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Founders of Sociological Theory: Marx, Durkheim, Weber

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Founders of Sociological Theory: Marx, Durkheim, Weber essay

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The scientific study of society and social behaviors is what we call sociology, and it’s a big area of study. The basic premise of all classical sociological theory is that the contemporary world is the outcome of a transition from traditional societies to modern societies. It aims to understand our modern social world and it uses the transition from traditional to modern to do so. There are three theorists that are commonly used and known as the founders of the sociological theory, which are Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

Karl Marx relied on a particular understanding of historical materialism and the laws of history. The ownership of private property and as we learned also known as bourgeoisie, versus those who have to sell their labor to the private property owners also known as proletariat. Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism is a critique of Marx’s historical materialism to argue that the material conditions required to fuel capitalism are not at al enough and that capitalism also requires ethical constructions to help create the conditions needed to transition fully from f traditional society to modern society. Weber uses the idea of increasing rationalization which in turn is translated to the Iron Cage of rationalization, from what he thinks there is no escape from and Weber’s interest in bureaucracies fits for society’s move into rationalization.

Emile Durkheim on the other hand argues that the transition from traditional, primitive to modern, and advanced societies is an evolutionary process requires intervention into primitive societies by advanced societies as well as natural changes within societies. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’s historical materialism reveals that no means of social reproduction can exist without the necessary material conditions being present. Marx’s mode of production was the understanding of everything that goes into the production of the necessities of life through ones’ labor.

Because of this Marx was especially concerned with how individuals relate to that most fundamental resource of all, their own labor-power. Marx wrote extensively about this in terms of the problem of alienation. He explains how the alienation from the self a consequence of being a mechanistic part of a social class, the condition of which estranges a person from their humanity.

For Marx, the possibility that one gives up ownership of one’s own labor is equivalent to being alienated from one’s own nature; it is a spiritual loss within. Under capitalism, social relationships of production, such as among workers or between workers and capitalists, are mediated through commodities, including labor, that are bought and sold on the market. This is where Marx’s descriptions of bourgeoisie, the ownership of private property, combines with proletariat, those who must sell their labor to the private owners.

This all-in turn leads to alienation. You are not the owner of your own labor because the less will belong to you, “all these consequences are contained in the definition that the worker is related to the product of his labour as to an alien object. For on this premise it is clear that the more the worker spends himself, the more powerful the alien objective world becomes which he creates over-against himself, the poorer he himself – his inner world – becomes, the less belongs to him as his own.” (Marx, Karl. 1844, pg. 39).

The workers put their life into the object and their labor is invested in that object, yet because the workers do not own the fruits of their labor, which in capitalism are appropriated from them, the workers become more estranged the more they produce. This first type of alienation is the estrangement of the workers from the product of their work. The second type of alienation is the estrangement of the workers from the activity of the production. The work that the workers perform do not belong to the workers but is a means of survival that the workers are forced to perform for someone else. The third form of alienation is the worker’s alienation from “species-being,” or the worker’s human identity. “External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification.” (Marx, Karl.1844, pg. 40).

The process of acting on and transforming inorganic matter to create things constitutes the core identity of the human being, basically saying that if you work hard, your life will have more purpose and more opportunities available. The fourth and final form of alienation is the “estrangement of man to man.” Since the worker’s product is owned by someone else; the person he is working for, the worker regards this person, the capitalist, as alien, hostile, and more powerful than the worker.

This in-turn makes the worker a slave of his object and labour. In conclusion, this all translates to one simple sentence, do not lose yourself or your spirit in working so hard for something that is not making you happy or will not make you happy towards the end. Emile Durkheim Emile Durkheim focused more on the primitive and function of religion and how religion played a role in shaping society but more importantly, according to Durkheim, society developed from primitive societies to advanced societies.

The transition foregrounds the increase of the division of labor. Durkheim’s concept of the division of labor focused on the shift and changes in societies from a society that is simple to a society that is more complex. He argued that traditional societies were made up of standardized people that were more or less the same in terms of values, religious beliefs, and backgrounds; however, modern societies are made up of a complex division of labor, beliefs, and backgrounds.

In traditional societies, the collective consciousness ruled, social norms were strong, and social behavior was well regulated throughout but in modern societies, common consciousness was less obvious, and the regulation of social behavior was less punitive and aiming to restore normal activity to society. Modern societies are characterized by a high division of labor. QUOTE. The division of labor follows onto mechanical and organic solidarity, “Since negative solidarity does not produce any integration by itself, and since, moreover, there is nothing specific about it, we shall recognize only two kinds of positive solidarity which are distinguishable by the following qualities.” (Durkheim, Emile.2008, pg. 47)

Mechanical solidarity occurs when individuals within societies are alike and self-sufficient. For example, in the traditional societies, individuals grow their own food, make their own clothes, and have little need for social contact with other individuals because they do not have to rely on anyone else but themselves for daily needs. Organic solidarity is when a large population within a society is socially stratified into smaller organizational units within that same society. Unlike mechanical solidarity, organic solidarity allows for much more interdependence among individuals but there I still a division of the labor of individuals.

The basis of organic solidarity may be weakened by anomie when people fail to comprehend the ties that bind them to other people. Max Weber Max Weber uses the idea of increasing rationalization which in turn is translated to the Iron Cage of rationalization, from what he thinks there is no escape from and Weber’s interest in bureaucracies fits for society’s move into rationalization. Weber’s understanding of the transition to modern society is based on his understanding of culture, bureaucracy, and rationality.

Bureaucracy constitutes the most efficient and rational way we are able to organize activities and processes that hierarchies are in place and are the institutional embodiment of rationalization. In order to maintain order, maximize our efficiency as a society and eliminate the idea that individuals have an easier way or form just because of their role in society and that is still being constructed throughout history, “the bureaucratic structure is everywhere, a late product of historical development.” (Weber, Max. 2014) Weber understands capitalism as the highest form of bureaucracy, implemented by two irrationalities: the irrational calling and drive for continuous work; and modern socialism.

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber presented a carefully researched historical account of how a strong Protestant work ethic and belief in living frugally helped foster the development of the capitalist economic system.

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Founders of Sociological Theory: Marx, Durkheim, Weber. (2019, Mar 07). Retrieved from