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mode of production

  The structured social relationships through which human societies organize productive activity, the extraction of surplus value and the reproduction of social life. \'Mode of Production\' is a periodizing concept, suggesting the historical development of human societies through a series of such modes.

Although Marx was much more circumspect, orthodox Marxist theory, originating with Engels, identified several different modes of production which are seen, in the broadest terms, to succeed each other: primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and communism. In each of these, different social relationships structure the way in which a society\'s productive and reproductive activity are organized. The definition of modes of production revolves around who performs the social labour and who reaps the benefit. Under primitive communal societies any means of production (land, tools, etc.) were held in common; these societies had subsistence economies, were egalitarian, and experienced no permanent internal class differences. Typified by hunter-gatherers, they had only the most elementary division of labour (often along age and gender lines). In the slavery mode of production, the labourer is owned as a means of production (property), and can therefore be bought and sold, and the benefits of labour accrue entirely to the owner (Marx, 1964). Under feudalism, the labourers are peasants who, while not themselves owned as slaves, remain legally tied to the land as agricultural serfs and servants; a landlord retains the rights to peasants\' labour integral with ownership of the land. Peasants own some of the means of production (especially elementary tools) and live on a portion of what they produce, the remainder being retained by the landlord. With the advent of capitalism, the wage labourer is \'freed\' from both the land and the means of production and is obliged to sell his/her labour power for a wage. The working class performs the society\'s work while the capitalist class, by dint of its ownership of capital, performs no work.

socialism was envisaged by Marx as transitional. It represents a mode of production in which the capitalist class has been defeated and class distinctions are being broken down through civil as well as state action. communism is the mode of production in which egalitarian social relationships have been achieved, class differences have been eroded, and the state has withered away in favour of direct popular control of economy, politics and society.

Although modes of production are identified primarily by their distinctive social relationships, there is a clear connection between relations of production and forces of production. Each mode of production is identified with a specific range and type of technologies which develop along with the division of labour. Furthermore, each mode of production implies a specific set of social and cultural relationships, and a specific kind of state. Whereas feudalism incorporated a legal system that identified different levels of privilege (enforced by the Court) and was buttressed by an ideology of knowing one\'s \'rightful place\' in an established hierarchical order, in capitalist societies the legal structure and social ideologies emphasize freedom, democracy and equality, despite the obvious inequality in economic relations between classes which defines capitalism.

A mode of production therefore incorporates not just social relations of production but also a complex of political, economic and cultural relations and institutions. Cohesion between these different elements in a mode of production is vital. Marx argued that under capitalism there developed a systematic disjuncture between the rapidly expanding forces of production and the increasingly antiquated social (class) relations of production such that the creation of greater social wealth depends on the continued impoverishment of a large part of humanity. This situation becomes increasingly untenable as the fundamental class contradiction grows more stark. It brings not only social malaise but also political organization, the threat of revolution and the potential to abandon capitalism in favour of a new mode of production.

There are extensive theoretical and empirical debates concerning \'modes of production\'. Whereas the notion of transnational, historical social structures, common to different times and places, makes considerable sense, for example, human history should not be seen as following a tight evolutionary progression of modes of production. Furthermore, this schema of modes of production was constructed largely on the basis of European history as it was understood in the mid-nineteenth century and may not apply more widely. Additional modes of production might be identified: Marx, for example, spoke of an \'Asiatic mode of production\' (see Wittfogel, 1957; Peet, 1985).

For geographers, each mode of production can be seen as creating its own distinctive geography, and indeed changing geographies as the mode of production itself develops. Under capitalism, the inequality between capital and labour becomes inscribed in the landscape as the distinction between developed and underdeveloped areas at different scales from the global to the local. uneven development is therefore a systematic more than a haphazard aspect of capitalist geographical change. In the twentieth century the geographical unevenness of development has played a central role in defining the fate and directions of capitalist expansions. Likewise, changes in the composition of capitalism have led to a continually transforming geography (Dunford and Perrons, 1983); David Gordon (1984), for example, has shown how the transformation of the US economy from a mercantile to industrial and then to corporate capitalism has involved a parallel transformation in US city structure and spatial form. (NS)

References Dunford, M. and Perrons, D. 1983: The arena of capital. London: Macmillan. Gordon, D. 1984: Capitalist development and the history of American crisis. In W. Tabb and L. Sawers, eds, Marxism and the metropolis, 2nd edn. New York: Oxford University Press, 21-53. Marx, K. 1964: Pre-capitalist economic formations. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Peet, R., ed., 1985: The geographical ideas of Karl Wittfogel. Antipode 17(1): 35-50. Wittfogel, K. 1957: Oriental despotism. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Suggested Reading Marx, K. 1964. Hilton, R. et al. 1976: The transition from feudalism to capitalism. London: New Left Books.



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