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Social Theory in Philosophical and Economic Context Essay

“The Production of Consciousness” and The German Ideology

In “The Production of Consciousness,” which is a part of The German Ideology by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the authors explain their understanding of the origins of the contents of the human consciousness, that is, of various ideas, theories, religious views. existing in it (Marx & Engels, 2004).

According to Marx and Engels (2004), humans are firmed in the world that they live in. While living in the world, humans produce things; and it is these things that determine the life of a society, its culture, the views and ideologies prevalent in it. Society on the whole, therefore, produces history. This is called the materialist conception of history. (Here, the conception of the history of Marx and Engels sharply contrasts those of most German philosophers of that time, e.g., Hegel, who argued that it is the World Spirit, a very abstract and general entity, that determines the course of history.)

As for a separate individual, their consciousness is produced based on their surroundings, their social relationships, the production activities that they engage in. The fact that such a consciousness usually does not considerably deviate from a certain average that is characteristic for a particular society allows for speaking of social consciousness – that is, of a consciousness that is shared by most individuals within a society (or several somewhat different social consciousnesses shared by representatives of different social classes) (Marx & Engels, 2004).

Because various activities that humans engage in result in different types of consciousnesses, representatives of different classes within society will have different types of shared consciousness (Marx & Engels, 2004). Also, the existence of any society entails the constant production and reproduction of the social consciousness that is characteristic of that society.

Therefore, according to Marx and Engels (2004), it is not true that the consciousness of humans determines being; instead, it is their social being that determines their consciousness. In turn, the social being of society is determined by the production activities that humans engage in.

For instance, in ancient societies of hunters and gatherers, that method of production determined the roles of individuals within the society, as well as the relationships with them; e.g., physically stronger men were hunters, whereas women, who had to bear children, were to engage in safer gathering activities and look over homes; this also resulted in a particular family structure, in specific hierarchies within that society and its political structure, and in certain beliefs of the representatives of that society about the surrounding world. Thus, the individual consciousnesses of persons are produced from their activities and their relationships (Marx & Engels, 2004).

On the whole, in The German Ideology, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels not only explain the materialist conception of history, which was discussed above but also provide a thorough criticism of their opponents, such as Young Hegelians and some other German idealists. For example, Marx and Engels (2004) argue that German theorists often tend to create complex, universal, and totally meaningful theories about the human existence and being, and then attempt to explain the meaningless postulates by inventing other meaningless postulates.

Marx and Engels assert that these authors imagine that they explain some universal things, e.g., the basis of the history of humanity as a whole, but in reality, these authors simply remain deeply rooted in German history, German society, and German petty-bourgeois consciousness (Marx & Engels, 2004).

Marx and Engels (2004) also point out that because history is determined by the means of productions and the resulting collective consciousness, and not vice versa, to change history, it is needed to change the methods of production characteristic of a given society to other methods which would allow for the emergence of a new society.

Emile Durkheim on the Origins of Beliefs

In Durkheim’s sociological theory explaining religion, the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane plays a key role (Jones, 1986). The sociologist dismisses the previously existing theories which explained the origins of religion via animism, claiming that neither the human nor nature are sacred from the very start, and states that the origins of the sacred should be looked for somewhere else (Durkheim, 1915/2008).

Durkheim examines Australian tribes, discovering that the division of these tribes into clans takes place by religious relationships between the members of those clans. More specifically, members of particular clans have different totemic entities (usually some plant or animal species), and they associate themselves with these species. Durkheim argues that the totemic principle is, in essence, a personified clan itself. Thus, gods of a certain clan are simply the society that was apotheosized, i.e. promoted to the status of the sacred (Jones, 1986).

Therefore, according to Durkheim’s theory, religious beliefs emerge from the generalization of one’s clan and its personification as a particular species which can be seen in the outside world, and which becomes the focus of religious attention of the representatives of that clan at some point of time (Durkheim, 1915/2008).

In the Arabian culture, it’s really important to be a part of a tribe due to several reasons, individuals depend on each other for survival, the tribe would work as a shield that protects all the individuals they belong to it, individuals who belong to a tribe would be privileged in the society. According to Durkheim, “collective conscience… provides individuals with the meaning and binds them into a community” (as cited in Association of Religion Data Archives [ARDA], n.d., para. 1).

