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Postmodern Theory And Karl Marx Essay, Research Paper

Postmodern Theory and Karl MarxThe emergence of postmodernism stands as the most important paradigmatic change of the past half-century. In providing a critique of positivism and macrotheory, postmodernism has established an intellectual tradition that has challenged a variety of intellectual viewpoints, most notably Marxism. By arguing for subjectivism and analysis, leading postmodern thinkers have instituted a theoretical and practical shift away from the once dominant Marxist tradition. For traditional Marxist thinkers, this shift has necessitated a reestablishment of thought regarding the fundamental structure of theory, the construction of discourse, the theoretical approach to social phenomena, and the nature of reality. Through an examination of the debate between traditional Marxist thought and the thought of the postmodernists, many of the ramifications of the recent shift dealing with theoretical considerations, both inside and outside of Marxism, can be seen. For Karl Marx and traditional Marxists, microtheory, does not ultimately address the needs of a historical model of change. Relevant social theory, for Marx, gives primacy to the macrosphere, dealing with major socio-historical change. The employment of philosophical materialism in this setting separates him from postmodern thought, as Marx affirms a necessary connection between the material conditions of existence and the content of individual cognition, a more positivistic assertion. Ultimately, Marx argues for an “soft” economic determinism, asserting that the socio-political institutions and abstractions addressed by postmodernism form a superstructure, primarily contingent upon activity in the economic sphere, though able to effect change within it. This can be seen in Marx’s argument that: The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas: the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it .Central to Marxist theory is the notion of ideological control by the dominant class, implementing a framework that supports “the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships” . The postmodern construction of power, in this sense, deviates from the Marxist viewpoint through a definition of “truth” as an exertion of power, attempting to restrict and subvert the “plurality of discourses” existing in society, identifying “truth” in the same light as the Marxist conceptualization of “ideology”. For Marxists, the “social construction of reality” misidentifies the nature of social construction and ignores the relationship between material circumstance and discourse. Marxist theory seeks to explore discourse in the context of philosophical materialism, dealing with both the nature of truth, and the creation of discourse in society.

This inability to relate social phenomena to material circumstance limits the ability of postmodernism to describe social patterns. While postmodernists ultimately identify elements that exist throughout society, they fail to identify principles to explain either their meaning or their ubiquity. For traditional Marxists, the existence of general social patterns allows for the construction of a historical model of change, tracing an evolution through four stages of development: primitive communism, antique slavery, feudalism, and capitalism . The historical model of “class struggle” provides a basis for studying social transformation, a study leading to the development of an economic “crisis theory” supporting the eventual emergence of socialist and communist political states. Ultimately, while postmodernism attempts to deconstruct macrotheoretical models, it fails to account for phenomena of social change the models were constructed to analyze. The relationship between postmodernism and Marxism has been a largely antagonistic one, creating great debate over the viability of macrotheory and global discourse. The critique of the Marxist paradigm has provided great insight into the limitations of traditional Marxist thought. Despite this, many of the views of Karl Marx and his intellectual heirs remain justifiable, effectively addressing the advent of postindustrial society. The revision and clarification of Marxist doctrine fueled by the challenge of postmodernism also, however, underscores many of the limitations of postmodern theory, including the need for more attention to broad social movements. Ultimately, both Marxism and postmodernism allow for great insight into the nature of theory, discourse, and their relationship to society.


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