology (or even theology when Marxism becomes Marxology and Marxalatry) than social science. It is for this reason that I prefer the looser expression the Marxist tradition to Marxism as a way of designating the theoretical enterprise. I feel that the broad Marxist tradition of social thought remains a vital setting for advancing our understanding of the contradictions in existing societies and the possibilities for egalitarian social change, but I do not believe it provides us with a comprehensive doctrine that automatically gives us the right answers to every question. The overall objective of this course is to provide a rigorous introduction to the core concepts, ideas and theories in the Marxist tradition of critical social science. The course will revolve around six broad topics: The theory of history; class structure; class formation and class struggle; the theory of the state and politics; ideology and consciousness; socialism and emancipation.

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