In the Arabian peninsula, the structure of any society starts from tribe, clan, and family. Each tribe should have Sheikh(leader), the leader would represent the scared for all the individuals within the tribe. No such a tribe does not have Sheikh( leader), even if they don’t have Sheikh (leader) they should elect one. Durkheim argued that “any object could become socially defined as sacred and… repeated veneration of sacred objects creates stable social relations” (as cited in ARDA, n.d., para. 3). Whenever any two individual has an issue he/she, should ask the Sheikh to find a solution for them otherwise, if they don’t that would cause chaos in the society. Tribe and Sheikh play a virtual role in this society.

George Herbert Mead on Play, the Game, and the Generalized Other

G. H. Mead explains his understanding of how an individual consciousness emerges and develops; according to the sociologist, the conception of the self and the self-consciousness emerges from people’s interactions with others; that is, one observes others and can e.g. watch them, the point at them, etc. (as cited in Allan, 2006). However, to direct one’s attention to their self, it is needed to realize oneself as a meaningful social object (Allan, 2006). On the whole, the self is gained via several social activities such as language, interactions, and, importantly, role-taking, that is, the process in which a person places themselves in a position of another to be able to observe themself.

The process of role-taking first takes place in early childhood and proceeds via three phases: the play, the game, and the generalized other. During the first phase, the play, a child assumes the perspective of some other individual, usually of an individual that is somehow meaningful to the child, e.g., provides for them materially and supplies emotional support (Allan, 2006). At this stage, children need to “get outside” of themselves, to assume the position of someone else.

For example, a girl may attempt to play the role of a mother while attending to her dolls. Next, during the second phase, that of game, children continue playing roles of other individuals, but they also take the perspective of multiple others, not only one; also, the children start taking into consideration the general rules of the society in which they live. For instance, a child might play with dolls and imagine that there is a whole family, and attempt to play several roles together. However, the children still do not have a definite perspective of themself; such a perspective is obtained at the third phase, that of the generalized other, where the child generalizes the points of view of other individuals into a single perception of the community (Allan, 2006).

Importantly, this perception of the generalized other is the manner through which the society as a whole impact the behavior of separate individuals and exercises control over them. This is because the perception of the generalized other plays the role of a determining factor inside the mind of an individual (Allan, 2006).

Connections and Differences Between Mead’s Conception of the Self and Du Bois’ Discussion on the Souls of Black and White Folks

According to the conception that Du Bois (2008) expressed in The Souls of Black Folk (originally published in 1903), one of the main problems of that time was the issue related to the division of individuals into groups by their color.

According to this conception, individuals in America often experience the phenomenon of “double consciousness,” when they have to look at themselves from positions of other people of different races, and see themselves in the light of the race the representatives of which they are (Du Bois, 2008). This is because racial bias has a profound adverse impact on individuals, and forces them to look at the world from the perspective of another (of a different race) to understand their role better.

There are certain connections between Mead’s theory of the self and Du Bois’ conception of the “souls” of Black and White individuals (Allan, 2006; Du Bois, 2008). In both theories, one realizes their self from the perspective of another, and the realization of the roles of other people and the rules of the society determines their social role and behavior. Nevertheless, there are differences as well; for instance, in Mead’s theory, the realization of oneself and other, and the construction of the generalized other happens in childhood during the natural process of play; but in Du Bois’ conception, there is a difference between the perceptions that Black and White’s people develop, and these distinctions are dictated by the prejudice that is dominant within the society.

Thomas Hobbes

The theory of social order by Thomas Hobbes in based on several assumptions. For instance, he believes that people are rational beings who can reason, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of different situations, and forecast the consequences of what they do (Hobbes, 1651/2008). Individuals are also egoistic and self-interested; they look for ways to gain what they need or wish, e.g. status, possessions, and, most of all, security.

Because of being desirous of gaining these, people seek power, which can allow them to do it. Nevertheless, individuals are not significantly unequal by their nature, which means that they have to struggle and compete with others to attain power and gain what they desire. This struggle, which is labeled “the state of nature” in Hobbes’ theory, is a war of all against all; in this condition, people are not secure, live in constant fear, and the possibility to create organized production does not exist, for the outcomes of such production would only provoke further conflicts (Hobbes, 1651/2008).

Therefore, this state is harmful to all the participants of the conflicts; thus, people need to create some social order, which requires an entity that would impose some rules and be able to enforce them to ensure that a continued peace exists between individuals (Hobbes, 1651/2008).

Consequently, people sacrifice a part of their freedom to create an entity that would use their collective power to protect the individual members of the society from those who would break the rules. As a result, a “social contract” is “signed,” and the state is created. Hobbes compares the state to Leviathan: a large, extremely powerful entity which suppresses everyone, taking a part of their freedom, but in return protects from the chaos of the “state of nature” (Hobbes, 1651/2008).

