NCERT Textbook - Introducing Western Sociologists Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

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Humanities/Arts : NCERT Textbook - Introducing Western Sociologists Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


 66 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
CHAPTER 4
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
Sociology is sometimes called the child
of the ‘age of revolution’. This is because
it was born in 19th century Western
Europe, after revolutionary changes in
the preceding three centuries that
decisively changed the way people lived.
Three revolutions paved the way for the
emergence of sociology: the
Enlightenment, or the scientific
revolution; the French Revolution; and
the Industrial Revolution. These
processes completely transformed not
only European society, but also the rest
of the world as it came into contact with
Europe.
In this chapter the key ideas of
three sociological thinkers: Karl
Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max
Weber will be discussed.  As part of
the classical tradition of sociology,
they laid the foundation of the
subject.  Their ideas and insights
have remained relevant even in the
contemporary period.  Of course,
these ideas have also been subjected
to criticism and have undergone
major modifications.  But since ideas
about society are themselves
influenced by social conditions, we
begin with a few words about the
context in which sociology emerged.
THE CONTEXT OF SOCIOLOGY
The modern era in Europe and the
conditions of modernity that we take
for granted today were brought about
by three major processes.  These were:
the Enlightenment or dawning of the
‘age of reason’; the quest for political
sovereignty embodied in the French
Revolution; and the system of mass
manufacture inaugurated by the
Industrial Revolution.  Since these
have been discussed at length in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology,
here we will only mention some of the
intellectual consequences of these
momentous changes.
Activity 1
Revisit the discussion of the coming
of the modern age in Europe in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology.
What sorts of changes were these
three processes associated with?
2019-20
Page 2


 66 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
CHAPTER 4
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
Sociology is sometimes called the child
of the ‘age of revolution’. This is because
it was born in 19th century Western
Europe, after revolutionary changes in
the preceding three centuries that
decisively changed the way people lived.
Three revolutions paved the way for the
emergence of sociology: the
Enlightenment, or the scientific
revolution; the French Revolution; and
the Industrial Revolution. These
processes completely transformed not
only European society, but also the rest
of the world as it came into contact with
Europe.
In this chapter the key ideas of
three sociological thinkers: Karl
Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max
Weber will be discussed.  As part of
the classical tradition of sociology,
they laid the foundation of the
subject.  Their ideas and insights
have remained relevant even in the
contemporary period.  Of course,
these ideas have also been subjected
to criticism and have undergone
major modifications.  But since ideas
about society are themselves
influenced by social conditions, we
begin with a few words about the
context in which sociology emerged.
THE CONTEXT OF SOCIOLOGY
The modern era in Europe and the
conditions of modernity that we take
for granted today were brought about
by three major processes.  These were:
the Enlightenment or dawning of the
‘age of reason’; the quest for political
sovereignty embodied in the French
Revolution; and the system of mass
manufacture inaugurated by the
Industrial Revolution.  Since these
have been discussed at length in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology,
here we will only mention some of the
intellectual consequences of these
momentous changes.
Activity 1
Revisit the discussion of the coming
of the modern age in Europe in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology.
What sorts of changes were these
three processes associated with?
2019-20
67 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
The Enlightenment
During the late 17th and 18th
centuries, Western Europe saw the
emergence of radically new ways of
thinking about the world.  Refered to
as ‘The Enlightenment’, these new
philosophies established the human
being at the centre of the universe, and
rational thought as the central feature
of the human being.  The ability to
think rationally and critically
transformed the individual human
being into both the producer and the
user of all knowledge, the ‘knowing
subject’.  On the other hand, only
persons who could think and reason
could be considered as fully human.
Those who could not remained
deficient as human beings and were
considered as not fully evolved
humans, as in the case of the natives
of primitive societies or ‘savages’.
