Marxist Sociology

The concept of a Marxist sociology does not refer to a clearly defined approach to social research; indeed, it is ‘‘now employed so widely that it has begun to lose all meaning’’ (Abercrombie et al. 1988, p. 148). The ambiguity of the term stems from the multiplicity of interpretations of the work of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, whose approach to social theory is usually termed historical materialism. The most well-known version is that of Soviet communism (Marxism-Leninism) and is identified with the worldview of dialectical materialism (a term never used by Marx and Engels), which has served largely the interests of Soviet ideology. The influence of historical materialism in modern sociology, however, stems primarily from the lesser-known independent tradition of European ‘‘Western Marxism’’ and the resulting forms of Marxist sociology (Agger 1979).

Contemporary usage of the term Marxist sociology varies considerably. In the United States, for example, the term Marxist is often used rather loosely, to designate virtually any type of radical or critical approach influenced by Marxian concepts (e.g., Ollman and Vernoff 1982; Flacks 1982). In societies with more strongly developed social democratic labor movements, as in Europe, the term is more closely identified with communist parties. Given the inherent ambiguity of the term, it is therefore useful to define Marxist sociology rather narrowly and concretely as a specific form of conflict theory associated with Western Marxism’s objective of developing a positive (empirical) science of capitalist society as part of the mobilization of a revolutionary working class.

It is also useful to distinguish three basic types of relations between sociologists and Marxist sociology: those who work directly within the Marxist tradition (Marxist sociology proper) but ‘‘incorporate sociological insights, findings, and methodologies’’; those who are Marxist-influenced in the sense of being stimulated by its historical approach and the ‘‘big questions’’ Marxists have posed but remain indifferent to ‘‘whether the best explanatory answers turn out to be Marxist’’ (Burawoy and Skocpol 1982, p. vii); and those identifying with highly revisionist critical theories (sometimes still in the name of Marxism) that seek to preserve the emancipatory vision of the Marxist tradition despite abandonment of the conventional notion of working-class revolution (Held 1980; Kellner 1989). It should also be stressed that Marxist sociology in this first sense refers to a historically identifiable— but widely contested—interpretation of the sociological implications of Marx’s approach. As the most well-known British Marxist sociologist has concluded with particular reference to the German Frankfurt tradition of critical theory: ‘‘The tasks of a Marxist sociology, as I conceive it, are therefore very different from those of a neo-critical theory of society’’ (Bottomore 1984, p. 81). Marxist sociology in this strict sense thus tends in its most rigid form to resist any eclectic appropriation of sociological concepts: ‘‘Marxism has been courted by virtually every conceivable non-Marxist ideology: by existentialism, phenomenology, critical academic sociology, and by several variants of theology. To raise the question of a Marxism of Marxism is to take a resolute standagainst all attempts to capture and exploit Marx for non-Marxist purposes; and to adopt as a guiding principle . . . the claim that Marx himself made for his work: that Marxism is a specific science, related to the working class as a guide to socialist revolution’’ (Therborn 1976, p. 40).

The distinction between Marxism as ‘‘science’’ and as ‘‘critique’’ provides another way of describing the aspirations of Marxist sociology, which most commonly seeks to develop an objective, political economic science of society rather than a critical philosophy of praxis (Bottomore 1975; Gouldner 1980). Such a project is inherently interdisciplinary and often referred to under the heading of political economy, a term designating Marxistoriented research that may be carried out in various disciplines: economics, political science, and history, as well as sociology (Attewell 1984). Though those identifying with neo-Weberian conflict or critical theories accept many of the empirical findings of neo-Marxist sociology and political economy, they tend to disagree about their broader interpretation and relation to political practice and social change.

Origins

All forms of Marxist sociology trace themselves to the general theoretical approach of historical materialism as developed by Marx and Engels (Marx and Engels 1978; Bottomore and Goode 1983; Bottomore et al. 1983). Standard accounts of Marx’s theoretical program stress that it does not constitute a unified system so much as diverse, though interrelated, modes of theorizing.