It is problematic to provide a concrete example of this theory, e.g. because the “social contract” is virtually never “signed”; instead, individuals are born into a particular society and learn to obey its rules. Also, the notion of the “state of nature,” when there is a war of all against all, is rather problematic; it is difficult to imagine some primordial state in which every single person would not be tied to any others; even animals often group into herds/flocks/etc. However, the modern market capitalism, where companies rival one another, has certain similarities to the state of war of all against all.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

According to Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, the social order also requires the existence of the state to be attainable, but the state has different social roots than what Hobbes assumed. In this case, the state is believed to originate from the relation of individuals to the means of production; those people who own the means of production have more power, whereas those who do not have such ownership play a subordinate role (Smelser, 1973).

This divides society into social classes and produces a constant conflict. However, the classes that possess the greatest amount of economic power create the state; the state has in its possession a considerable amount of coercive power, as well as ideological mechanisms that control the flow of information and allow the dominant classes to better control the subordinate classes. As a result, those who have the most economic (and, as a result, political) power can impose compliance on the subordinate social classes via the mechanisms of the state. This allows for reaching the condition of social order when the representatives of the lower classes are pacified via ideology and/or forced into obedience by the power of the state (Marx & Engels, 2004; Smelser, 1973).

The situations that exemplify at least certain aspects of this conception are not difficult to find. For instance, people are commonly taught to obey the authorities, including state authorities such as the police, from the very childhood; the police is not always about fighting crime, but often about enforcing the rule of the government; education itself may be viewed as a mechanism of dominance, for even today, when it is supposed to play the role of a “social elevator” for the talented, the wealthy have much better access to a good education than the poor.

Interestingly, anarchists, who oppose the rule of the government and any hierarchies in the society, instead offering to engage in horizontal relationships via voluntary cooperation and grassroots initiatives, are commonly viewed as proponents of chaos, which is probably the result of the state ideology to a certain extent.

Max Weber

According to Max Weber, there exist three main types of social order (Weber, 1964):

  • Traditional (or patrimonial): based on the belief that the traditions are sacred, and that the leaders or rules selected according to them are legitimate. The orders of the rulers are followed because people feel personal loyalty to those in charge, for their authority is sanctified by tradition;
  • Charismatic: based on the devotion to a particular individual who possesses certain characteristics, such as heroism, sanctity, etc. In this type of social order, no fixed rules exist; instead, the rulers make their own rules, and others obey them because they believe in the legitimacy of the ruler;
  • Legal (or bureaucratic): based on the belief that certain rules (e.g., laws) are legitimate, and therefore, individuals who were legally elected as rulers can execute power within the borders defined by these rules. People obey the demands of those in charge as long as the latter act within the law. Compliance exists because of the belief in the impersonal order prescribed by the law, and not because of personal allegiance to the rulers.

On the whole, according to Weber (1964), social order (=compliance with the rules of society, absence of chaos) is achieved because individuals perceive their rulers as legitimate in all the three types of social order (=the manner in which the society is structured), and therefore obey the commands of the authorities.

Examples of the traditional order can easily be found in some tribes, such as those described by Durkheim (1915/2008). A likely example of the charismatic order is Nazi Germany, where Hitler was viewed as the Fuhrer (the Leader) of the people; however, it was not purely a charismatic order, for it had many characteristics of the legal order. The bureaucratic type of social order exists nowadays in most modern states.

Main Differences Between the Theories

There are some differences between the theories of social order by Hobbes, Marx, and Engels, and Weber. For instance, in Hobbes’ theory, the state is the desired condition for virtually everyone, as it protects individuals from the dangers of the chaos of the “state of nature” (Hobbes, 1651/2008); in Marx and Engels’ conception, the state is only desirable for those in power, because it protects their interests and privileges, and preserves their dominance over the subordinate classes in a way which minimizes the losses of the rulers (Marx & Engels, 2004; Smelser, 1973); in Weber’s theory, the power of the authorities rests upon the belief of individuals in the legitimacy of those authorities (Weber, 1964).

Another example: in all the theories, individuals voluntarily obey authorities and comply with their demands. However, in Hobbes’ conception, obedience comes from the desire for social order and fear of war of all against all (Hobbes, 1651/2008); in Marx and Engels’ theory, obedience is imposed via ideology, which convinces people that they should obey, and via force, such as the police (Marx & Engels, 2004; Smelser, 1973); in Weber’s conception, obedience comes from various sources, but all of them involve some belief in the authority of the ruler (Weber, 1964).