Being the handiwork of humans,
society was amenable to rational
analysis and thus comprehensible to
other humans.  For reason to become
the defining feature of the human
world, it was necessary to displace
nature, religion and the divine acts of
gods from the central position they
had in earlier ways of understanding
the world. This means that the
Enlightenment was made possible by,
and in turn helped to develop,
attitudes of mind that we refer to today
as secular, scientific and humanistic.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution (1789)
announced the arrival of political
sovereignty at the level of individuals
as well as nation-states. The
Declaration of Human Rights
asserted the equality of all citizens
and questioned the legitimacy of
privileges inherited by birth. It
signaled the emancipation of the
individual from the oppressive rule of
the religious and feudal institutions
that dominated France before the
Revolution. The peasants, most of
whom were serfs (or bonded
labourers) tied to landed estates
owned by members of the aristocracy,
were freed of their bonds.  The
numerous taxes paid by the peasants
to the feudal lords and to the church
were cancelled.  As free citizens of the
republic, sovereign individuals were
invested with rights and were equal
before the law and other institutions
of the state.  The state had to respect
the privacy of the autonomous
individual and its laws could not
intrude upon the domestic life of the
people.  A separation was built
between the public realm of the state
and a private realm of the household.
New ideas about what was
appropriate to the public and private
spheres developed. For example,
religion and the family became more
‘private’ while education (specially
schooling) became more ‘public’.
Moreover, the nation-state itself was
also redefined as a sovereign entity
with a centralised government.  The
ideals of the French Revolution —
liberty, equality and fraternity —
became the watchwords of the
modern state.
2019-20
Page 3


 66 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
CHAPTER 4
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
Sociology is sometimes called the child
of the ‘age of revolution’. This is because
it was born in 19th century Western
Europe, after revolutionary changes in
the preceding three centuries that
decisively changed the way people lived.
Three revolutions paved the way for the
emergence of sociology: the
Enlightenment, or the scientific
revolution; the French Revolution; and
the Industrial Revolution. These
processes completely transformed not
only European society, but also the rest
of the world as it came into contact with
Europe.
In this chapter the key ideas of
three sociological thinkers: Karl
Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max
Weber will be discussed.  As part of
the classical tradition of sociology,
they laid the foundation of the
subject.  Their ideas and insights
have remained relevant even in the
contemporary period.  Of course,
these ideas have also been subjected
to criticism and have undergone
major modifications.  But since ideas
about society are themselves
influenced by social conditions, we
begin with a few words about the
context in which sociology emerged.
THE CONTEXT OF SOCIOLOGY
The modern era in Europe and the
conditions of modernity that we take
for granted today were brought about
by three major processes.  These were:
the Enlightenment or dawning of the
‘age of reason’; the quest for political
sovereignty embodied in the French
Revolution; and the system of mass
manufacture inaugurated by the
Industrial Revolution.  Since these
have been discussed at length in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology,
here we will only mention some of the
intellectual consequences of these
momentous changes.
Activity 1
Revisit the discussion of the coming
of the modern age in Europe in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology.
What sorts of changes were these
three processes associated with?
2019-20
67 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
The Enlightenment
During the late 17th and 18th
centuries, Western Europe saw the
emergence of radically new ways of
thinking about the world.  Refered to
as ‘The Enlightenment’, these new
philosophies established the human
being at the centre of the universe, and
rational thought as the central feature
of the human being.  The ability to
think rationally and critically
transformed the individual human
being into both the producer and the
user of all knowledge, the ‘knowing
subject’.  On the other hand, only
persons who could think and reason
could be considered as fully human.
Those who could not remained
deficient as human beings and were
considered as not fully evolved
humans, as in the case of the natives
of primitive societies or ‘savages’.