  • Early writings that outline a theory of philosophical critique, an analysis of alienated labor, and a normative vision of human emancipation;

  • A general sociology in the form of historical materialism (i.e., a theory of modes of production) as an approach to historical evolution;

  • A specific account of capitalism and its economic contradictions deriving from this general theory; and

  • A political philosophy and theory of praxis concerned with translating objective crisis tendencies in capitalism into a revolutionary transformation that would bring about a new form of ‘‘socialist’’ and eventually ‘‘communist’’ society (Giddens 1971, pp. 1–64; Bottomore 1975).

The precise relationship among these areas remains controversial. Though each level of theorizing has sociological implications, Marxist sociology has drawn primarily from the general sociology suggested by historical materialism and the more historically specific analysis of capitalist development that is the empirical focus of Marx’s social theory and historical sociology. The key concept of a mode of production serves as the comparative framework for analyzing different social formations in terms of the contradictory relationship between their forces of production (primarily technology) and relations of production (forms of work organization and exploitation). The resulting mode of production directly shapes the specific structures of the class system and the manner in which the economic base determines the cultural superstructure composed of the state and various ideological institutions such as the mass media, education, law, religion, political ideologies, and so forth. In capitalist societies the contradiction deriving from the unresolvable polarization between labor and capital becomes the basis for revolutionary change under conditions of economic crisis.

As a positive science of society, Marxist sociology emerged in the period following Marx’s death in 1883 through World War I. Strongly influenced by Engels’s conception of ‘‘scientific socialism’’ as elaborated by Karl Kautsky in Germany, it was institutionalized in German Social Democracy and the Second International. Particular stress was placed upon how this approach provided an account of the historical ‘‘laws’’ that explained the causes of changes in modes of production and class formation and struggle. According to these laws a transition to socialism could be deduced from the ‘‘necessary’’ breakdown of capitalism. Extensive further development of such a scientific socialism was carried out by the Austro- Marxists, who deepened the logical analysis of Marxism as a form of causal explanation by drawing upon contemporary debates in the philosophy of science; as well, they extended Marx’s theory to new phenomena such as the analysis of nationalism and the ethical foundations of Marxist sociology (Bottomore 1975, 1978; Bottomore and Goode 1978).

These two traditions of scientific socialism, however, did not develop much beyond the level codified in Bukharin’s textbook of 1921 (Historical Materialism: A System of Sociology, translated in 1925). The primary reason was that there was considerable resistance to Marxism in the academy (related in part to identification of Marxism with the Soviet Union), ignorance of the richness of the suppressed tradition of Western Marxism, and a broad post–World War II institutionalization of sociology that virtually excluded Marxist sociology, despite some marginal influences of research in social stratification and change (e.g., Ralf Dahrhendorf in West Germany and C. Wright Mills in the United States). For all practical purposes the resurgence of Marxist sociology (often identified as ‘‘political economy’’ as opposed to ‘‘critical theory’’) coincides with the parallel emergence of radical and critical theories in the late 1960s, along with the recovery of the deeper foundations of Marxian theory with the proliferation of translations of Western Marxist texts in the 1970s.

It is customary to distinguish two basic starting points of a Marxist sociology based on different interpretations of the base–superstructure metaphor that underlies the concept of a mode of production: economistic or instrumental approaches as opposed to structuralist reproduction models. Economistic interpretations—sometimes associated with the idea of orthodox or ‘‘vulgar’’ Marxism—are based on a more or less reductionistic, causal account of the effects of the economic base or infrastructure upon the cultural superstructure, especially as causally derived from the assumed objective consequences of class interests.

