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Civil Rights Movement by E. Durkheim and K. Marx Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020


Numerous “evidences show that the events of the Civil Rights Movement were partly influenced and guided by the theoretical arguments of different social theorists such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim” (Andres 1997:811).This civil uprising took place in the United States throughout the 1960s. Many African Americans wanted the issues of racial discrimination and segregation to be addressed (Jones 2002). They also wanted their citizenship rights to be recognized and safeguarded in accordance with the law (Hall 2003). This essay uses the theoretical arguments presented by Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx to analyze the Civil Rights Movement. The theories will also be used to predict the future of racism in the United States.

Lessons Learned from Marx and Durkheim

Karl Marx’s social theory has been observed to cut across different fields. From an economic perspective, Marx argues that modern capitalism is something characterized by division of labor. This kind of “division plays a significant role towards reshaping the nature and state of the contemporary society” (Andres 1997:807). Marx presents “profound arguments on the crude material conditions” (Marx 1978:29). From a social perspective, Karl Marx argues that humankind has established a society characterized by different classes. The “upper class is characterized by abundance and plenty while the lower class is associated with poverty and hardship” (Marx 1978:59). He treats labor as a powerful means of production (Marx 1978). These two classes will eventually find themselves in conflict because of poor distribution natural resources.

The theory goes further to explain “how political and social institutions have emerged as products of the bourgeoisie” (Marx 1978:67). Any form of social movement or reform is therefore described as an ineffective approach towards freedom. This knowledge leads to the idea of class struggles whereby new elements of class consciousness emerge.

Durkheim’s social theory presents powerful ideas that can be used to understand the challenges experienced in modern societies. According to the theorist, division of labor has played a critical role towards disintegrating the modern society (Durkheim 1984). He identifies “the concept of individualism as something that promotes personal identity” (Nee 2010:36). Division of labor has the potential to affect the welfare of different individuals. Durkheim goes further to explain how division of labor can be used by individuals to focus on their best goals and outcomes.

It is agreeable that “the class conflicts experienced in different societies are caused by the manner in which transition takes place” (Nee 2010:39). The presence of moral and social norms is something important towards promoting a better personality. Durkheim embraces “the concept of functionalism to explain how societies operate in accordance with their respective parts” (Durkheim 1984:27). Consequently, social integration arises from the existing mutual dependencies that form a complex system.

The above analysis shows how these two theorists focused on the issue of modern capitalism. The theories explain how “division of labor revolutionized the market society” (Andres 1997:1814). The “market relations will always have significant implications on the society’s ability to achieve its goals and reproduce itself” (Durkheim 1984:49). The emergence of different upheavals has always revived the nature of relations in the society. That being the case, the ideas of these theories can be used to analyze different political, social, historical, and economic events that have been experienced in the world within the past years (Jones 2002).

Applying the Theories to a Social Setting: The Civil Rights Movement

Social theory can be used to analyze different events and happenings in the contemporary society. Marx’s “social theory presents powerful ideas regarding the undeniable link between Capitalism and the Civil Rights Movement experienced in the United States” (Marx 1978:39). Racism remained a contentious issue in the historical development of the country. This historical event resulted in a situation whereby the Whites used racism to rule and divide different minority groups. Many African Americans were forced to work as slaves. They worked hard in order to support the welfare of the ruling class.

From a Marxist perspective, the minorities decided to unite in order to deal with the problem that had affected them for centuries. It should be observed that the mistreatment and enslavement of many African Americans was a classical example of class relations (Marx 1978). A capitalistic system emerged whereby these slaves were oppressed. The American capitalists used the tool of racism to justify slavery and oppression. They also divided the community in order to rule it effectively. The African Americans eventually joined hands in order to fight and achieve their liberties (Andres 1997). Such class struggles exist even today in the country. More African Americans continue to fight for emancipation and inclusion in the wider society. This argument explains how racism remains a critical force towards inequality (Marx 1978).

Despite the differences observed in Durkheim’s theory, the reader observes that the issue of labor has played a significant role towards redefining the positions of many people in the society. According to Durkheim, the origin of conflict is something that depends on the nature of social transition. The concept of functionalism also explains how the absence of coordination within a society produces chaos. The theory by Durkheim explains how “the society progressed from mechanical to organic solidarity” (Durkheim 1984:52).

Slavery and forced labor in the united states led to new conflicts. Weak bonds between different individuals emerged in the country. The “government was expected to ensure every division of labor was done in accordance with the existing social functions” (Hall 2003:1249). The level of segregation experienced in the country led to new interferences and constraints. These constraints forced the African America race to fight in order to establish a better position within the dynamics of the society (Hall 2003).

According to Marxism, capitalism is a social system whereby the greatest majority is exploited by a small number of citizens. The rich have for years been focusing on different tools to rule and divide the majority. Marx’s theory therefore explains how racism and prejudice is associated with capitalism (Nee 2010). Racism was therefore used by the different whites to oppress the African American community (Hall 2003).

Oppression has for centuries been used to explain why inequality exists in different societies. A small number of people enriched themselves using free labor from the majority. This argument explains why “the nature of racism experienced in the United States was used to justify the enslavement of many African Americans” (Hall 2003:1252). The “society treated such African Americans as individuals who underserved freedom” (Jones 2002:17).

The arguments and ideas presented by Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx offer powerful insights towards understanding how the Civil Rights Movement unfolded for very many years (Jones 2002). The events of the civil rights movement were therefore inspired by the issues surrounding the concept of division of labor. New struggles emerged thus forcing the African Americans to focus on the best social goals. As well, the presence of educated individuals among the African Americans made it easier for the race to achieve its social goals. The responses of these African Americans were diverse in accordance with the division of labor experienced in the country.


The Civil Rights Movement in the United States can be succinctly explained using the arguments presented by Karl Marx and Durkheim. According to Marx’s theory, the conflict existing among different races in America is similar to the class struggles associated with capitalism. This kind of conflict remains a powerful source of inequality. It is agreeable that the Civil Rights Movement might have led to new laws in an attempt to empower different African Americans (Nee 2010). However, this kind of conflict will continue to exist in the future. Marx’s theory therefore explains how this kind of inequality will continue to exist unless the social progression of every race is met.

As well, Durkheim’s theory explains “how the segregation experienced in the country forced many African Americans to function in division of labor” (Durkheim 1984:98). Their “responses were diverse thus resulting in organic solidarity” (Jones 2002:17). The collective nature of race will therefore promote new actions that can result in emancipation. The government should therefore embrace powerful strategies in an attempt to address the issues affecting every race. This approach will promote the idea of functionalism and ensure different parts of the society are in harmony with each other.


Andres, Kenneth. 1997. “The Impacts of Social Movement on the Political Process: The Civil Rights Movement and Black Electoral Politics in Mississippi.” American Sociological Review 62(1):800-819.

Durkheim, Emile. 1984. The Division of Labor in Society. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Hall, Jacquelyn. 2003. “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past.” The Journal of American History 1(1):1233-1263.

Jones, Bernie. 2002. “Critical Race Theory: New Strategies for Civil Rights in the New Millennium.” Harvard Blackletter Law Journal 18(1):1-90.

Marx, Karl. 1978. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Nee, Victor. 2010. “New Institutionalism, Economic, and Sociological.” CSES 1(1):1-71.

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