Being the handiwork of humans,
society was amenable to rational
analysis and thus comprehensible to
other humans.  For reason to become
the defining feature of the human
world, it was necessary to displace
nature, religion and the divine acts of
gods from the central position they
had in earlier ways of understanding
the world. This means that the
Enlightenment was made possible by,
and in turn helped to develop,
attitudes of mind that we refer to today
as secular, scientific and humanistic.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution (1789)
announced the arrival of political
sovereignty at the level of individuals
as well as nation-states. The
Declaration of Human Rights
asserted the equality of all citizens
and questioned the legitimacy of
privileges inherited by birth. It
signaled the emancipation of the
individual from the oppressive rule of
the religious and feudal institutions
that dominated France before the
Revolution. The peasants, most of
whom were serfs (or bonded
labourers) tied to landed estates
owned by members of the aristocracy,
were freed of their bonds.  The
numerous taxes paid by the peasants
to the feudal lords and to the church
were cancelled.  As free citizens of the
republic, sovereign individuals were
invested with rights and were equal
before the law and other institutions
of the state.  The state had to respect
the privacy of the autonomous
individual and its laws could not
intrude upon the domestic life of the
people.  A separation was built
between the public realm of the state
and a private realm of the household.
New ideas about what was
appropriate to the public and private
spheres developed. For example,
religion and the family became more
‘private’ while education (specially
schooling) became more ‘public’.
Moreover, the nation-state itself was
also redefined as a sovereign entity
with a centralised government.  The
ideals of the French Revolution —
liberty, equality and fraternity —
became the watchwords of the
modern state.
2019-20
 68 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
The Industrial Revolution
The foundations of modern industry
were laid by the Industrial
Revolution, which began in Britain
in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries.  It had two major aspects.
The first was the systematic
application of science and technology
to industrial production, particularly
the invention of new machines and
the harnessing of new sources of
power.  Secondly, the industrial
revolution also evolved new ways of
organising labour and markets on a
scale larger than anything in the
past.  New machines like the
Spinning Jenny (which greatly
increased the productivity of the
textile industry) and new methods of
obtaining power (such as the various
versions of the steam engine)
facilitated the production process
and gave rise to the factory system
and mass manufacture of goods.
These goods were now produced on
a gigantic scale for distant markets
across the world.  The raw materials
used in their production were also
obtained from all over the world.
Modern large scale industry thus
became a world wide phenomenon.
These changes in the production
system also resulted in major changes
in social life.  The factories set up in
urban areas were manned by workers
who were uprooted from the rural
areas and came to the cities in search
of work.  Low wages at the factory
meant that men, women and even
children had to work long hours in
hazardous circumstances to eke out
a living.  Modern industry enabled the
urban to dominate over the rural.
Cities and towns became the
dominant forms of human
settlement, housing large and
unequal populations in small,
densely populated urban areas.  The
rich and powerful lived in the cities,
but so did the working classes who
lived in slums amidst poverty and
squalor. Modern forms of governance,
with the state assuming control of
health, sanitation, crime control and
general ‘development’ created the
demand for new kinds of knowledge.
The social sciences and particularly
sociology emerged partly as a
response to this need.
From the outset sociological
thought was concerned with the
scientific analysis of developments in
industrial society.  This has prompted
observers to argue that sociology was
the ‘science of the new industrial
society’. Empirically informed
scientific discussion about trends in
social behaviour only became
possible with the advent of modern
industrial society. The scientific
information generated by the state to
monitor and maintain the health of
its social body became the basis for
reflection on society. Sociological
theory was the result of this self-
reflection.
2019-20
Page 4


 66 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
CHAPTER 4
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
Sociology is sometimes called the child
of the ‘age of revolution’. This is because
it was born in 19th century Western
Europe, after revolutionary changes in
the preceding three centuries that
decisively changed the way people lived.
Three revolutions paved the way for the
emergence of sociology: the
Enlightenment, or the scientific
revolution; the French Revolution; and
the Industrial Revolution. These
processes completely transformed not
only European society, but also the rest
of the world as it came into contact with
Europe.
In this chapter the key ideas of
three sociological thinkers: Karl
Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max
Weber will be discussed.  As part of
the classical tradition of sociology,
they laid the foundation of the
subject.  Their ideas and insights
have remained relevant even in the
contemporary period.  Of course,
these ideas have also been subjected
to criticism and have undergone
major modifications.  But since ideas
about society are themselves
influenced by social conditions, we
begin with a few words about the
context in which sociology emerged.
