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Marxism and Political Economy

Page history last edited by Catherine Molnar 10 years ago

Table of Contents

 


 

 


 

Main Points

 

Marxist Anthropology:

Marxist anthropology is an anthropological theory used to study different cultures around the world. It is based largely on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, both German philosophers who lived in the nineteenth century.[1] Marxist anthropology focuses on the ways material factors cause social transformation. This includes studying the forces of production and their relationship to social organization.[2]  The idea is that economic relationships are based on power, and ultimately lead to class struggle. Basically, it is the study of social class, class conflict, economics, production and distribution, and their relationship to social change within a community. [3]Although Marx and Engel’s theories were published in the nineteenth century, anthropological studies of peasants were not conducted widely until after the end of World War Two, which was a shift from studying tribal societies.[4] Peasants are important to Marxist anthropologists because they are the agricultural labor force of a community. An example of such research would be anthropologist Eric Wolf’s study of peasants in Puerto Rico, where he found there are three significant modes of production. One mode of production is the capitalist mode. Wolf identified three characteristics of the capitalist mode of production: “1) that capitalists control the means of production and 2) that laborers must therefore sell labor to capitalists, and 3) this results in a spiral of capital accumulation, labor exploitation, and reorganization of production. Consequently, capitalism divides society into classes.”[5] This is very interesting to a Marxist anthropologist because it helps understand the creation of social class, and how mode of production is related to social organization. Also, Marxist anthropologists study culture from a historical perspective, accepting that culture and societies change over time.[6]

 

[7]

 

Key Terms for Marxist Anthropology: 

  • Social class: the cultural arraignment of groups of people within a society[8]

  • Peasants: agriculturalists integrated into the global economy; agricultural labor force[9]

  • Capitalism: an economic system where the means of production are privately owned and used to make a private profit[10]

  • Production: the manufacture and distribution of goods[11]

  • Mode of Production: A set of social relations through which labor is deployed by means of tools, skills, and knowledge [12]
  • Ideology: Karl Marx used this term to describe a system of beliefs that influences the outlook of individuals and groups[13]  
  • Materialism: a theory that matter is the only reality[14]

 


 

Key Figures

 

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Karl Marx, the founder of Marxism and one of the first to explicate political economy, was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, Prussia.[15]  He was the son of Heinrich Marx and Henrietta Pressburg.[16]  Marx was educated in a private setting until 1830 at which point he began attending Trier High School.[17]  After high school, his secondary education took place at the University of Bonn where his father made him study law.[18]  Because his grades were suffering, his father had him transfer to the University of Berlin where he studied his true passions; philosophy and literature.[19]  In 1841, Marx graduated with a doctorate degree in philosophy and shortly after, in 1843 he married Jenny von Westphalen.[20]  The two had six children, but because of their poor living conditions only three survived.[21]  Unable to find a job teaching, Marx turned to journalism focusing on political and social issues, mainly communism.[22]  Since most of his articles were too radical for the time, he had trouble finding places to publish his work.[23]  He finally found The Rhenish Gazette, a newspaper that accepted his writing and eventually named him editor.[24]  However in 1843, the newspaper was discontinued by Prussian officials.[25]  Wanting to express his ideas freely, Marx moved his family to Paris where he met Friedrich Engels.[26]  Out of work and experiencing poverty first hand, Marx spent his time trying to understand how capitalist society worked and realized that there were two main categories within a capitalist society: the capitalists and the workers.[27]  Friedrich Engels shared these same ideas and both began working with each other on an article called The Holy Family.[28]  This piece of writing worried Prussian authorities who convinced the French government to expel Marx.[29]  Soon after, Marx and his family, as well as Friedrich Engels moved to Belgium.[30]   Here, Marx was able to express his opinions and ideas without being reprimanded.[31]  Marxism was born out of German philosophy, political economy, and French Utopian socialism.[32]  Karl Marx gave credit to Hegel, a German philosopher, and Adam Smith and David Ricardo, political economists, and Charles Fourier, a Utopian socialist  for the birth of his ideas.[33]         

 

Sidney Mintz (1922-Present)

