Basic ideas

Marxism rests on the assumption that society has now developed into a structure that helps Bourgeoisie to exploit Proletariat. Basing on Karl Marx's socioeconomic analysis, Marxism, as a sociological theory, understands Capitalist society as capitalists' means of exploitation. Marxism relies on a two class model: Bourgeoisie (owners of means of production) against Proletariat (workers who sell their labour power). On such ground, Marxists' studies often focus on those question: how do capitalists maintain their exploitation through social structures; how are workers exploited under the social structures; how the social structures change accordingly to the change of form of exploitation. Three of the most distinct features of marxism ideas are their emphasis on economic analysis in understanding social structures, their focus on social conflicts, and their general view of explaining those conflicts in terms of the conflicts between the two social classes.

It is worth noticing, however, that although Marxism is a conflict theory it does not depict society filling with conflicts. The reason Marxism is classified as conflict theory is its understanding of the conflicting groups (Bourgeoisie-proletariat) and the actual oppressive relationships between the two. But on the surface the society functioning properly to maintain its existence as well as the oppression; and thus in this way many of the marxism understanding of institution is almost similar to that of functionalism, although marxism explains the functions in a different way that make the two perspectives having a rather conflicting relationship. However, marxism indeed explain the "dysfunctions" inside society better than does functionalism because this perspective emphasizes conflict beneath the harmonious appearance. But depends on the actual subject of discussion, marxism may sometimes describe some "dysfunctions" as functional as this perspective is less fond of the "consensus" aspect of society.

Being a structural theory, Marxism describes society in a top-down manner. The primary interest of the marxists is to show how Bourgeoisie exploits Proletariat. This perspective gives little space for individuals' will of influencing society, since marxism almost assumes that once the social structure is settled the individuals inside can not fight back (except through a communist revolution)

Important Sociologists

Karl Marx

Important studies


-Too simplistic- class is not the most important division in society any more, and we now have a huge middle class that doesn't fit into Marx's model.

-Marxism is outdated: in the modern society better welfare exists that provides workers with things like healthcare and minimum wages.

-Too economically deterministic- is it really the case that the capitalist economy (infrastructure) determines everything in the superstructure?

-Marx claims due to class conciousness little social mobility is possible, but many modern examples show that this is not the case.

-Criticised by Functionalists: conflict is over-emphasized, harmony and shared values is always present in societies that have social order.

-Criticised by Feminists: Marxism ignores gender and the oppression of women in the society.

-Marx’s Communism model has already seen a failure in the case of the USSR.

How do I use this in an exam?

-Marxism recognises class inequality as a major cause of conflict in society; use it to criticize any theory that does not do so; e.g. Feminism being irrelevant because it ignores class.

-Apply Marxism to recent events; use this as evaluation in questions featuring equality/inequality in the modern industrial society.

-Marxism can be used as a main point in a paragraph for questions concerning social institutions. E.g. xxx institution can be argued to support the ruling class instead of xxx because...

Related entries

Conflict theory



Past paper questions

9699/21/M/J/14 - question 2

9699/22/M/J/14 - question 2

9699/22/O/N/14 - question 2

Related links

Wikipedia entry:

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