Sociology does not preach communism
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Sociology does not preach communism. It does, however, use the writings and perspective of Karl Marx in some social analysis of "what is." This point need not be put on an exam answer, but is a notice to students who may be apprehensive about the content of the discipline.
How did Marx contribute to sociology?
Karl Marx never called himself a sociologist, but he had immense influence on sociology and the other social sciences.
He is better known outside the social sciences for his writing about communism.
He said that the working class will defeat the ownership class, and result in a utopia where government will wither away to nothing and the principle of economics will be based on "For each according to his needs, and from each according to his ability."
His contribution to thinking in sociology is mainly in a perspective called "Conflict Theory" in which social organisation and change is based upon conflicts built into society
He did not define the perspective nor coin the word. Those who use the perspective draw from his writings.
His notions of change were built on the writing of a philosopher, Hegel, who developed the concept of the dialectic.
This notion was based on the idea that everything had within itself the seeds of its own destruction, but that a new form would rise from the ashes of the resulting destruction.
Marx took this idea of the dialectic and applied it to society, saying that the origins of change are all materialistic, not based on ideas.
In our terms that means they belong to the cultural dimensions of technology and economy.
As technology of people developed from gatherer/hunters, to agriculture (horticulture/herding) to the Industrial revolution, changes in the technology led to changes in social organisation and to changes in beliefs and values.
The major conflict in the industrial age was between:
The exploited class favoured and would benefit from change towards more equality, while the exploiting class resisted such change.
This approach is called dialectical materialism.
It is ironical that he predicted revolution to take place in industrialized societies, but the only communist revolutions in history took place in large agrarian feudal societies (as Russia and China were).
An important concept of the conflict approach, after seeing social dynamics as a product of competition over resources, is that those in power (with wealth) had vested interests to perpetuate the system which put them at the top of the social heap.
The idea has been applied from micro to macro levels, such as from family dynamics to national social organization.
The conflict approach, derived from his writings, has been borrowed by and adapted to a large number of topics in sociology.
Although from Germany, Marx spent most of his time writing in the British Library in London.
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