Sidney Mintz, a prominent anthropologist studying the Caribbean, was born in 1922 in Dover, New Jersey.[34]

He attended Brooklyn College in 1938 and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in psychology.[35]  Soon after, he was drafted into the Army Air Corps and stayed for three years.[36]  He then enrolled at Columbia University in 1946 working with Ruth Benedict and Julian Steward for his graduate work.[37]  While working with Julian Steward, he traveled to Puerto Rico to conduct fieldwork  [38] studying in sugarcane Village. In 1960 he published a book influenced by his work in Puerto Rico called Worker in the Cane, which was a life story of a worker in the village. In 1985, he wrote another book called Sweetness and Power,concerning the history and power of sugar worldwide.[39] Shortly after, in 1951, he earned his PhD in anthropology.[40]  Continuing his focus on modernization and its effects on social classes, he conducted fieldwork in Jamaica and Haiti.[41]  In between his field work, he became a professor at Yale University and remained at the institution until 1974[42] working on their faculty for 24 years.[43] After leaving Yale University, he helped create the anthropology program at Johns Hopkins University.[44]  Throughout his career, he was interested in slavery, peasantry, and social stratification due to colonialism in the Caribbean. Mintz has edited and published many books in the last few years, including Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and Variations (2010) and The World of Soy (2008). [45]

 

Aihwa Ong (Present)


 Aihwa Ong, a Professor at the University of California Berkeley is another key figure involved in Marxist Anthropology.
 Growing up in Malaysia, Aihwa Ong moved to the United States and received her Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1982. In 1984, she joined UC Berkeley and is currently the Head of the Socio-Cultural Anthropology and the Southeast Asian Studies Department.[46]  Ong has always approached research from vantage points outside the United States, focusing primar
ily on global technologies, modes of governing, and technoscientific assemblages.[47] Her work deals with the entanglements of  politics, cultural changes and technology on the Asia Pacific rim.[48] At UC Berkeley, Ong is affiliated with Blum Center for Developing Economies, the Global Metropolitan Studies Center, and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and the Center for Chinese Studies.[49] Some of Ong’s current projects include the impact of runaway factories on Muslim women in Malaysia, Chinese immigration regimes, Cambodian refugees in California, neoliberal norms in China, and biotechnologies and ethics in Asian contexts.[50]  Her work shifts between sites in Southeast Asia and China in order to track global centers and biotechnical experiments.[51] In more recent events, Aihwa Ong has been the author of the new classic Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (1987); Flexible Citizenship: the Cultural Logics of Transnationality (1999); Buddha is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America (2003); and Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (2006). She also co-edited Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (2005); and Privatizing China, Socialism from Afar (2008). Her latest collection is Asian Biotech: Ethics and Communities of Fate.[52]  Her writings have been translated into German, Italian, and Chinese.[53]  She has lectured internationally and been invited to the World Economic Forum. Her awards include grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the National Science Foundation, and some book prizes. [54]  

 

 

 


Key Texts 

 

Sweetness and Power 

Sidney Mintz’s book, Sweetness and Power, published in 1985, demonstrates the enthralling history of the consumer product, sugar.  He states that he is merely “following production to where and when it became consumption...” (1).[55] Mintz investigates the process in which this precious resource of sugar c ane become  edible, everyday sugar and  the history behind it where new technologies developed and new ideas were spread.  He searches to find out how places such as the Caribbean and Europe could become so intertwined and dependent on each other economically for this resource and how they have maintained this relationship for so long.  
  
Mintz also takes a deep look into how much is produced, who it goes to and how much it goes for and how the industry has gotten to where it is today.  He further analyzes questions such as: why it is so desired, why the demand is so high, and what do words such as “taste” and “preference” really mean. The book further discusses the observation in which class and the type of sugar used is related. Elements of striving economies are exemplified as he discusses competition and the effects dominant companies have over the latter. Mintz looks to recognize the shifts and changes the sugar industry has gone through through not only a historical perspective, but a social and economical one as well.[56]

  

 

 

Spirits of

 Resistance and Capitalist Di scipline 

 

Aihwa Ong’s book, Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline, published in 1987, discusses the obstacles in disrupting and changing cultural customs surrounding Malay peasant women during a time of rapid transition into capitalist disciplines and a modernized society.  Throughout the book, she investigates different aspects of Malay history, the changes in everyday life and the women’s experiences of life working in a factory through her fieldwork in 1979-1980.  She addresses the British colonial takeover and the immigration of the Japanese as well as the effect it had on the Malay culture and the agricultural economy.