THE CONTEXT OF SOCIOLOGY
The modern era in Europe and the
conditions of modernity that we take
for granted today were brought about
by three major processes.  These were:
the Enlightenment or dawning of the
‘age of reason’; the quest for political
sovereignty embodied in the French
Revolution; and the system of mass
manufacture inaugurated by the
Industrial Revolution.  Since these
have been discussed at length in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology,
here we will only mention some of the
intellectual consequences of these
momentous changes.
Activity 1
Revisit the discussion of the coming
of the modern age in Europe in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology.
What sorts of changes were these
three processes associated with?
2019-20
67 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
The Enlightenment
During the late 17th and 18th
centuries, Western Europe saw the
emergence of radically new ways of
thinking about the world.  Refered to
as ‘The Enlightenment’, these new
philosophies established the human
being at the centre of the universe, and
rational thought as the central feature
of the human being.  The ability to
think rationally and critically
transformed the individual human
being into both the producer and the
user of all knowledge, the ‘knowing
subject’.  On the other hand, only
persons who could think and reason
could be considered as fully human.
Those who could not remained
deficient as human beings and were
considered as not fully evolved
humans, as in the case of the natives
of primitive societies or ‘savages’.
Being the handiwork of humans,
society was amenable to rational
analysis and thus comprehensible to
other humans.  For reason to become
the defining feature of the human
world, it was necessary to displace
nature, religion and the divine acts of
gods from the central position they
had in earlier ways of understanding
the world. This means that the
Enlightenment was made possible by,
and in turn helped to develop,
attitudes of mind that we refer to today
as secular, scientific and humanistic.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution (1789)
announced the arrival of political
sovereignty at the level of individuals
as well as nation-states. The
Declaration of Human Rights
asserted the equality of all citizens
and questioned the legitimacy of
privileges inherited by birth. It
signaled the emancipation of the
individual from the oppressive rule of
the religious and feudal institutions
that dominated France before the
Revolution. The peasants, most of
whom were serfs (or bonded
labourers) tied to landed estates
owned by members of the aristocracy,
were freed of their bonds.  The
numerous taxes paid by the peasants
to the feudal lords and to the church
were cancelled.  As free citizens of the
republic, sovereign individuals were
invested with rights and were equal
before the law and other institutions
of the state.  The state had to respect
the privacy of the autonomous
individual and its laws could not
intrude upon the domestic life of the
people.  A separation was built
between the public realm of the state
and a private realm of the household.
New ideas about what was
appropriate to the public and private
spheres developed. For example,
religion and the family became more
‘private’ while education (specially
schooling) became more ‘public’.
Moreover, the nation-state itself was
also redefined as a sovereign entity
with a centralised government.  The
ideals of the French Revolution —
liberty, equality and fraternity —
became the watchwords of the
modern state.
2019-20
 68 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
The Industrial Revolution
The foundations of modern industry
were laid by the Industrial
Revolution, which began in Britain
in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries.  It had two major aspects.
The first was the systematic
application of science and technology
to industrial production, particularly
the invention of new machines and
the harnessing of new sources of
power.  Secondly, the industrial
revolution also evolved new ways of
organising labour and markets on a
scale larger than anything in the
past.  New machines like the
Spinning Jenny (which greatly
increased the productivity of the
textile industry) and new methods of
obtaining power (such as the various
versions of the steam engine)
facilitated the production process
and gave rise to the factory system
and mass manufacture of goods.
These goods were now produced on
a gigantic scale for distant markets
across the world.  The raw materials
used in their production were also
obtained from all over the world.
Modern large scale industry thus
became a world wide phenomenon.
These changes in the production
system also resulted in major changes
in social life.  The factories set up in
urban areas were manned by workers
who were uprooted from the rural
areas and came to the cities in search
of work.  Low wages at the factory
meant that men, women and even
children had to work long hours in
hazardous circumstances to eke out
a living.  Modern industry enabled the
urban to dominate over the rural.