Structuralist theories of social and cultural reproduction, in contrast, argue that the base– superstructure relation is more complex, involving functional relations that ensure the relative (if variable) autonomy of cultural factors, even if the economic is determinant in the last instance. Such structuralist interpretations derive primarily from the concept of the social reproduction of labor power developed in Marx’s later works, the theory of cultural hegemony developed by the Italian Marxist leader and theorist Antonio Gramsci (1971) in the 1930s, and the reinterpretation of both Marx and Gramsci by the French philosopher Louis Althusser in the 1960s (Althusser 1971; Althusser and Balibar [1968] 1979).

Contemporary Themes in Marxist Sociology

The most convenient way to speak of contemporary themes in Marxist sociology—thus differentiating it from conflict or critical theory generally— is to restrict the concept to research that continues to adhere to the basic principles of neo-Marxist theory. Such a Marxist sociology would sometimes include adherence to the labor theory of value (which holds that labor is the only source of profit) but more essentially the primacy of economic and class factors, the priority of objective structures over subjectivity and consciousness, and the privileged role of the working class in a transition to socialism as defined by direct state ownership of the means of production (Anderson 1984; Wood 1986; Archibald 1978).

With respect to more recent developments in Marxist sociology, the immense literature and wide national variations make it appropriate to focus primarily—if not exclusively—on the remarkable resurgence of Marxism in American sociology. This phenomenon stems from the 1970s and has been traced to four key influences: the broadened audience of the journal Monthly Review, which was founded in 1949 and pioneered the application of Marxist economic theory for an analysis of the United States and its ‘‘imperial’’ role in world politics; Marxist historians who developed a critique of American liberalism and proposed a classbased reinterpretation of American history; the Hegelian Marxism and Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School tradition; and, finally, structuralist Marxism of largely French inspiration that sought to reestablish the credentials of Marx’s theory as a science of society (Burawoy 1982, pp. 4–6). To illustrate the concerns of recent Marxist sociology, it is instructive to review some of the most representative examples of research in four key areas: work and the division of labor, class structure, the state and crisis theory, and culture and ideology. Research on the political economy of the world system and dependency theory have also been important but will not be discussed here (see, however, So 1990).

The Labor Process and the New International Division of Labor

Until the late 1960s, Marxist theory was associated primarily with either communist ideologies or economic theory (Sweezy [1942] 1968). Not surprisingly, the pioneering, technically sophisticated Marxist research in the United States was concerned with an economic analysis of the new form of ‘‘monopoly capitalism’’ (Baran and Sweezy 1966). Drawing out the sociological implications of such, political economy is most closely associated with subsequent pathbreaking work involving the rediscovery of the labor process (i.e., Braverman 1974; Burawoy 1979) that gave work the central place that had been lost with the sense of consensus in postwar labor relations (Thompson 1983; Attewell 1984, pp. 93–141). Particular attention was given to the logic of capital’s need to cheapen labor costs in ways that degrade and divide workers. More recent work has attempted to emphasize the incorporation of a subjective dimension to the labor process; further, it has developed a comparative perspective through the analysis of factory regimes in different types of economic systems and in relation to the new international division of labor (e.g., Burawoy 1985).

Class

Class analysis of course remains the key aspect of any Marxist sociology, but the focus contrasts sharply with conventional sociological approaches, even those (e.g., Max Weber) that acknowledge the importance of class conflict. Marxist sociology strongly insists on the primacy of the relations of production over the market processes stressed by neo-Weberians (Grabb 1990). The most influential empirical research in this area has stressed the importance of contradictory class locations and of reconnecting the objective and subjective dimensions of class with a theory of exploitation (Grabb 1990, pp. 152–163; Wright 1978, 1985).

Recent Marxist class analysis has been confronted by a number of challenges that pose serious problems for orthodox approaches; for example, the problem of the urban question, the role of ethnicity or race and especially gender as independent sources of domination (Shaw 1985), the emergence of the middle strata and the decline of the traditional ‘‘working class’’ (Walker 1978), the failure of class consciousness and actions to develop in the ways required for revolutionary transition, and other issues. The relation between Marxist and feminist theory has proved most controversial. More orthodox Marxist sociologists have attempted to incorporate gender into the theory of class and modes of production through the concept of unpaid ‘‘domestic labor’’ that contributes to the overall process of social reproduction (Fox 1980). But many feminists have abandoned Marxist sociology precisely because of its insistence on the primacy of class at the expense of gender (and other sources of domination).

