Sunday, January 25, 2009

On Marxian analysis

I am always of two minds after reading Marx. His words are powerful and his analysis is mostly right, yet the theory has its shortcomings, as does any theoretical lens that one uses to study the social world. First of all, the analysis is completely structural; individuals are determined by their material existence. Agency theorists suggest, however, and I do believe that human actors engage structures at the micro-level; such analyses are missing from Marx’s theory on capitalism.Further, Marxian analysis depicts society as divided into two classes. These classes engage in conflict or a dialectical exchange. Because the system of capitalism contains its “own seeds of destruction,” the system eventually falls as the ranks of the proletariat become swollen with displaced bourgeoisie who can no longer compete. From Marx’s perspective this leads to the ripening of a revolution. However, Marx underestimated two factors in my opinion. First, Marx, in turning Hegel on his head, dismisses (although not totally, but rather dramatically) the importance of ideas in social life. Second, Marx fails to see the depth and diversity of power, particularly in terms of using a middle class to stabilize and secure the status quo economic and political system. For instance, Johnson (2006) writes about the ways that Americans hold deeply to the myth of American meritocracy and refuse to analyze how wealth can actually be transferred through families in various, tacit ways: cultural/political/social capital and through financial support that is taken for granted. When considered cumulatively, these transfers of wealth provide real advantages to children of middle-upper/middle class families, yet Johnson finds that families/parents refuse to come to terms with these advantages. Instead, families often credit themselves, the “system” that equal opportunity and the free market provides to any individual who is willing to work hard enough…Johnson (2006) and Lareau (2003), in a somewhat similarly oriented study, point to several venues that reinforce these families’ mythic ideologies, including schools, social circles, media, and other institutions like the political/government bureaucracy and banks. The middle class that holds fast to these ideas is a tool, a protector of the capitalist system because they believe that it is a system that has served them well as it could serve others – if they are willing to work at it.

Johnson, H.B. (2006). The American dream and the power of wealth: Choosing schools and inheriting inequality in the land of opportunity. NY: Routledge - Taylor and Francis Group.

Lareau, A. (2003). Uneqal Childhoods: Class, race, and family life. CA: University of California Press.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. I think we cannot discount the fact that so many of us buy into the capitalist ideology that we can all be rich and successful. I think this belief illustrates the power of this ideology in successfully masking the exploitation inherent in the system. Can anyone think of any other examples of how we have bought into this ideology?

    Also, if you have any interest in sociology of the family, I would highly recommend the Lareau book cited the post.