Cities and towns became the
dominant forms of human
settlement, housing large and
unequal populations in small,
densely populated urban areas.  The
rich and powerful lived in the cities,
but so did the working classes who
lived in slums amidst poverty and
squalor. Modern forms of governance,
with the state assuming control of
health, sanitation, crime control and
general ‘development’ created the
demand for new kinds of knowledge.
The social sciences and particularly
sociology emerged partly as a
response to this need.
From the outset sociological
thought was concerned with the
scientific analysis of developments in
industrial society.  This has prompted
observers to argue that sociology was
the ‘science of the new industrial
society’. Empirically informed
scientific discussion about trends in
social behaviour only became
possible with the advent of modern
industrial society. The scientific
information generated by the state to
monitor and maintain the health of
its social body became the basis for
reflection on society. Sociological
theory was the result of this self-
reflection.
2019-20
69 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
he engaged in a critical analysis of
capitalist society to expose its
weaknesses and bring about its
downfall.  Marx argued that human
society had progressed through
different stages.  These were: primitive
communism, slavery, feudalism and
capitalism.  Capitalism was the latest
phase of human advancement, but
Marx believed that it would give way
to socialism.
Karl Marx was from Germany but
spent most of his intellectually
productive years in exile in Britain.
His radical political views led him to
be exiled from Germany, France and
Austria.  Though Marx had studied
philosophy he was not a philosopher.
He was a social thinker who advocated
an end to oppression and exploitation.
He believed that scientific socialism
would achieve this goal.  To that end
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Biography
Karl Marx was born on 5 May 1818 in Trier, part of
the Rhineland province of Prussia in Germany. Son
of a prosperous liberal lawyer.
1834-36: Studied law at the University of Bonn and
then at the University of Berlin, where he
was much influenced by the Young
Hegelians.
1841: Completed his doctoral thesis in
philosophy from the University of Jena.
1843: Married Jenny von Westphalen and moved
to Paris.
1844: Met Friedrich Engels in Paris, who became a lifelong friend.
1847: Invited by the International Working Men’s Association to prepare a
document spelling out its aims and objectives. This was written jointly
by Marx and Engels and published as the Manifesto of the Communist
Party (1948)
1849: Exiled to England and lived there till his death.
1852: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (published).
1859: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (published).
1867: Capital, Vol. I, published.
1881: Death of Jenny von Westphalen.
1883: Marx dies and is buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery.
2019-20
Page 5


 66 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
CHAPTER 4
INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
Sociology is sometimes called the child
of the ‘age of revolution’. This is because
it was born in 19th century Western
Europe, after revolutionary changes in
the preceding three centuries that
decisively changed the way people lived.
Three revolutions paved the way for the
emergence of sociology: the
Enlightenment, or the scientific
revolution; the French Revolution; and
the Industrial Revolution. These
processes completely transformed not
only European society, but also the rest
of the world as it came into contact with
Europe.
In this chapter the key ideas of
three sociological thinkers: Karl
Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max
Weber will be discussed.  As part of
the classical tradition of sociology,
they laid the foundation of the
subject.  Their ideas and insights
have remained relevant even in the
contemporary period.  Of course,
these ideas have also been subjected
to criticism and have undergone
major modifications.  But since ideas
about society are themselves
influenced by social conditions, we
begin with a few words about the
context in which sociology emerged.
THE CONTEXT OF SOCIOLOGY
The modern era in Europe and the
conditions of modernity that we take
for granted today were brought about
by three major processes.  These were:
the Enlightenment or dawning of the
‘age of reason’; the quest for political
sovereignty embodied in the French
Revolution; and the system of mass
manufacture inaugurated by the
Industrial Revolution.  Since these
have been discussed at length in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology,
here we will only mention some of the
intellectual consequences of these
momentous changes.
Activity 1
Revisit the discussion of the coming
of the modern age in Europe in
Chapter 1 of Introducing Sociology.
What sorts of changes were these
three processes associated with?