The State and Crisis Theory

The contributions of Marxist sociology to the theory of the state have been wide-ranging and influential (Carnoy 1984; Jessop 1982; Holloway and Picciotto 1978). As well, they illustrate most clearly the issues involved in the debate between instrumental and structuralist interpretations of the base–superstructure model. In the context of theories of the state, this issue takes the form of whether the dominant class controls the state directly through its elite connections or indirectly through the functional economic and political imperatives that constrain public policy, regardless of who happens to hold power in a democratic regime. For example, the so-called Miliband-Poulantzas debate sharply defined the different empirical consequences of these two approaches. Miliband ([1969] 1973) stressed the actual empirical link between economic elites and political power of the dominant class, hence the role of the state as an instrument of class rule. Poulantzas ([1968] 1978), on the other hand, analyzed the state as a factor of cohesion that requires relative autonomy in order indirectly to serve the process of social reproduction in the long run.

Another central theme of Marxist sociology has been the relationship between economic crisis tendencies and the state in advanced capitalism (Attewell 1984, pp. 142–206). Research has focused especially on the concept of the ‘‘fiscal crisis of the state’’ (O’Connor 1973). It has been argued that the state is caught between the contradictory pressures of ensuring capital accumulation and legitimating the negative effects of the economy with the safety nets of the welfare state and that these conflicts become the potential basis for the emergence of new class-based oppositional movements.

Culture and Ideology

The most recent flourishing area of research has been in Marxist-influenced analyses of cultural phenomena as manifestations of ideology. The central focus has been on how cultural hegemony (or domination) is formed and the types of resistance that oppressed groups may develop against it. The stress of economistic Marxism has been upon the way in which the cultural superstructure of society ‘‘reflects’’ or ‘‘mirrors’’ economic processes and class relations. This approach often resulted in crude, reductionistic political and class analyses that were often unsatisfactory to those intimately acquainted with both high and popular culture. With the emergence of more sophisticated structuralist models of cultural reproduction, however, the relative autonomy of cultural forms could be acknowledged without obscuring their origins in ‘‘material’’ social relations. In the more extreme form represented by structuralist Marxism, it has been more generally held that all of the cultural institutions of society (e.g., the media, family, law, arts, etc.) functioned in the last instance as ‘‘ideological state apparatuses’’ that served the long-term interests of capital (Althusser 1971). Research based on both instrumentalist and structuralist approaches has been applied to the range of cultural activities (e.g., art, literature, law, sport, etc.), but education and the mass media figure most prominently, and they can serve as illustrations.

In the case of the Marxist sociology of education the result was a shift from an instrumentalist perspective (i.e., the role of capitalist ideology in directly using the educational system to shape consciousness in its interests) to one based on the idea of social reproduction as an indirect form of social control. Initially, structuralist approaches put particular stress upon the formal ‘‘correspondence’’ between the economic base and the hegemonic superstructure, despite the autonomy of the latter. Hence, structuralist research on education attempted to demonstrate the way in which the hidden curriculum of the school ‘‘corresponded’’ to the type of labor required by capital (Bowles and Gintis 1977; Cole 1988). Research on the political economy of the media was more strongly represented by instrumentalist perspectives that stressed the role of the media as instruments of ‘‘mind control’’ on the part of the dominant class and the broader dominance of the American media globally (Schiller 1971; 1973); others argued from a more structuralist perspective that the primary function of the media is the ‘‘selling of audiences,’’ irrespective of the specific ideological content of programming (Smythe 1981).