Ong also takes an in depth look into the hantu or the evil spirit that seems to be cast over the women and the portal to the modern world; in which women have been prone to have “spirit possession episodes”  (7). [57]The book continues to address the issue in which it is argued that culture has not been “unfolding” but that it has in fact been “disrupted” (3).[58]  However, she further investigates how some see these changes as being “in the interest of rural Malays” (6).[59]

 


 

Critiques

 

Too Much Emphasis on Economy

 

Unsurprisingly, the greatest critique of Marxist Anthropology is that it places too much emphasis on economy and status to assume one's cultural characteristics. Marxism is an anthropological approach based on the premise that "human social life is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence." [60] Other approaches, such as Cultural Ecology, would argue that economy is not as prominent in determining cultural phenomena because there are so many other areas to determine cultural relevance. 

 

Narrow Focus

 

Marxism is focused solely on the premise that all cultural characteristics are based on economic factors. There is also the concern that the Marxist approach tends to be ahistorical which means that it cannot be applied to explain how something has come to be as it is today. There are also some who reject the central idea of Marxist theory: class struggle. For example, a Functionalist would probably maintain that class stratification happens for a reason and all the classes work together to make society work.

     Only two types of social distinctions are given in Marxism: there are the "bourgeoisie" (capitalists) and the "proletariat" (propertyless worker).[61] This contributes to the theory of constant class struggle that is characteristic of Marxism. In most societies there are many social classes leading to stratification. In Marxism, the lower classes are all bunched into the proletariat and the upper classes are all bunched into the bourgeoisie. Modern stratification systems are not this simple or dichotomous. Usually they include a middle class that can act as a kind of go-between the upper and lower classes. With a middle class there is also an opportunity for social mobility within a society.[62]

     Class is defined as social identity based on economic status. According to Max Weber, social identities based on ethnicity, religion, race, nationality, and others could take priority over class. Another critic of Marxism is Gerhard Lenski, who believes that social equality tends to increase in advanced industrial societies.[63]

     The underlying principle that Marxism depends on is that all thoughts, actions, and institutions are determined by the way people make a living in the world. Contrary opinions may well believe that the way people make a living in the world depends on thoughts, actions, and institutions. Besides, it is not the case that all thoughts, actions and institutions can come from the way people make a living because that does not account for all the time people are not "making a living." The time spent growing up under parental care has enormous potential for thought, actions, and institutions. This Marxist theory is too speculative to account for all areas of cultural progression. 

     Marxism says that the consciousness of men determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being determines their consciousness. 

 

 

 

