Base and superstructure

Base and superstructure

__NOTOC__Base and Superstructure form a synthetic pair explicitly or implicitly common to all socialisms but due as such to Marx and Marxismwhere it serves to distinguish the essential basis of various social orders from various other formative and persisting social conditions.

The base is equivalent to the mode of production (MoP) and the social order enforcing it. The superstructure is the entire remainder of society, culture, technology, institutions, etc. which dialectical materialism posits as being based upon the material conditions and circumstances of production, i.e. the MoP. Critical theory and writings on the topic are mainly concerned with how the one affects and/or conditions the other.

As Marx wrote in the famous preface to his 1859 book "A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" [cite book | last = Marx | first = Karl | authorlink = Karl Marx | coauthors = | title = A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy | publisher = Progress Publishers |date=1977 | location = Moscow | pages = | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = ] :

According to Richard Middleton (1990), in Antonio Gramsci's conception or theory superstructural elements (cultural elements), what Middleton calls instances of practice, related to (and not predetermined by) economic elements through a process of articulation.

Marx's key claim is that the base determines the superstructure, although this easily simplified relationship requires some qualification:
#base refers to the entirety of productive relationships, not just to a particular economic position (the working class, for instance);
#the superstructure varies throughout history and is frequently unevenly developed across different areas of societal activity (in art and political culture, for instance);
#there is an element of reciprocity between base and superstructure — an observation that Engels made explicit by claiming that the base determined the superstructure only “in the last instance.” [" Dictionary of the Social Sciences", Article: Base and superstructure]

Theories of base and superstructure interaction have come under fire in recent Marxist criticism. Raymond Williams has been particularly vocal in this respect, critiquing the "popular" use of base and superstructure as isolated, independent entities, which he argues was not Marx and Engels' intention. He writes:

Cquote|So we have to say that when we talk of 'the base,' we are talking of a process and not a state [...] We have to revalue 'superstructure' towards a related range of cultural practices, and away from a reflected, reproduced or specifically dependent contend. And, crucially, we have to revalue 'the base' away from notion of a fixed economic or technological abstraction, and towards the specific activities of men in real social and economic relationships, containing fundamental contradictions and variations and therefore always in a state of dynamic process." [ cite journal|title=Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory|journal=New Left Review|date=November-December 1973|first=Raymond|last=Williams|coauthors=|volume=|issue=82|pages=|id= |url=|format=|accessdate=2007-12-08 ]

See also

* Althusser
* Dialectical Materialism
* False consciousness
* Historical Materialism
* Materialism
* Reification



* Calhoun, Craig (ed) "Dictionary of the Social Sciences" Oxford University Press, 2002

External links

# [ Basis und Überbau] A German Political Lexicon Wiki.
# [ Marxist Media Theory]

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