||A relational notion attempting to locate and signify ideational aspects of society (see also infrastructure). In arguing for such a relational interpretation, Marx was, contra Hegel, attacking the view that politics and social practice are products simply of ideas and beliefs unrelated to the technical, productive and economic conditions in society. Marx (1968, p. 181) argues instead that \'a legal and political superstructure â€¦ to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness\' rises on \'the real foundation\' of the \'relations of production\' which constitute the \'economic structure of society\'.
A common reading of this argument is that immaterial social, political and cultural conditions are directly determined by the material; the social by the economic. Such a reading not only presupposes that there is an unproblematic distinction between the material (e.g. the economy) and the non-material (e.g. the law) despite the fact that both are based on ideas in practice and both must be produced and reproduced in material forms, but ignores the fact that Marx\'s suggestion is, in any case, more complex. It refers not only to the general question of material:non-material (infrastructure: superstructure) links/distinctions but also to the related links/distinctions between superstructure and consciousness.
However, the suggestion of a direct determinism seems to be given greater credence by Marx\'s (1968, p. 182) distinction between the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic â€” in short, ideological forms which together form \'the entire immense superstructure\'.
Terrell Carver (1982, p. 29) argues that Marx
was not committed to the view that everything (including consciousness, ideas etc.) is ultimately material or is in principle explicable in wholly material terms, nor was he committed to a view that the realm of ideas is in some sense less real than material things.The existence of material phenomena and consciousness and their combination in people does not presuppose a dichotomy or dualism between them. Carver suggests that the distinction being drawn by Marx was that between the results rather than the constituents of activity: goods and services as distinct from ideas, beliefs and opinions. But in a world in which the symbolic value of consumption is increasingly important, where the ownership of intellectual property is expensively contested, and where the commodification of medical care, religion and the arts becomes increasingly systematic, even this distinction is difficult to sustain (see modernism; postmodernism). The question of the distinction between the primacy of the material and/or the non-material then shifts back to that concerning the contested relationships between consciousness and matter.
However, it is important not to slip back into a dualistic position here. Marx\'s presupposition is a triune: living individuals, their activities and the material conditions that they find and hand on to others (Carver, 1982). In this context, the question of the abstract separation between superstructure and infrastructure is less important than their practical overlap and lack of distinction in social practice. Thus conflict and change in the \'infrastructure\' are taken up in the \'superstructure\' where \'men (sic) become conscious of this conflict and fight it out\' (Marx, 1968, p. 182). Under such circumstances, any insistence on determination or complete distinction between infrastructure and superstructure is impossible to maintain. Individuals do not have two forms of consciousness corresponding to whether they are inside or outside the factory gate or office door. And it is in such a context of practice, with all the intended and unintended consequences which result from it, that the legal and political superstructure may be said to arise from the conditions of existence of the relations of production.
In this view, superstructure comes close to the concept of civil society derived from Gramsci (1971) and developed recently by John Urry (1981; see figure in the entry for civil society). Civil society forms an integral part of capitalist social formations overlapping both the economy and the state. It is connected to the former via circulation of capital and to the latter by the law. As well as providing the location for struggle, civil society also provides the location for the production and reproduction of labour. As such, civil society is the primary focus for state planning (see urban and regional planning), which attempts to cope with the dynamics of social conflict and to rationalize the landscape of production within and beyond the factory gate or office door (Cooke, 1983). But even this notion involves a kind of schematic dualism.
E.P. Thompson (1968, p. 9) once wrote: \'We cannot have love without lovers, nor deference without squires and labourers\'. Love and deference may be deep structures but the relationship of love and deference must always be embodied in real people and in a real context.
The involvement of real people and real contexts is not insignificant because experience defines the meaning of love and deference, which is, thereby, changed for others. The apparent dualism of infrastructure and superstructure is, in social practice, a duality in which both exist in dialectical relationship (see dialectic(s)). Social existence and practice is, therefore, a practice of multiple determinations through structuration rather than a mere conflict between superstructure and infrastructure. It is in such a context that the correspondence between consciousness and superstructure may be grasped. The institutions of the law and formal politics help sustain certain beliefs and desires and to suppress others â€” which do not, however, disappear.
Such a view may be exemplified within geography by Peter Jackson\'s (1989) arguments for a materialist cultural geography. The contested system of shared beliefs, social actions and material representations that constitute culture are grounded in materiality but not in a narrow or determinist fashion. Following Raymond Williams, Jackson suggests (p. 35) that \'the idea of â€œdeterminationâ€ as â€œthe setting of limitsâ€\' effectively restores \'an active conception of human agency but one which is subject to â€œvery definite conditionsâ€\' and is thoroughly appropriate for a \'reconstituted cultural geography\'. The implication here is that the making of culture may struggle to attempt to transcend those conditions in asserting that there are always political and ideological alternatives notwithstanding the materiality of culture.
Such a reading insists that the superstructure is an integral part of social life â€” the place where consciousness is developed and struggles occur. It follows from this that the superstructure is neither a free-floating, nor a determined and structured set of ideas but rather a complex of practices conditioned (Marx\'s word) by the mode of production of material life. The distinction between infrastructure and superstructure is, then, an abstraction from rather than a reflection of reality.Â (RL)
References Carver, T. 1982: Marx\'s social theory. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.Â Cooke, P. 1983: Theories of planning and spatial development. London: Hutchinson.Â Cosgrove, D. 1983: Towards a radical cultural geography: problems of theory. Antipode 15: 1-11.Â Cosgrove, D. 1984: Social formation and symbolic landscape. London: Croom Helm.Â Gramsci, A. 1971: Selections from prison notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.Â Jackson, P. 1989 Maps of meaning. London and Winchester, MA: Unwin Hyman.Â Marx, K. 1968 [orig. pub. 1859]: Preface to A contribution to the 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.Â Urry, J. 1981: The anatomy of capitalist societies. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan.Â Williams, R. 1973: Base and superstructure in Marxist cultural theory. New Left Review 82: 3-16.
Suggested Reading Jackson, P., Cosgrove, D., Duncan, J. and Mitchell, D. 1996: Exchange. There\'s no such thing as culture? Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 21: 572-82.Â Mitchell, D. 1995: There\'s no such thing as culture: towards a reconceptualization of the idea of culture in geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 102-16.