The Crisis of Marxist Sociology

As a specific theoretical approach that seeks to discover the role of economic and class factors in social change, Western Marxist sociology will certainly endure, though its significance will vary with the type of social formation and topic examined. As a philosophy of history or general theory of modes of production, and more especially as part of a particular theory of working-class revolution, orthodox Marxist sociology has been seriously called into question, especially in advanced capitalism. It has already collapsed in Eastern bloc countries, where a completely new tradition of social science is in the process of formation. This is not to say that economic and class factors or Marx become irrelevant, though the broader crisis of historical materialism suggests their significance and relation to social, political, and cultural processes will have to be interpreted in more selfcritical, flexible, and historically specific ways (Aronowitz 1981). The complex outcome of the crisis of Marxist sociology in advanced capitalism is suggestively anticipated in the response of three contemporary countertendencies.

So-called analytical Marxism is defined more by its methodological stance than its substantive content. It thus differentiates itself from traditional Marxism in its commitment to abstract theorizing (as opposed to more concrete historical analysis), a search for rethinking the foundations by asking heretical questions, and ‘‘using state-of-theart methods of analytical philosophy and ‘positivist’ social science’’ (Roemer 1986, pp. 1–2). Though these developments will undoubtedly have some impact on social theory, they are clearly too heterogeneous and revisionist to fall under the heading of Marxist sociology in the sense used here.

A second, opposing ‘‘poststructuralist’’ strategy is evident in the work of some former Marxists who have retreated from orthodox class concepts, arguing that a ‘‘post-Marxism’’ is required that involves eliminating the notion of the working class as a ‘‘universal class’’ and resurrecting a new conception of socialist democracy (Laclau and Mouffe 1985). Not surprisingly, this (partial) ‘‘retreat from class’’ has been treated with hostility by many neo-Marxists (Wood 1986), but it has provoked important debates about the role of new social movements and democratic processes in any defendable conception of socialist transformation.

A third tendency has been loosely referred to as ‘‘cultural Marxism.’’ Such critics of the functionalist tendencies of structuralist Marxism put particular stress upon the contested and uneven character of cultural reproduction in capitalist societies. In particular, various researchers have pointed to how dominated groups resist cultural domination in ways that often become the basis of counterhegemonic social movements. Further, it is argued that a crucial feature of contemporary ‘‘postmodern’’ societies is the distinctive role of the ‘‘cultural.’’ The result has been a flowering of cultural research often identified, especially in the British context, with the notion of ‘‘cultural studies’’ (e.g., the work of Raymond Williams, Richard Johnson, Stuart Hall, et al.; see Brantlinger 1990). A related tendency has been the cultural Marxist historiography of E. P. Thompson (Kaye and McClelland 1990) that has influenced a major reinterpretation of Marx as a historical sociologist (Sayer 1983; Corrigan and Sayer 1985). A distinctive aspect of the cultural Marxist tradition, an aspect that has led it away from Marxist sociology in its more restrictive sense, has been its ability actively to engage in debate with and appropriate concepts from a wide variety of non-Marxist approaches. Much of the recent work carried out in the name of cultural Marxism thus increasingly blends with poststructuralist and critical theories of culture, reflecting the circumstance that ‘‘Marxism is no longer a single coherent discursive and political practice’’ (Nelson and Grossberg 1988, p. 11). One consequence is that it is no longer ‘‘possible to talk unproblematically of a ‘Marxist’ sociology, since Marxism has become a major contributor to sociology in general, while Marxist-influenced sociologists increasingly identify with their discipline (Shaw 1985, p. 16).

The 1990s: The Decline of Marxist Sociology and Reconstructions of Marxian Critical Theory

By the end of the 1990s, several key shifts had redefined the fate of Marxist theory in the social sciences:

(1) the collapse of the Soviet bloc;

(2) a proliferation of metatheoretical debates—loosely grouped as postmodernist—that called into question the capacity of theory generally, and Marxist theory in particular, to provide general explanations or ethical critiques of social life;

(3) a blurring of disciplinary boundaries that contributed to the flow of Marxist-related concepts into the humanities, especially under the heading of cultural studies; and

(4) a substantive focus on globalization as a framework for rethinking the Marxian theory of society and change.