Iraq and Syria

According to Max Weber, one of the pillars of the state is its legitimacy, i.e., the consent of its citizens (and some other entities) that the state executes its power according to the law and that it is appropriate; therefore, to remain stable and preserve the social order, a legal (bureaucratic) state needs to maintain legitimacy (Weber, 1964). Besides, a crucial characteristic of the state is that it has successfully claimed the monopoly on the use of violence in its territory; in fact, the sociologist regards the legitimate use of physical force as a specific means of influence that is peculiar only to the state as a political association (Weber, n.d., p. 1).

In this respect, it might be possible to hypothesize that Weber would say that Iraq and Syria are failed states. This is because of the lack of the belief of the citizens in the legitimacy of their regimes, and because of the dearth of resources, the authorities in these countries were unable to address the needs of their citizens in certain critical conditions (such as severe droughts in Syria, which resulted in the collapse of local farms) and protect them afterward (Goldstone, 2015).

Besides, such organizations as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and Al-Qaeda were able to successfully use violence in the territories of Iraq and Syria, against these states. For instance, in 2014, ISIS was able to successfully drive out the armed forces of the government of Iraq from some key cities, and to defeat its army near the city of Mosul; after that, ISIS organized a massacre of the civilian population (Yazidis, who are a Kurdish religious minority) in the city of Sinjar, Iraq (Arango, 2014; Carter, Alkhshali, & Capelouto, 2014). As for Al-Qaeda, it also successfully opposed the Syrian government and fought the Syrian armed forces; Al-Qaeda also cooperated with ISIS several times to fight the government of Syria (Banco, 2015).

Therefore, the states of Iraq and Syria can be considered failed states (in Weber’s terms). This is because they not only lost their legitimacy among a considerable number of their citizens (those who supported ISIS, Al-Qaeda, etc.) and failed to maintain social order, but also were unsuccessful in claiming and retaining the monopoly on the use of physical force.

Cohen and Vandello article

In their article, Cohen and Vandello (1998) describe their theory related to the distinctions in understanding violence among various cultures. More specifically, the authors examine the difference in the understanding of violence in southern and northern parts of the U.S. It is stated that these two cultural entities possess a different understanding of the meaning of insults; that Southerners have some rituals that allow for certain concessions due to the culture of more severe violence; and that in the south of U.S., there exist certain social systems and structures which preserve these perceptions and maintain the existence of the “culture of honor” (Cohen & Vandello, 1998).

Cohen and Vandello (1998) stress that in the South, insults carry very serious meaning, and behavioral rituals which people engage in further accommodate it; also, it is a popular belief among the Southerners that sometimes, the answer to an insult must be violence; in certain cases, that violence may even be escalated to homicide.

The mechanism of the theory by Cohen and Vandello (1998) is as follows. The view about answering insults with violence results from the perceptions related to honor and violence, which originate from the times of early settlers of the South, who had to engage in open-range herding and were forced to constantly be vigilant to preserve their herds, and they could not rely on the government for protection. This resulted in stronger family relationships, combined with the rejection of external control. Also, the need for self-defense caused additional testing rituals, which, in turn, elevated the sense of honor. Thus, insults are perceived as a manner to lower one’s honor and, consequently, their social position; and violence is viewed as a legitimate way to restore this position.

Cohen and Vandello (1998) supply plentiful evidence to support their theory. For instance, they provide the results of a survey, according to which roughly the same percentage of Northerners and Southerners consider violence acceptable; but more Southerners believe that it is acceptable to punch an intoxicated person insulting a member of one’s family, and considerably more Southerners think that it is justified to shoot a male individual who committed an assault on one’s daughter.

Some other evidence suggests that Southerners who were insulted are more probable to write violent text in response, to behave aggressively in subsequent communication, and to believe that witnesses have lower opinions of them. In addition to evidence from research, some anecdotal evidence is also cited to better demonstrate the theory (Cohen & Vandello, 1998).

This theory is an example of structuralist theory, for it relies on the elements of the social structure and their relationships to one another to demonstrate why the perception that insults should be answered with violence persists in the southern U.S.

This theory is also an example of realist theory, for it assumes that the social reality exists and is supported via numerous structures and mechanisms, which can be studied by gathering empirical evidence and making conclusions based on it. It is not neo-positivist because it does not make emphasis on deduction and falsification, and it is not skepticism because it asserts that social phenomena can be viably and meaningfully grasped and studied.


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