The ASA Marxist Sociology Section promotes the use of Marxist theory and methods to explain the complex dynamics of the social world, from ideology and the capitalist system to revolutionary, counter-hegemonic movements; from global political economy and national institutions to the politics of the workplace; from economic development and technological change to politics and culture; from imperialism to the environment. We aim to provide a platform for young Marxist sociologists at the beginnings of their careers and to serve as a resource and meeting point for all scholars and activists whose work is informed by Marxist theory. With our annual section awards, we celebrate excellent scholarly work by new and established scholars and commend life-long achievements in Marxist sociology. We also recognize the importance of Marxist sociological praxis by honoring those who facilitate social change – that, we all acknowledge, is the point.
BEFORE the term “holistic” was used to signify an approach that analyzed processes within their broader contexts,
BEFORE postmodernists began to critically challenge the narrow, mechanical, one-dimensionality of capitalist social science,
BEFORE postmodernism was even a style of architecture!
BEFORE it was commonly acknowledged that international capitalism, trendily called “globalization” could harm so many people,
Marxism, in the broad tradition of critical thinking, was using the dialectical method of questioning, of analyzing social processes both in terms of their broader social context and in terms of their multi-dimensional ever-changing inner dynamics.
The Section on Marxist Sociology (SMXS) is not a narrowly focused group that mechanically applies Marxist rhetoric to complex sociological issues. The Section on Marxist Sociology consists of a membership that is interested in examining how insights from Marxist methodology and Marxist analysis can help explain the complex dynamics of modern society in all its dimensions: political, economic, military, cultural, even interpersonal. You don’t have to “be a Marxist” to be a member of the SMXS. Furthermore, within the Marxist tradition, and within the SMXS, one finds replicated almost the entire range of debate that one finds within social science in general, especially as relates to the fundamental questions of emphasis on social structure versus individual choice and action. Insights from Marxism are relevant to those studying all social issues, from education to gender relations, from stratification to race-ethnic relations, from substance abuse to international political economy to the criminal justice system to technology.
What, then, is distinctive about Marxist approaches? How is it different from other approaches? What can someone with substantive interests get from interacting with Marxist sociology that they cannot get from just doing research and reading in their own particular substantive area?
Few in the Marxist tradition today adhere to the shallow stereotype so prevalent in the mainstream that Marxists follow a simplistic, narrow economic interpretation of all social questions. On the other hand, Marxist analysis is particularly sensitive to analyzing which interest groups may be influencing certain social developments, and how they exert that influence. Marxist analysis goes beyond simple psychological reductionism such as “They do it because they want to do it, or because it gives them a good feeling in their brain to feel power.” The impact of class, of economic factors, not just the simple exchange of money, but rather the complex processes that affect the control of labor, of human action, that produces alienation in all its forms, is an important interest to many in the Marxist tradition, but again, how much weight is given to different factors and how those factors interact will always be a matter for investigation and debate. Finally, most in the Marxist sociological tradition believe that theory must come from understanding the world, rather than from dogma, and many are activists, working with various groups against the depredations of modern capitalist society such as imperialism, racism, sexist oppression, abusive, alienating culture, and general issues of working class support.
What does the SMXS offer? In addition to helping broaden one’s analytical approach, the SMXS also offers a cohesive group of sociologists with a particular interest in participating in work that helps liberate society in a real sense as well as deepening theoretical understanding of society. It also offers a supportive setting for younger sociologists to interact with others as they seek to develop their own research and hone their teaching skills and can provide bibliographic resources and syllabi. The SMXS organizes several sessions each year at the ASA, as well as a large roundtable session that offers dozens of opportunities for those with particular interests, especially younger sociologists and grad students, to have the experience of presenting a paper at the ASA. The SMXS also gives an annual award to an outstanding graduate student paper and to an outstanding book. Finally, the SMXS provides a supportive network, providing feedback and suggestions on both research and teaching. There is no Marxist “Old Boy Network” to guarantee job placement (!), but many in the SMXS are sensitive to the particular problems that sociologists with a critical perspective face when entering the mainstream employment market, and SMXS provides a way for critical sociologists to build ties among others with similar interests and perspectives.