The outcome of these tendencies was a decline of Marxist sociology as a clearly identifiable research orientation. Yet these developments also reinforced the three tendencies previously visible in the 1980s:

(1) the continuing development of analytical Marxism (Jacobs 1996);

(2) the proliferation of poststructuralist critiques of class essentialism that attempted to include standpoints such as race and gender in Marxist theory; and above all,

(3) the continuing development of cultural Marxism, especially in the humanities.

Many of those who continued to develop such questions had strayed so far from classical Marxist positions that they more often identified with an expanded notion of ‘‘critical theory’’ than with ‘‘Marxism’’ in the strict sense; rather than referring primarily to the Frankfurt School tradition, such an ecumenical reference to critical theory reflected a shared aspiration for a fundamental rethinking of the Marxian tradition.

The disintegration of the Soviet bloc culminating in 1989 marked the end of the failed experiment of ‘‘actually existing socialism.’’ Though Western Marxists had generally rejected the Soviet model as an expression of Marx’s utopian vision, its sudden demise came as a shock and unleashed a complex theoretical debate (Magnus and Cullenberg 1995). Western Marxists greeted this momentous historical transformation with mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were relieved to see the end of this tragic example of state socialism. On the other hand, they were perturbed by the uncritical embracing of the market model of development as the only alternative and the triumphalist heralding of these changes as the ‘‘end of Marxism.’’ Within the ex-Soviet bloc the disillusionment with Marx was so intense that the very idea of Marxist sociology was generally repudiated; partly as a consequence the ‘‘Marxist’’ interpretation of these events (e.g. the important work of Michael Burawoy) has been undertaken, paradoxically, by Western Marxists (Kennedy and Galtz 1996). In Latin America, though Marx remained in influential intellectual force, political debate shifted from revolutionary rhetoric toward pragmatic questions of ‘‘democratic transition’’ (Castañeda 1993). Though many Marxist social scientists moved toward variants of post-Marxist critical theory in response to these events, others insisted that the collapse of these regimes did not constitute ‘‘proofs of the bankruptcy of Marxism as a tradition of social scientific practice,’’ though conceding that ‘‘it must be reconstructed in various ways’’ (Wright 1996, pp. 121–122). Though Marxist sociology declined precipitously as a specific orientation in the 1990s— hence its absence from leading social theory anthologies, discussion of Marxist theory continued to flourish in a few journals, most notably the New Left Review in Britain and Rethinking Marxism in the United States. Despite sporadic attempts to defend Marxism as a science (Burawoy 1990) or ‘‘test’’ classic Marxist claims (e.g., Boswell and Dixon 1993; Cockshott et al. 1995; Smith 1994), the revitalization of empirical Marxist research appeared increasingly dependent upon working out the implications of major theoretical reconstructions (e.g., Postone 1993; Wright et al. 1992). Such efforts have also been influenced by ‘‘Weberian Marxism,’’ despite the resistance of more orthodox Marxists (Gubbay 1997; Lowy 1996).

