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The German philosopher, economist and sociologist Karl Marx (1818-1883) is responsible for the development of the sociological perspective now known as ‘Marxism’. Increasingly popular in the 1970’s, Marxism gives an alternative to ‘Functionalism’ and possible answers to questions functionalism fails to answer. Through various interpretations of his writings many schools of Marxism now exist.

At the root of Marxist theory is the premise that humans, in order to survive, need to produce food and material objects. In order to do this, ‘social relationships’ are formed with others. This ‘production’ involves a technical component known as the ‘forces of production’; this encompasses the technology, raw materials and knowledge used in production. Each stage of the forces of production corresponds to a specific set of social ‘relations of production’, these being the relationships entered into, in order to produce. The ‘means of production’ include the parts of the forces of production that can be legally owned, for example the machinery, materials, buildings and tools Combined, the forces of production and the relationships of production form the economic basis of society, or in Marxism the ‘infrastructure’. Other facets of society including the political, educational and legal institutions and the belief and value systems are called the ‘superstructure’. The superstructure is shaped by the infrastructure and predominantly determined by economic forces.

From this economic basis Marx stipulated that societies contain basic contradictions. These contradictions entail the exploitation of one social group by another. An example of this in Capitalist society is that employers, as owner’s of the ‘means of production’, exploit their employees by failing to reward them with the true value of their labour, retaining the short-fall as profit. The workers only have ownership of their labour and exchange this for wages which do not represent their...

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