Sociology of power

Topics: Marxism, Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci Pages: 10 (2671 words) Published: February 18, 2014

Karl Marx is a key figure in theorizing power, and in some respects, his work is considered the foundation of social sciences. Marx and his associate Engels instantly became famous among scholars during the late 19th century, when they published The Communist Manifesto (1848). This important work became a reference point for many theorists because the document described in great detail the series of European revolutions initiated by capitalism. Capitalism, Marx and Engels argue, was an interesting 19th century phenomenon that radically changed everything, "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind" (Marx and Engels 1848:12). More specifically, our immaterial institutions (culture, religion, ideology, etc), quickly became a reflection of material social relations of production; the spheres of the sacred and profane collide. However, in our contemporary society where we are removed from Marx by a more than a century and a half, we realize Marx's conception of power and climax of a proletarian revolution never occurred. In specific, the argument can be made that in our 21st century Marxist notions of historical materialism and classless society have become a more distant reality since inception (Kingston 2000). In light of our current modern condition we have to ask ourselves, what changed? Where do the boundaries of material/immaterial forces begin and end? How do we conceptualize power today?

In my essay, I will examine the work of three theorists that not only expand on the Marxist tradition, but also drastically reform how we think about the gap between immaterial (virtual) and material (actual) forces. First, I will discuss Antonio Gramsci's macro perspectives in terms of a material hegemonic group and, immaterial counter-hegemony. Next, I will examine Louis Althusser's micro view of the individual as it pertains to the actual interpellated self, and, virtual counter-actualization possibilities in Aleatory Materialism. I will follow this with the contrasting views of Michel Foucault, who instead opts for a positive facilitative view on power, capable of constructive transformative reform. Finally, I will conclude with a review of all the theories and propose how our contemporary world can move forward with a new apparatus, created by a synthesis of these three theoretical traditions.

The concept of power for the majority of people has always been viewed with negative connotations. Typically manifested as, "...the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance" (Weber 1968:53). However, through vigorous theorizing and investigation we come to the startling revelation that power is actually a source of optimism that reveals hidden material (actual) relations of exploitation, and, serves as the starting point towards theorizing better immaterial (virtual) possibilities.

Gramscian Expansion of Marxist Theoretical Tradition
Antonio Gramsci is an important 20th century theorist that expanded the Marxist theoretical tradition with his concept of hegemony. Gramsci's concept of hegemony in many academic circles have been widely praised for reinventing the classical Marxist examinations between immaterial phenomena (culture, religion, ideology, etc), and material social relations of production. For Gramsci, the immaterial and material divide can identify additional sources of power above "...the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange" (Marx and Engels 1848:5). That, acknowledging the formation of a historical bloc (ideological superstructure) was paramount because, " is not ruled by force alone, but also by ideas" (Bates 1975:351). This investigation within a Gramscian tradition is an important...

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