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In this lesson, you will explore the theories of Karl Marx and discover how he contributed to the field of sociology.

Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

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Sociology

There are many parts to a society. So, there are many ways to study society. The scientific study of society and social behaviors is called sociology, and it’s a big area of study. In order to understand the many complexities of human societies, sociologists have developed several viewpoints, or theories, to help establish the basic concepts of the field. Some theories deal with the sizes of groups in society.

Others deal with production of morals and values. And some deal with the economy and the creation of social classes. That’s where we find Karl Marx.

Karl Marx

In the 19th century, a German philosopher named Karl Marx began exploring the relationship between economy and the workers within that system. Over his lifetime, Marx developed a theory that human societies progress though a struggle between two distinct social classes. The proletariat, the workers, are the lower class.

They perform the labor, but the upper class managers, bosses, and rulers, called the bourgeoisie, get the profits. In this system, which became known as Marxism, governments existed to protect the wealthy, not the common good.To arrive at this conclusion, Marx studied and wrote on philosophy, economy, and politics.

Marx formulated these into a scientific study of society. Thus, he is considered to be one of the founding figures of sociology as a discipline. Marx believed that with a mixture of historical research and scientific methods, society could be analyzed logically and rationally. This idea, of course, is still followed by sociologists today.

Marx and Sociology

In sociology, Marx’s theories are used to study society through economic systems. Specifically, Marxist sociology looks at the ways economics define social roles and expectations. There are several fundamental questions that this theory seeks to address. First, how is money used to control the working class? Second, how are social classes defined by type of work? Third, what is the relation between workers, money, the government, and society? Finally, how does the economy influence social inequality?Marx’s theories formed a sociological perspective called conflict theory, which stated that capitalist societies were built on conflicts between the workers and the rulers. In this theory, society relies on class conflict in order to keep the wealthy in power and the poor as subjects to the government. Conflict theory has been used to examine several aspects of society that are built upon class conflict, which Marx argued were designed to protect the wealthy, not society as a whole.

Marx is also considered a founder of critical theory, which is the belief that society and culture can be studied using both the sciences and humanities. This is one of the foundational principles of all of the social sciences, giving Marx an important position in all of these disciplines. Critical theory was very unique when it was first originated because it stressed that researchers should focus on all of society, not only the rich and powerful. As modern sociologists stress, all members of society deserve equal attention, regardless of their wealth or status.

Lesson Summary

Sociology is the academic study of social behavior and societies.

One of the foundational thinkers of sociology was Karl Marx, a 19th-century German philosopher. Marx was focused on the relationship between workers and the economy and began to study society. Marx developed a theory that society progressed through a class conflict between the proletariat, the workers, and the bourgeoisie, the business owners and government leaders.Marx’s theories about society not only helped form the discipline of sociology but also several perspectives within sociology.

Conflict theory states that capitalist societies are built on the conflict between social classes. Critical theory argues that society should be studied using both the sciences and humanities and that all members of a society should be researched as equal parts of society. Marx’s theories brought attention to the relationship between economy and society, helped start the field of sociology, and laid important groundwork for all of the social sciences.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define sociology
  • Describe the important contributions of Karl Marx to the field of sociology
  • Explain Marx’s perspectives on class conflict, conflict theory and critical theory

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