||Within classical Marxism, a concept which emphasizes the significance of material practice and the structures of the production of material life in giving rise to political and legal systems and in shaping ideas. As such, it contrasts with the Hegelian conception of history in which the \'idea\' is seen as the guiding force. (See also superstructure.)
The general argument that social action proceeds from social reality, not from abstract categories, intellectual constructs or self-originating and unproblematic ideas, is summarized by Marx:
It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but their social being that determines their consciousness.But Carver (1982, p. 34) suggests that this is not a deterministic view because the word \'determines\' in German is not the same word as \'causes\'. More accurate meanings would be given by \'â€œdefinesâ€, â€œdelimitsâ€, â€œstructuresâ€ or even â€œdecidesâ€ \'.
Furthermore, Marx\'s much quoted relational account (first published in 1859) of infrastructure, base or foundation (grundlage) and superstructure (uberbau) may suffer in nuance from its translation into English but fails to suggest either that the superstructure is determined by the infrastructure or that consciousness is determined by the superstructure. What it does suggest is that consciousness is not formed directly out of material practice but is a far more complex consequence of the relationships between material, political and legal practices:
In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. (Marx, 1968, p. 181.)This passage has been the object of much debate, focusing particularly upon the apparently implied dichotomy between base or infrastructure (\'the real foundation\') and superstructure, and the determination of the latter by the former. Few would now accept this simple dualism and the passage does not justify such a simplistic interpretation. Furthermore, it is important to realize that Marx refers to this statement as the \'guiding thread\' of his studies; it is not a law-full or even law-like statement. It is, rather, a general hypothesis, a guide (Carver, 1982). Nevertheless, the essentially dialectical (see dialectic) concern for the relationships between human labour and ideas in Marxist thought is often interpreted as a distinction between infrastructure and superstructure.
The analytical problem is to provide a more satisfactory theorization of the interconnections and indivisibilities between what are otherwise seen as separate and, therefore, conceptually inadequate spheres of social life (see also historical materialism; structuration theory). Carver (1982, pp. 34-5) makes the following suggestion:
For a given state of social being (social production of material life within particular relations using material productive forces from which rises a legal and political superstructure) some forms of consciousness (ideas, beliefs, opinions) are likely to be widely held, commonplace, encouraged, etc., and others are likely to be absent, eccentrically held by only a few, discouraged, dismissed, made illegal, etc. \'â€¦ we do not have the particular elements of our social being that we have because God intended that we should, nor do we have them because man has been consciously or unconsciously striving to realise an idea, such as truth or freedom. â€¦ On the contrary, our social being is as it is because of what men have actually accomplished in the economic sphere of material needs and desires.This may not be adequate for such as E.P. Thompson (1968, pp. 10, 9) who, while accepting that \'[T]he class experience is largely determined by the productive relations into which men are born â€” or enter involuntarily\' wishes to distinguish between the class experience and class consciousness: \'If the experience appears as determined, class consciousness does not\'. This is because \'the notion of class entails the notion of historical [and, we might add geographical] relationship. â€¦ Consciousness of class arises in the same way in different times and places, but never in just the same way\'.
But the historical and geographical indeterminancy implied here is not pre-determined; it is itself produced. The historical geography of class is not determined through a given and constrained infrastructure (however temporally or geographically varied it may be) of material life but is socially constructed and so brings Identity and material/social life into a duality. Within this duality, identity and social/ material life inform and produce each other through both practice and discourse, experience and consciousness embedded, to a greater or lesser extent (both temporally and spatially), in the geographies through and across which they take place and which, in the process, they transform, re-read and re-write.Â (RL)
References and Suggested Reading Carver, T. 1982: Marx\'s social theory. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.Â Godelier, M. 1978: Infrastructures, societies and history. New Left Review 112: 84-96.Â Marx, K. 1968 [orig. pub. 1859]: Preface to A critique of political economy. In K. Marx, and F. Engels, Selected works. London: Lawrence and Wishart.Â Thompson, E.P. 1968: The making of the English working class. Harmondsworth: Penguin.