1. Marx, Weber and Durkheim provide accounts of the individual which starts from a specific theory of modern society. Compare and contrast two of their accounts.
Accounting for the individual, sociologists Karl Marx and Eric Durkheim give definite, yet disparate theories of how modern society is the proprietor of individual actions and motives. Although contrasting, both believe that such personal concepts as self interest and free will are not determinate of the individual but are a result of the society the individual lives in. It is in the way in which how a society affects the individual which greatly differs between Marx and Durkheim and as such they account differently for the individual’s actions in a particular society. For Marx it is the relationships between socioeconomic classes which account for the self, whereas Durkheim believes that the self’s reasoning and actions can be completely justified by the pre established society an individual comes from. From both these theories stem the arguments behind alienation and anomie, respectively, which the individual suffers. While comparing the two theories it’s important to realize which theory is more applicable to ‘modern society’, i.e., today’s society. If the theories are incongruent with real society then they have little merit. Therefore by contrasting and comparing these accounts we will discuss which sociologist’s theories are more applicable to current society.
The specific theories on how Durkheim and Marx present society is similar in that both believe that a society is built upon certain ‘bases’ which are outside the control of the individual. That is, the society pre-existed the individual, will outlast the individual and will change without the consent of the individual and regardless of any personal protest from the individual. For Durkheim this lies in the presence of social facts. Social facts are a “social phenomena that were external to the individual yet constrained his or her actions” (Abercrombie 1994:386). In any given society, according to Durkheim, there are social facts which will limit the individuals in that society in what they can and cannot do. It is not, however, because those ideals are forced onto the man or woman, only that those principles exist outside the individual; “the system of signs I use to express my thoughts, the system of currency I use to pay my debts, the instruments of credit I utilize in my commercial relations, the practices followed in my profession, etc., function independently of my own use of them. And these statements can be repeated for each member of society. Here, then, are ways of acting, thinking, and feeling that present the noteworthy property of existing outside the individual consciousness” (Durkheim 1938:2). Alternately, Marx believes that society is stemmed from the presence of class systems and where a person is placed in those classes decide how that individual will interact in society; “those who own and control the means of production, are able to take the profit, form one class and those depending on their own labour alone form another” (Abercrombie 1994:252). As such it is from a pre-existing socioeconomic structure which determines how a person will invariably interact in that society, varying for all societies. For example, Marx believes that the relationship between a capitalist individual in a capitalist regime and their workers will depend on the control the capitalist has over the production and product (Abercrombie 1994:151). In this sense both sociologists have a similar theory of how the structure of society affects the individuals inside it. However, unlike Durkheim, Marx, in regards to the interaction between people in the society, only explains the interactions between classes in the medium of labour and management, and this creates a broad range of socially inapplicable situations covered by Marxist beliefs. These include interactions between classes, the interactions with...
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