2019-20
67 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
The Enlightenment
During the late 17th and 18th
centuries, Western Europe saw the
emergence of radically new ways of
thinking about the world.  Refered to
as ‘The Enlightenment’, these new
philosophies established the human
being at the centre of the universe, and
rational thought as the central feature
of the human being.  The ability to
think rationally and critically
transformed the individual human
being into both the producer and the
user of all knowledge, the ‘knowing
subject’.  On the other hand, only
persons who could think and reason
could be considered as fully human.
Those who could not remained
deficient as human beings and were
considered as not fully evolved
humans, as in the case of the natives
of primitive societies or ‘savages’.
Being the handiwork of humans,
society was amenable to rational
analysis and thus comprehensible to
other humans.  For reason to become
the defining feature of the human
world, it was necessary to displace
nature, religion and the divine acts of
gods from the central position they
had in earlier ways of understanding
the world. This means that the
Enlightenment was made possible by,
and in turn helped to develop,
attitudes of mind that we refer to today
as secular, scientific and humanistic.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution (1789)
announced the arrival of political
sovereignty at the level of individuals
as well as nation-states. The
Declaration of Human Rights
asserted the equality of all citizens
and questioned the legitimacy of
privileges inherited by birth. It
signaled the emancipation of the
individual from the oppressive rule of
the religious and feudal institutions
that dominated France before the
Revolution. The peasants, most of
whom were serfs (or bonded
labourers) tied to landed estates
owned by members of the aristocracy,
were freed of their bonds.  The
numerous taxes paid by the peasants
to the feudal lords and to the church
were cancelled.  As free citizens of the
republic, sovereign individuals were
invested with rights and were equal
before the law and other institutions
of the state.  The state had to respect
the privacy of the autonomous
individual and its laws could not
intrude upon the domestic life of the
people.  A separation was built
between the public realm of the state
and a private realm of the household.
New ideas about what was
appropriate to the public and private
spheres developed. For example,
religion and the family became more
‘private’ while education (specially
schooling) became more ‘public’.
Moreover, the nation-state itself was
also redefined as a sovereign entity
with a centralised government.  The
ideals of the French Revolution —
liberty, equality and fraternity —
became the watchwords of the
modern state.
2019-20
 68 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
The Industrial Revolution
The foundations of modern industry
were laid by the Industrial
Revolution, which began in Britain
in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries.  It had two major aspects.
The first was the systematic
application of science and technology
to industrial production, particularly
the invention of new machines and
the harnessing of new sources of
power.  Secondly, the industrial
revolution also evolved new ways of
organising labour and markets on a
scale larger than anything in the
past.  New machines like the
Spinning Jenny (which greatly
increased the productivity of the
textile industry) and new methods of
obtaining power (such as the various
versions of the steam engine)
facilitated the production process
and gave rise to the factory system
and mass manufacture of goods.
These goods were now produced on
a gigantic scale for distant markets
across the world.  The raw materials
used in their production were also
obtained from all over the world.
Modern large scale industry thus
became a world wide phenomenon.
These changes in the production
system also resulted in major changes
in social life.  The factories set up in
urban areas were manned by workers
who were uprooted from the rural
areas and came to the cities in search
of work.  Low wages at the factory
meant that men, women and even
children had to work long hours in
hazardous circumstances to eke out
a living.  Modern industry enabled the
urban to dominate over the rural.
Cities and towns became the
dominant forms of human
settlement, housing large and
unequal populations in small,
densely populated urban areas.  The
rich and powerful lived in the cities,
but so did the working classes who
lived in slums amidst poverty and
squalor. Modern forms of governance,
with the state assuming control of
health, sanitation, crime control and
general ‘development’ created the
demand for new kinds of knowledge.
The social sciences and particularly
sociology emerged partly as a
response to this need.
From the outset sociological
thought was concerned with the
scientific analysis of developments in
industrial society.  This has prompted
observers to argue that sociology was
the ‘science of the new industrial
society’. Empirically informed
scientific discussion about trends in
social behaviour only became
possible with the advent of modern
industrial society. The scientific
information generated by the state to
monitor and maintain the health of
its social body became the basis for
reflection on society. Sociological
theory was the result of this self-
reflection.