A second major shift that has contributed to the decline of Marxist sociology in the 1990s can be identified with the elusive concept of ‘‘postmodernism’’ and related poststructuralist tendencies. The Marxist tradition was a specific target of epistemological postmodernism which called into question all ‘‘meta-narratives’’ or grand theories of society and history, whether as explanations or as the basis of universalistic ethical claims. Related poststructuralist critiques of essentialism challenged Marxist theories of the working class and called for a decentered conception of the subject that acknowledged the diversity of subject positions, a theme especially central to feminist, gender, and racial research. Some Marxists simply defended classical Marxist theory against these developments, but many felt compelled to revise their positions in the direction of an ‘‘emancipatory postmodernism,’’ a ‘‘postmodern Marxism,’’ or a‘‘poststructuralist materialism.’’ In this context, various efforts were made to reconcile selective postructuralist and postmodernist arguments with a reconstructed neo-Marxist, critical theory (e.g., Best and Kellner 1997). On the one hand, such postmodernist-influenced approaches acknowledged that the fundamental cultural shifts linked to the mass media and new information technologies have profound implications for a ‘‘postmodern’’ society that was not foreseen by Marx. On the other, they also conceded that classic Marxist theory (though not necessarily Marx himself) relied on an inadequate, teleological philosophy of history, economic reductionism, and an essentialist conception of the working-class subject.

A third tendency that has become more clearly defined over the past decade has been the partial erosion of disciplinary boundaries and the diverse impact of Marxist theorizing on the humanities, especially under the heading of cultural studies and poststructuralist textual theories. Paradoxically, though the influence of Marxist theory declined within sociology in the 1990s, it had a continuing renaissance and diffuse effect in other disciplines, especially literary studies. Much of this work has in turn influenced cultural Marxism, as well as sociologists of culture and the media. In its most ambitious form, such neo-Marxist cultural theory has culminated in an account of postmodernity as an historical epoch (Jameson 1991). Another outcome was an expansion and revision of the canons of classical Marxian theory. Though his status as a ‘‘Marxist’’ has been disputed, the Soviet scholar Mikhail Bakhtin (1895–1975) was rehabilitated as a major theorist of culture whose dialogical theory of language anticipated many of the later developments in poststructuralist critiques of Marxism (Bell and Gardiner 1998). Similarly, Antonio Gramsci’s cultural and linguistic writings have been reinterpreted in terms of his poststructuralist anticipations (Holub 1992).

Finally, the most sustained empirical development in the 1990s was the emergence of the problematic of globalization (and aspects of postcolonial theory) as a reference point for an historical materialist account of social change (Hoogvelt 1997; Larrain 1994). From this perspective, ‘‘postmodernism’’ could be read as a symptom of processes better understood from the perspective of a political economy of globalization. Hence it was argued that Marx was the pioneer of globalization theory, given his account of the ceaseless worldwide expansion of markets, a theme elaborated in Wallerstein’s world-system theory. But many other Marxists have joined critical theorists in emphasizing the distinctiveness of more recent developments since World War II, especially the transformation of production processes (e.g., the shift from ‘‘Fordism’’ to ‘‘post-Fordism’’) and the impact of information technologies, resulting in changed relations between space and time (Harvey 1989). Unlike those who uncritically celebrated the advent of an ‘‘information society’’ and globalization as the inevitable outcomes of capitalism, such Marxists and critical theorists have pointed to the selective characteristics of this ‘‘modernization’’ and its inadequate vision of the alternatives (Webster 1995). The most elaborate empirical effort to describe this new ‘‘informational mode of production’’ in Marxist-influenced but also innovative sociological terms can be found in Manuel Castells’ three-volume The Information Age (Castells 1996–1998). As against various postmodernist currents, neo-Marxist conceptions of globalization (and related variants of critical theory) are united by their political opposition to neoliberalism (or what is often referred to as neoconservatism in the United States) and an empirical concern with analyzing capitalist globalization in terms of its grave implications for marginalized groups and societies, as well as nature itself. For the most part, such researchers no longer appeal to the classic conception of working-class revolution, though they hold out hope for new social movements as the basis of constructive forms of resistance and democratic renewal. As a consequence, Marxist sociologists have increasingly moved toward positions previously staked out by the Frankfurt tradition of critical theory and related poststructuralist French developments (Morrow 1994), though often without consistently acknowledging the full implications for the ‘‘death of Marxism’’ as an oppositional political discourse (Fraser 1998).

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This Aricle was Written by
RAYMOND A. MORROW

This Article was Published in
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIOLOGY
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