Summary of the Marxist perspective

A summary of the Marxist perspective, including Key concepts, Sociologists and words. Covers Karl Marx's Key Ideas, Gramsci's Humanistic Marxism and Althusser's Structural Marxism, as well as an evaluation.

Compiled using and adapting information from (a great website!), Sociology for AQA Volume 2: Second Year A-Level by Browne, Blundell and Law along with my own brain :)

Let me know what I can do to improve this!


Key concepts

  • Society is characterised by conflict based on class inequality.
  • The Bourgeoisie (ruling/capitalist class) exploit the Proletariat (working class) in order to make a profit. The Proletariat do not own the means of production.
  • Ruling class ideology legitimates the subordinate position of the working class in society.
  • The cause of oppression and inequality within society is the capitalist system. Marxists strongly oppose this.
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Key words

  • Conflict 
  • Bourgeoisie - Ruling or Capitalist class
  • Inequality
  • Exploitation
  • Proletariat - Working Class
  • Alienation - Capitalist system means workers lose control over their work
  • Capitalism - an economic system whereby rewards are given because of success in a meritocratic society (people achieve and usually gain a higher position in the social hierarchy due to hard work). There is emphasis on individualism, as opposed to Communism which focusses on sharing goods equally between everyone in society.
  • False consciousness - a lack of awareness among people of their real interests. They believe that the way in which society is organised is fair. Karl Marx says that the working class have or experience this.
  • Class Consciousness - an awareness among members of a social class of their true interests
  • Dual consciousness - the idea that the working class realise both their own position in society, as well as that of the ruling class
  • Means of production - resources required for the production of society's goods, such as land or machinery
  • Superstructure - all institutions within society, excluding the economy
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Key sociologists

  • Karl Marx (1818-1883) - founder of Marxism
  • Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) - founded Marxism, along with Karl Marx
  • Louis Althusser (1918-1990) - devised Structural Marxism (described later)
  • Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) - devised Humanistic Marxism, is associated with the concept of Hegemony (described later)
  • Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) - did not strictly associate himself with the Marxist perspective, but his ideas such as schools having a middle class habitus (dispositions, attitudes) which gives middle class students an advantage over working class students. Furthermore, the ideas of Marxism are also linked to cultural, economic and educational capital (middle class having more). These are just a few examples. 
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Karl Marx: Key Ideas

  • The Base (economy) determines the Superstructure (all other institutions within society).
  • Ruling class possess ideological control; they can transmit their ideology to the working class. This justifies the position of the working class within society and helps them to accept their position.
  • Proletariat exist with a false consciousness. By passively accepting their position they are not fully aware of their place in society, the subordination they face becomes normal to them.
  • Capitalism causes alienation - the capitalist system and its institutions are controlled by the ruling or capitalist class (Bourgeoisie) meaning that the working class (Proletariat) become alienated under the Capitalist system. This is because they lose autonomy (control) over their work. 
  • Despite the false consciousness, revolution (the overturning of a capitalist society) is inevitable as the capitalist system becomes more intense.
  • Communism is the final stage of societal revolution. This describes a system whereby the means of production is shared within society.
  • The purpose of social research is to examine the state of the capitalist system in order to determine when a revolution will occur.
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Antonio Gramsci: Humanistic Marxism

This was developed as a response to Karl Marx's 'Traditional Marxism ' perspective.

  • Humanistic Marxism outlines how individuals aren't as passive as Marx describes. There is some active awareness and perhaps resentment of their position within society.
  • Hegemony
  • The ruling/capitalist class are too small to monopolise society completely.
  • Proletariat have a 'dual consciousness' - they are able to recognise both their position in society along with the position of the ruling class.
  • The Proletariat needs organic intellectuals in order to develop a system which opposes Capitalism (Communism). This may be difficult if opportunities for the working class are blocked.
  • Gramsci's view is criticised for ignoring the influence that social structures have on individuals.
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Louis Althusser: Structural Marxism

Althusser argues that the ruling class maintain their control of society on 3 different levels: economic, ideological and political.
They excercise this control through both Repressive and Ideological State Apparatuses. (RSA and ISA).
The RSA involves institutions such as the army and Police which enforce laws and control.
The ISA involves institutions such as the education system, which contributes to the transmission of values and ideas.
According to Althusser, the Capitalist system needs to collapse in order for social change to emerge.

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Evaluation of the Marxist perspective


  • Gives us an insight into class inequality
  • It acknowledges some of the ways in which society can be dysfunctional


  • Ignores other forms of inequality, such as gender inequalities which are largely discussed by the feminist perspective.
  • Fails to recognise that there is a complex class structure. The Marxist view sees society as divided into two single classes, and their is little social mobility. It does not acknowledge that in contemporary society, often more than two classes are referred to. For instance, as well as the working and upper class, there may be a middle or upper middle class.
  • The postmodernist perspective argues that the actions of people are not restricted by social structure, and that many structures such as class and gender do not exist. They also believe that the Marxist perspective (along with others) is a metanarrative - a broad, a embracing story.
  • The introduction of a 'welfare state' has meant that society is less exploitative, and focussed more on those in need of help.
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