2019-20
69 INTRODUCING WESTERN SOCIOLOGISTS
he engaged in a critical analysis of
capitalist society to expose its
weaknesses and bring about its
downfall.  Marx argued that human
society had progressed through
different stages.  These were: primitive
communism, slavery, feudalism and
capitalism.  Capitalism was the latest
phase of human advancement, but
Marx believed that it would give way
to socialism.
Karl Marx was from Germany but
spent most of his intellectually
productive years in exile in Britain.
His radical political views led him to
be exiled from Germany, France and
Austria.  Though Marx had studied
philosophy he was not a philosopher.
He was a social thinker who advocated
an end to oppression and exploitation.
He believed that scientific socialism
would achieve this goal.  To that end
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Biography
Karl Marx was born on 5 May 1818 in Trier, part of
the Rhineland province of Prussia in Germany. Son
of a prosperous liberal lawyer.
1834-36: Studied law at the University of Bonn and
then at the University of Berlin, where he
was much influenced by the Young
Hegelians.
1841: Completed his doctoral thesis in
philosophy from the University of Jena.
1843: Married Jenny von Westphalen and moved
to Paris.
1844: Met Friedrich Engels in Paris, who became a lifelong friend.
1847: Invited by the International Working Men’s Association to prepare a
document spelling out its aims and objectives. This was written jointly
by Marx and Engels and published as the Manifesto of the Communist
Party (1948)
1849: Exiled to England and lived there till his death.
1852: The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (published).
1859: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (published).
1867: Capital, Vol. I, published.
1881: Death of Jenny von Westphalen.
1883: Marx dies and is buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery.
2019-20
 70 UNDERSTANDING SOCIETY
Capitalist society was marked by
an ever intensifying process of
alienation operating at several levels.
First, modern capitalist society is one
where humans are more alienated
from nature than ever before; second,
human beings are alienated from each
other as capitalism individualises
previously collective forms of social
organisation, and as relationships get
more and more market-mediated.
Third, the large mass of working
people is alienated from the fruits of
its labour because workers do not own
the products they produce.  Moreover,
workers have no control over the work
process itself — unlike in the days
when skilled craftsmen controlled
their own labour, today the content of
the factory worker’s working day is
decided by the management.  Finally,
as the combined result of all these
alienations, human beings are also
alienated from themselves and
struggle to make their lives meaningful
in a system where they are both more
free but also more alienated and less
in control of their lives than before.
However, even though it was an
exploitative and oppressive system,
Marx believed that capitalism was
nevertheless a necessary and
progressive stage of human history
because it created the preconditions
for an egalitarian future free from both
exploitation and poverty.  Capitalist
society would be transformed by its
victims, i.e. the working class, who
would unite to collectively bring about
a revolution to overthrow it and
establish a free and equal socialist
society.  In order to understand the
working of capitalism, Marx undertook
an elaborate study of its political,
social and specially its economic
aspects.
Marx’s conception of the economy
was based on the notion of a mode of
production, which stood for a broad
system of production associated with
an epoch or historical period.  Primitive
communism, slavery, feudalism and
capitalism were all modes of
production.  At this general level, the
mode of production defines an entire
way of life characteristic of an era.  At
a more specific level, we can think of
the mode of production as being
something like a building in the sense
that it consists of a foundation or base,
and a superstructure or something
erected on top of the base.  The base —
or economic base — is primarily
economic and includes the productive
forces and production relations.
Productive forces refer to all the means
or factors of production such as land,
labour, technology, sources of energy
(such as electricity, coal, petroleum and
so on).  Production relations refer to
all the economic relationships and
forms of labour organisation which are
involved in production.  Production
relations are also property relations, or
relationships based on the ownership
or control of the means of production.
For example, in the mode of
production called primitive
communism, the productive forces
consisted mostly of nature — forests,
land, animals and so on — along with
very rudimentary forms of technology
2019-20
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