http://www.phillwebb.net/topics/society/xAnthropology.htm

Footnotes

  1. http://www.webref.org/anthropology/m/marxist_anthropology.htm, accessed 14 October 2010
  2. Ollman, Bertell. "What Is Marxism? A Bird's-Eye View." Dialectical Marxism. 2010. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. .
  3. Ruyle, Eugene E. "Rethinking Marxist Anthropology." Westview Press, 1987. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .
  4. Moore, Jerry. 2009. Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists (Third Edition). Lanham andNew York: Alta Mira Press. "Eric Wolf" . Page 330
  5. Moore, Jerry. 2009. Visions of Culture: An Introduction to Anthropological Theories and Theorists (Third Edition). Lanham and New York: Alta Mira Press. “Eric Wolf” Page 347
  6. Lusteck, Robert. "Marxist Anthropology." University of Alabama Department of Anthropology. Web. 12 Oct. 2010. .
  7. Ollman, Bertell. "What Is Marxism? A Bird's-Eye View." Dialectical Marxism. 2010. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. .
  8. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print. Page 348.
  9. Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 2100 Frontiers of Cultural Anthropology, 20 September 2010.
  10. . http://www.investorwords.com/713/capitalism.html, accessed 12 October, 2010
  11. Hooker, Richard. "Capitalism." Washington State University - Pullman, Washington. 1996. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. .
  12. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print. Page 397
  13. Erickson, Paul A. and Liam D. Murphy. 2008. A History of Anthropological Theory (Third Edition). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. “Political Economy”. Page 187
  14. Mandel, Ernest."Basic Theories of Karl Marx - Historical Materialism." International Viewpoint - News and Analysis from the Fourth International. Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Oct. 2010. .
  15. http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/marx.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  16. http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ma-Mo/Marx-Karl.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  17. http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/w/wheen-marx.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  18. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  19. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  20. http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ma-Mo/Marx-Karl.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  21. http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/marx.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  22. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  23. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  24. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  25. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  26. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  27. http://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/what_is_marxism.php, accessed 17 October 2010.
  28. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  29. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  30. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  31. http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUmarx.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  32. http://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/what_is_marxism.php, accessed 17 October 2010.
  33. http://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/what_is_marxism.php, accessed 17 October 2010.
  34. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  35. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  36. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  37. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  38. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  39. http://anthropology.jhu.edu/Sidney_Mintz/index.html
  40. http://www.sidneymintz.net/bio.php, accessed 17 October 2010.
  41. http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/theory_pages/Mintz.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  42. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html, accessed 17 October 2010.
  43. http://anthropology.jhu.edu/Sidney_Mintz/index.html
  44. http://www.indiana.edu/~wanthro/theory_pages/Mintz.htm, accessed 17 October 2010.
  45. http://anthropology.jhu.edu/Sidney_Mintz/index.html
  46. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/ong.html
  47. http://ieas.berkeley.edu/faculty/ong.html
  48. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/ong.html
  49. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/people/person_detail.php?person=25
  50. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/people/person_detail.php?person=25
  51. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/ong.html
  52. http://ieas.berkeley.edu/faculty/ong.html
  53. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/ong.html
  54. http://anthropology.berkeley.edu/people/person_detail.php?person=25
  55. Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. “Introduction” and “Production,” in Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Penguin Books, pp. xv-xxx, 19-73.
  56. Mintz, Sidney W. 1985. “Introduction” and “Production,” in Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Penguin Books, pp. xv-xxx, 19-73.
  57. Ong, Aihwa. 1987. “Spirits and Discipline in Capitalist Transformation” and “Malay Peasants from Subsistence to Commodity Production,” in Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 1-36.
  58. Ong, Aihwa. 1987. “Spirits and Discipline in Capitalist Transformation” and “Malay Peasants from Subsistence to Commodity Production,” in Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 1-36.
  59. Ong, Aihwa. 1987. “Spirits and Discipline in Capitalist Transformation” and “Malay Peasants from Subsistence to Commodity Production,” in Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, pp. 1-36.
  60. http://www.phillwebb.net/topics/society/xAnthropology.htm
  61. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print. Page 348-349.
  62. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print. Page 348-349.
  63. Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology: Appreciating Cultural Diversity. 14th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011. Print. Page 348-349.

Comments (6)

Kelsey.Robb@colorado.edu said

at 9:53 pm on Oct 17, 2010

Lyndsi,
This is a good website if you're looking for more information on Sydney Mintz
http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/small_axe/v010/10.1carnegie02.html

Lyndsi Wisdom said

at 10:09 pm on Oct 17, 2010

Hey guys,
I think we need to make the entire website all the same font... what do you think?

Lyndsi Wisdom said

at 10:26 pm on Oct 17, 2010

Kelsey,

I don't know if the link you sent me is the right one, when i click on it, it doesn't have anything. Besides, you pretty much covered everything... i don't really know what else to say?
Also, if you could maybe find something for Aihwa Ong's birthday...i cant find it anywhere-not even in the book. Thanks

Kelsey.Robb@colorado.edu said

at 5:46 pm on Oct 18, 2010

Hey guys,
Who was in charge of key texts??

Lyndsi Wisdom said

at 7:02 pm on Oct 18, 2010

It was Cat. She said she was going to do it today, but I guess not...

Catherine Molnar said

at 7:38 pm on Oct 18, 2010

i just sent everyone an email, and i'm super sorry!

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