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Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Simmel Case

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Autor:   •  November 21, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  3,228 Words (13 Pages)  •  1,206 Views

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Theorists began to recognize capitalism as pre-industrial society developed economically and major social changes began to occur. Modernization resulted in industrialization, urbanization and bureaucratization as the workplace shifted from the home to the factory, people moved from farms into cities where jobs were more readily available and large-scale formal organizations emerged. Classical theorists' observations addressed numerous facets of social organization and interaction that came about as a result of modernization; however this essay will focus on their ideas regarding capitalism and the capitalistic society. Over time, classical theories have been analyzed, debated and modified but sociologists continue to reference them as they have merit in understanding contemporary issues.

Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Georg Simmel are the dominant classical voices when studying or analyzing the rise of civilization from a more cooperative, collective feudal social order to a modern capitalistic society. All four of these sociological philosophers contributed to the contemporary understanding of the nature of society and social change. Each of them eventually surmised that economic conditions directly influenced the relationship between individuals and their fellows, and individuals and their world. Although they had differences in their viewpoints, they were acutely concerned with the evolving market society and its effect on human interaction. Marx developed his concept of "alienation", Durkheim expressed thoughts on social solidarity, Weber and Simmel emphasized how the emergence of capitalism affected the way people think, making the rational calculation of means and ends more ubiquitous and placing significant importance on rationalism and disenchantment. The outcome for the modern citizen was not naturally grounded in humanitarianism or connectedness with his fellows; rather it was grounded in the division of labor and relationship to modern capitalism and the means of production. However, each saw capitalism as a system with some serious downfalls and consequences to human relationships between individuals, and societies.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) lived his life when most of Europe was still agricultural and artisanal; most European states were still dominated by monarchical power; and most Europeans still went to church. Marx's theoretic endeavors are clearly influenced by the history of his time. Marx argued that modernization is an ascendancy of industrial capitalism. Marx felt that capitalism through industrialization had increased the productive capability of the world's economy far beyond that ever witnessed before. He also felt that capitalism created two competing classes of people, the bourgeoisie who owned and controlled the means of production and hired wage laborers and the proletariat, comprised of common workers who owned nothing but the right to sell their own labor. Capitalism's very nature would ensure that eventually, these classes would struggle against one another.

In identifying the issues of class based in economics and the exploitation of workers, Marx sought to explain and change the social scheme of society. Marx argued that social change was created through a series of changes or "stages of development" whereby capitalism evolved as the dominant social structure. This development between man and his relationship to the means of production was critical for his survival, and maintaining his social being. Marx in no way assumed that this economic state was normal however it had to be accepted as natural/normal in order to be effective. Because this system of owner and worker was constantly being reproduced it would become normal, and accepted in the consciousness of the individual. This economic system had to be adopted in other structures of society including religion, education, and entertainment in order to successfully reproduce and become internalized at a consciousness level. The message adopted by these social structures had to be congruent with the ideology of capitalism. This dependence on the means of production was a state achieved quite likely against his or her will. The initial strength in his theory is in identifying and addressing his belief that the individual's very consciousness is determined by his or her social being rather than the contrary.

Marx formed the theoretical framework that saw the division of labor as one of conflict where capitalism functioned as a system of oppression and exploitation of one class over another. Marx analyzes and examines the ideas of alienation, a natural development of capitalism wherein the individual becomes alienated from his or her work product, then his or her peers and finally the self. It is the owner then, not the worker that would own and profit from the end product. Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, states that the worker actually becomes the product. He or she is relegated to a wage laborer and according to Marx, a seller of themselves. It is then inherent in capitalism that the individual only sees himself or herself in terms of the relationship to the means of production and the corresponding social class.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) also examined the move into modern, capitalist industrial society, the division of labor and the relation to the means of production. He surmised this new economic state and the division of labor was the natural outgrowth of individuals with different interests and skills. Durkheim's fundamental premise was that society was based on solidarity and harmony and that the turmoil evident in industrialization was abnormal. Where Marx saw the modern industrial world as a necessary step to freedom, Durkheim saw it as a development with specific social phenomenon which he refers to as social facts that needed to be studied scientifically as explained in The Division of Labor in Society. These social facts were outside the individual and were capable of exercising power over the individual and influencing behaviour:

A social fact is identifiable through the power of external coercion, which it exerts or is capable of exerting upon individuals. (Durkheim, [1859] 1982, p.56)

Durkheim believed that by examining and understanding the effect of these social facts on human behaviour within the context of industrial society, adequate solutions could be devised to deal with the problems inherent in the new capitalist society. According to Durkheim, two different types of social facts exist: material and immaterial. Durkheim was most interested in studying the latter, particularly morality, collective conscience, collective representation, and social currents. He suggested that society could achieve a state of harmony or equilibrium - the state at which it was designed to remain. Unlike Marx, who believed the industrialized society would bring alienation


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