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social formation

  The specific combination of class relations, institutions and relations of social oppression within society at a particular time and place.

Whereas the mode of production specifies a society\'s class relations in the most general terms, identifying the central class relationships involved in the production of surplus value, the concept of social formation refers to concrete forms of social relations at a specific conjuncture. It takes account of relict social relations and forms that survive and operate in later societies, as well as specific patterns of social oppression, whether based on race or ethnicity, gender or nationality (see nationalism). The important question in discussions of any formation is how these different specific experiences \'articulate\' with the dominant class structure.

The concept of social formation was primarily derived from a reading of Marx\'s Capital undertaken in the 1960s and early 1970s by a group of French scholars associated with the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (see structural Marxism). These scholars sought to translate between the generalities of mode of production and the concreteness of everyday life (Poulantzas, 1973). \'Social formation\' provides a middle-level conceptualization which aids in connecting the general economic rationale of the accumulation of capital with specific forms and relations, as well as state institutions. \'Social formation\' has, therefore, been used as a means of relating different forms of existence (Cosgrove, 1984) and is thus similar to what Gramsci (1971) has termed an \'historic bloc\'. In either usage, the idea of social formation calls attention to the need for a close material and conceptual analysis of social relations within a given place at a given time. (NS)

References Cosgrove, D.E. 1984: Social formation and symbolic landscape. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble. Gramsci, A. 1971: Selections from the prison notebooks, ed. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart; New York: International. Poulantzas, N. 1973: Political power and social classes. London: New Left Books.

Suggested Reading Cosgrove (1984). Hindess, B. and Hirst, P. 1977: Mode of production and social formation. London: Macmillan.



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